March 22, 2023

On the Rise is a year-long series leading up to MAP’s ten year anniversary. The series features profiles of Millennial and Gen Z legislators in the Millennial Action Project’s State Future Caucus Network (SFCN) network. The SFCN is a bipartisan network of young elected officials that engages with over 1,600 legislators across the country to work on future-oriented policy solutions. Future Caucus members are committed to pragmatically working toward a culture of political cooperation.

In a recent interview, Sen. Kenneth Bogner, a member of the State Future Caucus Network, opened up about his experience and policy work as an elected Republican in Montana. Read on to learn more about how Sen. Bogner translated his military career to becoming a legislator and uses “state policy as foreign policy” in Montana.

Meet Ken Bogner:

I’m Ken Bogner, I represent a large portion of southeast Montana, Senate District 19. It’s the size of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut combined. I was born and raised here, in Miles City, which is very much a farmer rancher cowboy town. I joined the military when I turned 18 and did four years in the Marine Corps with two tours to Iraq. On those tours, I got very interested in geopolitics, and how a kid from the middle of nowhere-Montana ends up halfway around the world, in the desert, surrounded by people who speak a different language and in the middle of a war zone. When I got out of the military, I went to Columbia University on the GI bill to study international relations, and through a series of campaigns, following my interests, and leaning into my passion for public service — I ended up here, serving my home state.”

Describe the moment you decided to run for office, and were there motivating factors to your decision?

“When I graduated from Columbia, I moved to Austin, Texas, to help my brother transition out of the military. He’d gotten wounded in Afghanistan, so he wanted to try to acclimate back to civilian life by going to school. He eventually decided to go home to Montana, but I decided to go work on a state Senate campaign in California… I fell in love with campaigns. The hours were horrible, and the pay was worse, but the fact that I loved it really cemented the fact that I wanted to get into politics. From there, I went overseas to get a master’s degree in public policy and in order to graduate from the program, I had to get an internship. I was wanting to come back to Montana, so I got an internship with one of the Montana U.S. Senator’s offices, and that led to an aide job in the legislature.

I got to know my local representatives, and after that session, the state senator in my district termed out. The representative from my hometown asked if I’d be interested in running and I said ‘Yeah! I really would.’ I won the election in 2018, and just got reelected to my second term. I am also now the Senate President Pro Tempore.”

Can you share a little about your district and your constituents? What issues are your constituents looking for you to represent?

“It’s a very big, very rural district. It has a significant aging population. The district is dependent on the agriculture industry, and as the agriculture industry becomes more efficient, we’re seeing workforce issues. Having to recruit individuals to our district is becoming quite a big deal — and not just doctors, attorneys, and teachers. It’s every industry. Trying to recruit the younger generation is, I would say, one thing that has taken a lot of time and has been my focus… Making it so that we can compete, not with the rest of the state but with the rest of the country.”

You mentioned your brother having challenges in transitioning back into civilian life. Montana is one of the states with 15% or more veterans in the state legislature? How do you think veteran representation in the governing body impacts the state?

“There is a huge focus on veterans here and [the state] really makes them a priority, which as a veteran is great. It helps me as a legislator because my colleagues will look to me on those veterans issues. I have that unique voice, along with a few of my vet colleagues, and all of us give really good representation to the large veteran community that we have in the state. [Veterans] are the people we really value here in Montana — people that are willing to serve our state and our country. It means a lot that they look to me for that perspective.”

Being in the military and then a student and grad student, you meet and work with many folks from all different walks of life. How did you find commonality? How did you learn to trust one another?

“I think getting diverse perspectives is very valuable, especially once you get to the legislature. You’re not just in your little bubble. You can have those conversations and learn from the experiences of others that you may have or have not had. It helps in understanding how different legislation is built differently which is a super helpful lens. Overall, these experiences and perspectives have made me such a better legislator.”

Legislators often shift from polarized campaigning to effective governing. What was the switch like for you and what did you find useful in this transition?

“I’ve made sure to make a distinction between criticizing individual candidates / politicians versus critiquing their policies. It’s easy to name-call, but I’ve really tried to avoid that, but rather be critical of certain types of policies. That way it is not the person, or group they are affiliated with, that there is an issue with. This allows for finding common ground on other issues instead of alienating them altogether. That has been really helpful for me and getting support on other pieces of legislation.”

If you could accomplish one thing in elected office, what would it be?

“Before this session, I was the youngest in my caucus by almost a decade… This isn’t necessarily a policy change, but I would like to see younger people more involved in the state. I think that leads to policies that would affect my district in the way that I’m hoping to do. As I mentioned earlier, I am trying to create policies to recruit young people and have my community carry on and not age out. Equipping Montana with the young leaders it needs for its future — in every sector — would be my dream accomplishment for my state.”

Could you tell us a story about how you worked with a younger legislator or opposite member together to achieve something important for your state?

“Yeah, so right now, I’m working on a facial recognition technology bill — particularly putting guidelines on the state’s use of the technology. I’ve worked really closely with a Democrat in the House of Representatives. It’s an issue there that we both agree on, and one of those issues that we didn’t have to attack the policy. We just both agreed, and felt like we have a really good bill — especially because we incorporated different perspectives. We thought about questions like — how can we get this passed in the Senate and the House? How can we get Republican support? How can we get Democrat support? We also looked at different organizations that maybe we don’t usually communicate with or they represent the other side of the aisle, and got their input on the legislation as well. From these considerations, we’ve come up with a bill that meets everyone’s various needs. It will be kind of one of the most comprehensive in the country… It’s really exciting. There was no name calling, we just had that mutual respect, and a shared goal. And because we shared respect and a common goal — we came up with a really good product that we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Are you working on any specific bills that you are proud of?

“Because of my background of being in the military and studying international relations, I like to use state policy as foreign policy where I can. I have a bill to open a Montana trade office in India. I also have a bill that prevents foreign adversaries from purchasing critical infrastructure in the state. As technology continues to expand, I want to make sure that [Montana] is focused on being proactive and not reactive on our privacy. That’s important to me. Last session, I passed an amendment to protect our electronic data and communications from illegal searches and seizures which is now written in the state’s constitution. I’m really proud of my work here, and am excited to see what more can be done.”


Rep. Sara Jacobs


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