For Mallerie Stromswold, honesty is the most important thing, and that goes with explaining her reasons for resigning her seat in the state legislature representing Billings Center.
“I need to be able to lead and do the work for my constituents. Right now, it’s clearly not the time. I had hoped that would be the case, and unfortunately the last few weeks have shown me that it’s not,” Stromswald said in an interview this week. like that”.
The obvious question is also the loaded question – why? Stromswold loved and is grateful for Chance’s service, and her devotion to public service and to the electorate is evident.
But then there’s the “however,” though, the “in spite of” that she had to put up with.
“It’s no secret that while I’m in Helena, my experiences in the past haven’t always been positive,” Stromswald said. “But mostly now, my mental health isn’t in a state where I could do something like that. When you come in with negative mental health and put everything like that on top of it, it’s not conducive to being a leader. I need to focus on myself because in order to be a co-captain, I have to be doing really well.”
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Stromswold said she’s not completely comfortable now sharing everything that happened in the past session, but some of it she’ll talk about and some of it has been publicly shown.
“It was no secret that I cast votes in the last session that distinguished me from my party caucus because I voted with my conscience and my constituency, and this was met with stiff resistance on the part of my party,” she said.
The last session Stromswold was the only Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee to oppose bills that would ban gender-affirming health care for transgender youth and bar girls and trans women from playing on women’s sports teams. She and one other Republican spoke in favor of a bill from a Democrat that would have allowed minors to use emergency shelters without their parents’ consent, putting her at odds with other Republicans and powerful lobbyists who said the bill crushed the rights of parents and guardians.
Her electoral record wasn’t the only thing that defined Stromswold differently from the rest of the GOP caucus. She was one of three Montana legislators under the age of 25, compared to 45% of members in the Baby Boomer class, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Bringing that point of view into the room was one of the reasons I was drawn into the service and why it was so hard to leave.
“I feel like I provide such a unique perspective so often, and if I don’t, who will? If I don’t say something, who will?” Stromswald said.
In general, Generation Z is more comfortable talking about mental health in the same way they talk about physical ailments, and that’s an important thing for Stromswold to demonstrate now.
I thought ‘Oh, I can handle it.’ I can handle it. “I can always handle everything,” Stromsjold said. But it became more and more of a “Is it worth it now?” “Because 30 days after the session I saw myself being so battered and not even able to provide the service properly.”
When she was discussing the possibility of quitting, a friend reminded her that it should be treated like quitting when she is physically ill, which is often more acceptable.
Mental health must be seen as health. I wasn’t raised that way. “Montana isn’t really predisposed to think that way, especially on the Republican side almost as much,” Stromswald said. “I think maybe it’s because he was always like, ‘We’re strong, you pull yourself through your boot and just keep going.'” But you can only do that for so long. I don’t want this to be the subject of my life. I want to be healthy. And I don’t feel healthy anymore.”
She’s in school at Montana State University trying to take one of her classes in person on Mondays and Fridays and zoom in on legislative hearings and floor sessions on those days. This schedule flops the rest of the week when in Helena.
She’s paying rent in Helena and Bozeman where she’s at school—something anyone with a passing awareness of the Montana housing market knows is an Everest challenge in itself.
And it does it all without that kind of long-term supporting work; free profession Or a retirement fund — and pension-supported financial arrangements many legislators have that allow them to come to the Capitol for four months every two years.
That feeds into another hurdle for Stromswold and something she wanted to make sure people understood: how inaccessible the legislature is.
“It was an institution usually set up by older, wealthier men and to be honest, I’m not one of those,” Stromswald said. I have student loans, I pay my rent, and I’m going to school. I can not afford it. I can’t stand the service.”
In the first two weeks of this session, the debate over what to do with the $2.4 billion surplus dominated. Many ideas about property tax deductions, which don’t mean much to a renter, end up in college. When she raised this disconnect, she often said that the point she was making had not occurred to many lawmakers before.
“I can’t blame them. It’s not what they hear. They don’t knock on doors with college students. They usually pay property tax and that’s what they see,” Stromswald said. “I feel almost like I have a responsibility (to make these points), but I know this perspective will follow me .”
Since being sworn in on January 2, Stromsjold has reflected on the difficulties of the past session and realized that this year will not be much different in key respects.
“I still need to make those votes. I will never be in the same class. It became clear that the repercussions of such actions did not change this session,” Stromswald said. “You get a lot of backlash and verbal and pressure. Pressure and backlash is a really good way to sum up what’s going on.”
After a pause, she added, “Anger.”
When she first decided to run shortly before her 18th birthday, she never imagined the political environment she would get into.
“I thought everyone was supportive of you and they’re just focusing on what’s our big focus: freedom, small government, and freedom,” Stromsjold said.
Then she saw the first set of bills focused on culture war issues such as legislation limiting healthcare for transgender people and access to sports teams.
“I realized that technically, for some people, those priorities fall under the (party platform) umbrella, but for me they don’t,” Stromswald said. “I feel like I really don’t have a place on this platform at this time.”
There will always be animosity, Stromsjold said, whether it is spoken and blunt, as was the case in the previous session, or unsaid and blunt, like this until now.
“It was difficult because it was happening more behind closed doors at this point. The last session was very direct in my face. (This session) most things were isolation and the best way to put it was punishment, which made it more difficult for me without them having to Looking at me and saying, “We’ll do this for you,” or saying something flippant, Stromswold said.
She worried that the bills she wanted to bring in, like bills to fund homeless shelters, wouldn’t get a fair shake.
“It was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m the best person to carry this,’ because I want it to pass,” Stromswald said.
“There was a concern that I didn’t want to jeopardize anything that was a high priority because I was the sponsor,” Stromsjold continued. “…I hope they think less of the actor and more of the acting.”
For every person who had caused her frustration with the previous votes, she wanted to make sure that there were three others who were kind. She is proud of the work she has done.
“When I think about the highs of the past session, it stands in those scenarios when I’m one of the 67 to do it. It’s also the lows because you get all the backlash from it. It feels good to be proud of my last session and this session,” Stromswald said. Even though it’s been two weeks.
In a statement Saturday in response to Stromswold’s resignation, Speaker of the House Matt Reger, R. Kalispell, said, “…the leadership of the House wishes her well in all future endeavors.”
She said Stromswold has been a Republican “my whole life”. And from the age of 11, everyone around her knew that she wanted to be in politics one day, but what she experienced on the Republican side of the legislature kept her from that idea. Her political beliefs are rooted in the idea that people are generally left alone to do their own thing as long as they don’t hurt anyone else.
“The most important thing to me is personal choices. … Every decision, I feel, should be without government. I understand that some government is needed … But that’s what the Republican Party is about to me: taking care to make sure that everyone has basic needs and is able to live life the way he chooses,” Stromswald said.
Stromswold fell in love with the legislative process when she was a page in the 2019 session during some of the most intense debates about expanding Medicaid.
“There’s a whole lot of Republicans who went against their entire caucus,” Stromswald said of what she saw four years ago. Then she saw them get re-elected and showed her that she could stand up for what she believed in.
It’s a message she shares with this year’s cohort of new lawmakers, especially those who voted on the more moderate side of the debate over House rule-making.
“It’s interesting because I’m at least 20 years younger than most of them, and … I’m going to be a role model. I also want to be a role model for everyone else, saying ‘If you can’t do that, that’s fine and you don’t have to put up with it.'” This,” Stromswald said.
It’s hard for the party to get people to back away from a platform that may not include the full Republican spectrum, Stromswald said.
Over the summer, a youth delegate to a Montana GOP platform convention that featured the slogan “We’re Better, Together” was mocked for trying to remove language on abortion policy that life begins at conception. Her concern was to alienate people who had different views on the subject.
Often in the legislature, a majority (an overwhelming majority this year) wants like-minded loyalty with no room for conversion, Stromswald said.
“It becomes like you have to meet that standard. It’s like a category I don’t like. It’s a party, it has to fall under that umbrella. Not that size 2 dress that everyone needs,” Stromswold said.
Her downtown Billings constituency includes quite a few college students, seniors trying to stay home, and young families just struggling to make life work.
“We’re talking about drag shows when people in college, people in Bozeman, can’t even afford housing and can’t even find housing,” Stromswald said. “It’s a frustrating feeling that we have this power (as lawmakers). The Republican Party is so great. We have that power…but it’s so divisive and nothing is being done.”
She’s studying political science now, of course, but she sees herself working on the advocacy side of things when she’s done, possibly focusing on human trafficking.
Stromswald is optimistic, albeit on a long timeline, that things will improve in both the party and the legislature. She hopes her replacement will be someone who brings a similar perspective to her to the legislature.
“I have great confidence in my generation,” she said. “It will take a lot of time.”