Sen. Steve Daines, the only Bobcat in Congress, returned to his alma mater last weekend to participate in homecoming festivities on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Daines graduated from MSU in 1984 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. After spending 13 years working for Procter & Gamble both domestically and abroad, he returned to Bozeman and worked for his family’s construction business and later as an executive for RightNow Technologies, a company founded by current Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte. He then transitioned from industry to politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 and the Senate in 2014.
In addition to being the only Bobcat in Congress, Daines is the only chemical engineer serving in the U.S.’s legislative body. “Engineers tend to be pretty pragmatic in their approach. It’s not about theoretical solutions, it’s about solving a problem and we need more of that in Washington D.C.,” he said.
In Daines’ final year as an MSU student, enrollment had reached 11,447, a record at the time. This year, MSU set new record with a student population of 16,440. “It’s so exciting to see how popular MSU is and the growth in enrollment,” Daines said, “It says a lot about the quality of this institution.”
Montana has both a large Native American population and a large veteran population compared to most other states. Native Americans comprise approximately two percent of MSU’s growing student body, and accounted for 6.5 percent of the state population in 2013, the fifth-highest in the nation. Daines said he has worked to bring more Native students into the Montana University System, visiting nearly every reservation in Montana during this year’s state work period in August. “Education is the key to get out of poverty and to raise the standard of living. Any time I go on the reservation I’m always talking about [being] a proud Bobcat and encouraging these young students to consider attending one of our universities in Montana,” he said.
There are also almost 5,000 veterans in the state. “Montana has one of the highest per capita vet populations in the United States — typically in the top three,” Daines said. He asserted that it is important “to help those who have served our country. We have some challenges with the VA, we have our veterans sometimes fight through the bureaucracy of the VA and I think it’s one of our most important responsibilities to make sure we take care of our veterans.”
Regarding balancing second amendment rights with campus safety, Daines said, “I will always be one to fight on behalf of Montana for second amendment rights.” He explained, “We’ve got to keep [guns] out of the hands out of the people that should not have a gun — that’s criminals and terrorists. We also fight on behalf of law-abiding Montanans who everyday exercise their second amendment rights and do it according to the law.”
Another issue concerning college students is sexual assault on campuses, with Montana being at the forefront of this problem after the Department of Justice’s investigation into rape incidents in Missoula, drawing criticism for the way sexual assault cases are handled on college campuses. Daines is a supporter of Marsy’s Law, an amendment that was passed in California in 2008, prompting several states to consider similar amendments. Marsy’s Law defines the rights of victims of crime. “The victims need more rights, and Marsy’s Law is about that. This is about protecting the rights of not only the victims but also the victims’ families,” Daines said.
Marsy’s Law will be on the ballot during this fall’s election, under Constitutional Initiative No. 116. The proposed amendment states: “CI-116 would add a new section to the Montana Constitution establishing specific rights for crime victims. The rights enumerated include the right to participate in criminal and juvenile justice proceedings, to be notified of major developments in the criminal case, to be notified of changes to the offender’s custodial status, to be present at court proceedings and provide input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized, and to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings, or any process that may result in the offender’s release. CI-116 guarantees crime victims’ rights to restitution, privacy, to confer with the prosecuting attorney, and to be informed of their rights.”
Daines values reaching out to student leaders. “We’re handing off that baton sooner than we think and that’s why it’s important the next generation is prepared to lead,” he said.