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ESP: All in the Family

A Montana ESP follows her father into public service.

By John Rosales

When Scott McCulloch served in the Montana Legislature in the early 1990s, Robyn Driscoll was an intern who reported to the House majority leader. Word had it that she came from good political stock.

Her great-grandfather was a stellar sheriff from Butte who lost his job for refusing to shoot picketing miners in the 1920s. Her father was a hard-core union man who worked for an oil refinery in Billings. As a Democratic precinct committee member, he registered voters, attended campaign rallies, and drove neighbors to the polls. Young Robyn was always nearby.

Later, as an intern, “you’d see her on the assembly floor, at fundraisers, committee meetings…everywhere,” says McCulloch, a field consultant with MEA-MFT who served two terms in the legislature.

Today, Driscoll is still a presence at state political events, though no longer as an intern from Rocky Mountain College. In keeping with the family tradition of public service, Driscoll is the first-term state representative from House District 51 in Billings.

State Rep. Robyn Driscoll of the Billings Classified Employees Association is running for a second term in the Montana legislature. Photo:George Lane

Since the Montana Legislature convenes only in odd- numbered years, most legislators have other, full-time jobs. Driscoll is an adult education program specialist with the Billings school district. The district’s union contract allows her to take unpaid leave when the legislature is in session from January to April.

Elected in November 2004, Driscoll is up for re-election this fall. She credits her internship and family background as the building blocks of her political career. “Political conversations were abundant at the dinner table,” she says. “I knew after completing my internship that I would run someday.”

There are five children in the Driscoll family, all of whom work on the campaigns of Democratic candidates. But it was McCulloch who approached Driscoll in 2002 about running for office. “I didn’t feel ready at the time to do the work required to run a successful campaign,” says Driscoll, a 44-year-old mother of a 26-year-old daughter. So she waited two years before taking the plunge. “Campaigning completely takes over your life, and that’s before you even take office,” she says.

In addition to family support, Driscoll can count on 14 other MEA-MFT members serving in the statehouse. Gary Branae, a retired high school math teacher and counselor, is serving his third term as a state representative.

“[Branae] graciously advises me on everything, including telling me when I need to take a deep breath and regroup,” Driscoll says. “There isn’t much politically that I do without checking with him first.”

A typical day at the statehouse finds Driscoll in a committee meeting by 8 a.m. She reports to the House floor at 1 p.m., then is back in committee meetings through the afternoon. During mid-session, when bills are transmitted to the Senate, Driscoll’s days start at 6 a.m. and stretch into the night.

“I am usually so tired when I leave the office, about the best I can do is eat a quick meal and read through the next day’s bills before falling asleep,” she says.

Despite her long hours as a policymaker, Driscoll can’t seem to leave her school duties behind.
“Part of my job with the district is producing a brochure of classes,” she says. “I didn’t want anyone else working on that, so my boss lets me do that from Helena, via e-mail.”

Her two worlds also collide far from the statehouse, back home in Billings. When she finishes her school district duties at 5 p.m., Driscoll says she likes to walk the streets knocking on doors until evening.

“The best part of being a legislator is meeting folks,” she says. “I also like having a voice in things that will affect people’s lives.”

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