Profiles Of Effective Lawmakers: Rep. Jonathan Karlen | Democrat – Montana
July 17, 2023
Super Effective in the Super-Minority: A Gen Zer’s Hike Through Montana’s Tough (Political) Landscape
Meet State Representative Jonathan Karlen, a 23-year-old Gen Z lawmaker who is building bridges in the Montana state legislature. Despite his young age, Karlen brings a wealth of experience and passion to his role as a state representative — having stints on both Capitol Hill and in public parks. As a wildlife biologist from Western Montana, he has always been fascinated by the natural world and the policies that impact it. Karlen’s background and interests led him to pursue a career in public service, and he was elected to the state legislature in 2022.
As a Democrat in the super-minority, he managed to make progress in the legislature through being open-minded and ready to collaborate with any of his colleagues regardless of their political affiliations. “I am willing to work with anybody,” said Karlen. “There are people that I probably don’t vote together 90% of the time, but if there’s 2% that we can agree on or even agree to work together on, I will always be there.”
When speaking with Karlen, he emphasizes that he is in office to honestly and accurately represent his constituents — even the ones that might disagree with his politics. “I go into every conversation realizing that I represent the people who didn’t vote for me just as much as I need to represent the people who did vote for me,” he explained.
Tapping into his passions for wildlife and climate, he approaches every policy issue with excellence. “The way I view it is the way we approach taxes says a lot about our values,” Karlen says in reference to his work on land-tax policy.
Most recently, Rep. Karlen introduced a bill on a mental health screening program for students. The bill was initially shot down, but after building a coalition with his colleagues across the aisle and making revisions throughout night, he was able to introduce it the next day, and it passed the Human and Health Services Committee, eventually being funded by the Governor. “I think there absolutely is a lot of bipartisanship when you get into the weeds,” he notes. Housing is a prime example given that just the week prior, Rep. Karlen’s mobile home protection bill passed the Senate, “Those are fun issues to work on. It feels like we’re not [trying to make headlines]. It’s more about, you know, how can we actually improve people’s lives?”
Karlen shared a unique insight that sheds light on why he is an effective leader and lawmaker: “Literally every issue has just fascinated me,” he said. In a political environment where many are focused on scoring headlines, Karlen believes that being passionate about even the most mundane policies that have significant impacts is the key to getting things done.
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