Butte teen representing Montana at Boys Nation in Washington, D.C. | Local

Jackson Maloney, a 17-year-old Butte High student, is among a contingent of teenagers adding their voices to the political debates zigzagging around Washington, D.C. this week.

The American Legion’s Boys Nation participants arrived in the capital Friday, July 21, after being selected from participants in Boys State in June. They’ll remain for a full week of events.

The program, founded by the American Legion in 1935 as an answer to socialist “young pioneer” camps, aims to teach young people about the processes of local, state and national government. The American Legion Auxiliary runs a similar program for young women, Girls State.

In Washington, participants take part in the legislative process start to finish, introducing bills, debating them and voting to override vetoes if needed.

Some of the legislation awaiting introduction at this weekend’s session include a bill to make Election Day a federal holiday, a bill to remove mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, and a bill lowering the drinking age to 18.

Maloney’s bill proposes a tax break to companies that offer affordable health care to their employees. The bill he debated at Boys State in Helena dealt with the cost of meals in state prison, suggesting an increase in food costs in order to bring down health care costs, Maloney said.

No matter the subject, he’s been preparing to debate his ideas at a national level.

“When you’re dealing with … pretty much the cream of the crop from the states, you don’t want to go in there looking silly,” he said.

Maloney, the son of Celine and Steve Maloney, says that seeing political turmoil from a distance has made him even more determined to bring integrity to his role – even as he recognizes the political maneuvering that role sometimes demands.

“One kid (at Boys State) spoke against everything that he really believed in … because when it comes to Montanans, it’s really going to help them,” Maloney said. Seeing his peers in the mock Senate balance their personal opinions with what they see as their so-called constituents’ interests was an inspiring lesson.

“We need more of that, kids saying this is good for people I’m representing,” he said.

That’s a mindset that Maloney says he can get behind long-term.

“I really like politics. I want to shape it,” he said. “I want to be more of an influencer, instead of someone who stands by and watches.”