I was lucky enough to be a judge Saturday at the state Class A Speech, Debate and Drama championships held at Havre High School.
That’s because my colleague Tim Leeds, also the assistant debate HHS debate coach, invited anyone he knew, ran into on the street or had the email address of to show up for the tournament. It takes quite a number of volunteer judges to put on the event.
Those who turned down the offer to be a judge missed an opportunity for a lot of inspiration.
These were the state finals, so my fellow judges and I were listening to the best Montana has to offer. Even those whom I chose for last place were very good.
They had obviously prepared very well. Not just the style of their talks, but the detailed preparation into topics.
One senior taught me more about the Argentine fiscal crisis than I ever could have learned watching all the news shows I watch.
As we finished judging the Impromptu category, one of my fellow judges said, “These are the leaders of tomorrow. They are the legislators, the community leaders.”
He was right on the mark.
So many people my age talk about “kids today.”
You hear about how unruly, disrespectful and lazy they are.
They said that about my generation too, and sometimes they were right.
But in my generation, I didn’t know anyone from my time in high school with the poise, style, knowledge and class the students speaking at Saturday’s session had.
State lawmakers of the future? I’d settle for these kids over many of today’s state lawmakers.
But if the lawmakers of today want to do these kids — and the rest of us a big favor — they should be working during the remaining 77 days of their session to ensure that these students and others stay here in Montana.
The state’s future is bright if we can convince these brilliant young men and women to stay in the Treasure State.
It won’t be easy. Many will be lured away by the bright lights and big cities, and if that’s the lifestyle they choose, great for them.
But many would like to stay in the easy-going lifestyle and beautiful scenery that Montana offers. But too many don’t have that choice.
The search for education and jobs takes them from the state.
Montana would be so much richer if they could stay in Big Sky Country.
The Legislature should spend its remaining time figuring out how best to improve the Montana University System so these bright kids can find the education they need here. And lawmakers should work to ensure that there are job opportunities so that the state’s best and brightest don’t have to leave the state to use their talents in the workplace.
To be fair, many important education and job initiatives are being debated in the Legislature. There will be discussions over public vs. private schools, charter schools, tuition freezes at the university system and many other proposals. There will be lots of room for debate, and the legislative discussions should be interesting and hopefully productive.
But there are fears that for some in Helena, they are about to take a 180-degree turn from rationality and return to what then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer called the bat-crap crazy antics of the 2011 session.
In the latest Helena sideshow, Rep. Jerry O’Neil, best known for his request that he be paid in gold coins because he didn’t trust U.S. currency, has proposed legislation that would bring corporal punishment back to Montana’s jail.
Yep, under his plan, defendants could negotiate down their jail terms. The defendants could get spanked or have whatever physical punishment seemed appropriate. I bet Sheriff Don Brostrom didn’t know when he was elected that his duties would include paddlings, but if O’Neil gets his way, that’s what will happen. Maybe even waterboardings if the offense is serious enough.
Nobody can do anything to stop O’Neil from his demagoguery, except the voters in his Columbia Falls district. But other lawmakers could help by giving O’Neil a massive chorus of raspberries.
Then they could get back to finding ways to improve the education and economic climate in the state so that students like those I saw this weekend will be able to stay in Montana.
And maybe if we improved our education system enough, we wouldn’t have so many young people in jail.
(John Kelleher is managing editor of the Havre Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 406-265-6795, ext. 17, or 406-390-0798.)