LPHS History teacher Cameron Johnson’s Problems of Democracy high school class studies everything from the Supreme Court to local government. Last week, students sent Senator Baucus questions regarding the state budget, healthcare and tourism. The senator “virtually” sat down with the students via Skype to discuss the issues. An abridged version of their conversation follows:

Opening words from Baucus:
I probably shouldn’t say this, but my favorite place to ski is Big Sky. I ski there every year, and visit every summer.

My main job is to work for you. We are an outdoors state. We want to enjoy it, and to do that, we have to have decent jobs, and put food on the table.

Ever since I’ve been in Congress, snowmobiles have been an issue. We should not stop machines from going into Yellowstone Park.

I am very proud that you [Big Sky] have a high school now.

Are you happy with what happened with the budget plan?
I’m happy, but it’s a compromise.

So do you think there was enough money cut?
The debate has been over how much spending there should be for fiscal year 2011. We need to consider future years. We have a $14 trillion national debt. What is being done to boost Montana’s economy? The more we boost tourism, the more it helps. Our state has been discovered. The APEC conference is bringing 23-25 countries. Get signed up for a project, and invite ministers from other countries to your school. I [also] put on an economic development conference showcasing Montana. Some think it’s just beautiful skies, streams and cowboys, but there are great companies and towns, too. An upcoming farm bill coming will help parts of our state. We have more federal highway miles than any other state in the country, and that helps.

What’s your favorite part of your job? Your least favorite?

I like talking to students. You have the whole world ahead of you. You’re young, optimistic. You ask positive questions, and aren’t cynical like older people are. I have the best job in the world. Montana really is the best place. It’s rewarding to help solve problems. I brought the APEC conference to Big Sky because I
like to work with people.

The worst part? Fundraising. You have to raise a lot to win elections. It’s obscene. You can’t cap the amount of money you can raise to win an election. It’s up to the Supreme Court to overturn that ruling. Homework is more fun than fundraising.

What are the plans to increase spending on education?
I have a soft spot for education. Most high schools are paid for by the state. Higher education is often financed by the federal government. I can’t do a lot in Montana in respect to education, but I guarantee you don’t have to leave to find a good paying job. The more you educate yourself, the more choices you have.

Are you for or against Obama’s health care bill?
The health care bill will help reduce costs in this country. Americans pay 60 percent more per person than the next highest-paying country…a very inefficient system. The point of the new system is to gain control. We’re a small business state, and health insurance companies take advantage of that. It’s the right thing to do. Is it perfect? No.

A lot has been said that is made up about the bill. You have to go the extra mile, ask legitimate, constructive questions to figure out if what someone says is right or not.

Closing words:
I strongly urge you to travel. I am here because I went to an overseas campus in college. I was with 80 other students like myself in France, but didn’t learn French.
After, I went backpacking on my own… [That] helped me solve problems. [Go] see what it’s all about. It will help ground you and decide what you want to do.