More than a dozen Ennis high school seniors took advantage of an opportunity to videoconference with United States Senator Max Baucus on Wednesday as part of their U.S. History classes, each student asking the Montana politician a question about what he does and how he spends his time trying to solve problems as they relate to the state.
Baucus explained that a large part of his work relates to agriculture and highway bills, as well as issues like Social Security, Medicare and trying to reduce the national debt. Other important issues he’s involved in are services for Montana’s military veterans and the management of the state’s growing wolf population.
Student Tucker Ott began the informal discussion by asking how members of the Senate get assigned to different committees. Baucus said that some committees are more sought after than others, and while the process has changed over time senators generally try to pick the committees they want to serve on.
“As you might guess a lot of it is seniority, and if somebody has been in the Senate for more years than somebody else then he or she has a better shot of getting on that committee,” he answered.
Katie Philpot asked Baucus just how important his position is as chairman of the Finance Committee. The senator answered that he views part of his role as trying to bring order and bipartisanship to the process in order to get Democrats and Republicans to work together.
“I think its very important, that position, because it sort of sets the tone, the stage, on extremely important matters – mainly, our national debt, our taxation policy, social security policy, Medicare / Medicaid, international trade – these are nuts and bolts, bread and butter issues,” Baucus said. “I take that job very seriously and I feel very honored, frankly, to have that position, just as much honored to represent you and represent everyone else in our state.”
Students Mason Hamilton and Colten Clark both asked Baucus for his thoughts on the future of the state’s growing wolf population. Baucus referred to the amendment he proposed to the Endangered Species Act that allows for a hunting season.
“I understand the Endangered Species Act is there to protect endangered species, but the last year or so we’ve had an awful lot of wolves,” Baucus said.
“A lot of this comes down to balance and what’s reasonable,” he continued. “It made sense to me for Montana to have a hunt.”
Student Amber Yates said asked whether or not Senator Baucus agreed with President Obama’s views on gay rights. Baucus said that society has changed on the subject over time, and he didn’t see how he had much right to prevent two people from being together, no matter what their preference is.
“I frankly think it’s a matter for states to figure out who can marry who,” he said.
Baucus was also asked how the Senate has changed over time, and he said that the biggest impact has come from communications technology. While the Internet, email, texting and tweeting have made people more independent, Baucus said it has led to a greater degree of partisanship while at the same time decreasing a certain level of trust.
When asked by student Kacee Griffis why he decided to become a Congressman, Baucus reflected on his experience of travelling around the world after spending six months going to school in France.
“It was during that trip I decided that the world has got to get along better together. And maybe if I work at it, maybe my life might be a little bit better and other peoples lives too,” Baucus said.
“Each of us is different, and I think I’ve got a little bit of a natural ability to relate to different people, all kinds of people,” he said. “I realized you can always find a solution to a problem.”