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Bernie Olson, unsung hero


By John Hughes, President

Kalispell Education Association


Our society often glorifies rugged individualism, sometimes to a fault.


But individualism has not been a hallmark of recent Montana legislative sessions, where bills stand or fall not based on their merit but rather on the party in control of the state legislature.


Bernie Olson


The Democrats held the governor's office and a solid majority in the Senate during the 2005 legislative session, but the House was split 50-50. While many of us held our breath as bills died in committee, legislators eventually provided long-needed financial relief for Montana's public schools.


Many argue that the amount invested in k-12 public education during the 2005 regular session was not enough. Though that may be true, it still represented the greatest investment in many years. The only problem was that a special session was necessary to secure funding for the second year of the biennium.


Again we held our breath, wondering whether or not Governor Schweitzer would call a special session. Eventually he did.


This brings us to Bernie Olson. Many MEA-MFT members know Bernie. He is an MEA-MFT member himself. He taught government and history at Flathead High School for 30 years before retiring and entering politics.


Bernie lives in Lakeside and represents House District 10. In the December 2005 special session, Bernie crossed party lines and cast the one Republican vote for House Bill 1, ensuring passage of the bill in an evenly divided House.


House Bill 1 appropriates over $190 million in a combination of ongoing and one-time funds to public schools and to the beleaguered teachers and public employees retirement systems.


In addition to providing appropriations for the ongoing funding components created in Senate Bill 1, HB 1 provides additional one-time dollars to schools for maintenance, weatherization, energy costs, Indian Education for All, and a statewide assessment of facility and energy needs.


Bernie's singular act of individualism, based on what he felt was right to help provide a quality education for the young people of Montana, may end up costing him his political career. He has already endured intense pressure from his party throughout the 2005 regular and special sessions.


Recently, his party found someone to run against him.


What a pity it is that an individual can't vote his conscience when it comes to providing a quality education for the children of Montana.


Bernie has proven that he is a friend of public education and deserves our thanks and support.


The job of making sure public education is adequately funded to ensure a basic system of free quality public schools is not finished. We need to help send him back to the legislature to finish the job.


Thanks, Bernie, for doing Work That Matters for Montana's children. And thanks to John Hughes for this article.


NOTE: The nearly 300 delegates at MEA-MFT's 2006 Representative Assembly passed the hat and raised over $1,100 to help Bernie with his campaign. Thank you, delegates!


Read about other Amazing MEA-MFT members.