A Fly on the Wall- My Week as a Page


Will Eaton, Nugget Staff Writer

The smell of wet printer ink and newly starched pants drifted through the old Capitol building’s halls as Montana’s 68th Legislative Session kicked off on the first week of January–and I watched it all.  

For the first week of January, I along with 3 other students, were Senate Pages.   

The week started off with informal introductions and disorganized tours around the Capitol. With it being the first week of the legislative session since two years prior in 2021, many staff members were disoriented. The week was also a sort of “homecoming” for the legislators and state workers. High-spirited smiles and pats on the back were to soon dwindle in the tense weeks ahead. 

Tucked in a small, stuffy corner of the basement next to the secretaries, we were managed and looked after by Jean Johnson, a former lobbyist, now Senate Page supervisor. 

Being pages, our jobs centered around serving the Senate and all legislators starting at eight in the morning every day. The job entailed collecting papers, flyers, and gifts from the Sergeant-at-Arms office to put into the legislators’ mailboxes. Every 20 minutes, Pages scattered through the building to see if messages had been sent and if documents regarding bills had come in. Come Senate session at 1 pm every day, we Pages would sit at the front of the Senate floor looking out into the sea of people as 50 pairs of eyes stared back at us. During the session, if a Senator needed assistance, they would press the “Page” button on their desk. From our view, an image of their desk would light up on a screen and we would quietly and promptly go to assist them. 

Photo from Will Eaton

To get the position, we first had to be appointed by a Senator. Local Senator Mary Ann Dunwell of District 42 sponsored me and fellow classmate Kaylyn Barns after meeting her through newspaper class. Next, we sent in our applications with summaries about ourselves. A few months later in December, we received calls saying we were given the positions, and thorough packets of information and forms were sent to our homes. Pages were required to dress in business professional attire daily. Men had to dress in starched pants, a tucked-in button-up shirt, a sports jacket, and a tie. This was so important to the look of the legislator that men were not allowed on the Senate or House floors without a suit jacket and tie.

Photo from Will Eaton

Senate Pages with Senator Dunwell on the Senate Floor

From left to right: Kenzie Criswell, Kaylyn Barns, Senator Mary Ann Dunwell, Will Eaton, and Chris Jenemann

The formality and rules associated with the legislature were a learning curve: Where and where not to enter, where and where not to sit. For example, if sitting and a legislator approached, you were required to quickly stand as a form of respect. We were permitted to walk on the sides of the Senate floor and never walk in front of a Senator speaking. We were never to use the center aisle unless the Page request was coming from one of the first two seats from the aisle. We were never allowed to use the center aisle doors under any circumstance, as those were reserved for legislators only . . . we never actually found out what would happen if we did.  

Throughout the week we met with the Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen, Attorney General  Austin Knudsen, and Governor Greg Gianforte. We walked to the Department of Justice across the road on a frigid morning as we learned about the State Supreme Court and got to sit in the justices’ chairs.  

Photo from Christi Jacobsen

Senate Pages and Senate Page Supervisor (left) and House Pages and House Page Supervisor (right) posing with Secretary of State, Christi Jacobsen (Middle)

 On the final day of our week, we were permitted to walk to the dome of the Capitol. Security unlocked a small door on the fourth floor, and we ascended a rusty winding iron staircase. If you looked down whilst walking, you would’ve wished you wouldn’t. When we finally made it to the top, we signed our names in marker where we could find room on the floor and walls. Decades of names from legislators, state workers, students, and former pages decorated the concrete interior.  

Photo by Will Eaton

3,168 feet in the air inside the rotunda

Photo by Will Eaton

My name signed on the concrete floor now among hundreds of others

Helena High Junior Anna Council was a Senate Page during the end of January. Council, sponsored by Senator Dunwell, chose to be a Page “mainly because of the reason to gain experience in a workplace and make money,” she explained. The best part of the experience for her was “getting to learn how everything in the legislature works and getting to know the staff and other Pages.”  

For Council, the most challenging part was the 9-hour workdays compared to the routine 7-hour school days. When asked if given the opportunity, other students should Page, Council said, “Other students should definitely Page as it gains experience and it’s fun to participate in.” 

Helena High Sophmore Kenzie Criswell paged along with me the first week of January. Criswell, sponsored by Senator Janet Ellis of Senate District 41, became a Page because “I thought it was important to be able to learn about the process of the session and what better way to be in the middle of it.” Criswell’s favorite part of her week was exploring the Capitol as well as seeing the early 1900s architecture. But the downside of the building was the fear of getting lost.  

Something Criswell will take away from this experience is the process. “I don’t think I’ll forget how important and special it is to participate in the legislature even if you aren’t a politician because the bills they pass affect all of us,” she said. When asked if other students should page, Criswell said, “Absolutely, it’s really educating, and you even get a week off of school, so why not.”  

Helena High Senior Hailey Scott paged as well, this time, in the House. Representative Jill Cohenour of House District 84 sponsored Scott from the week of January 30th to February 3rd. Scott chose to page because she described herself as a “pretty political person” who has always had an interest in government. Scott explained, “You get paid and you get to miss a week of school, and I’m not passing that up.”  

For Scott, the most fascinating part of being a Page was hearing how legislators discussed bills. “Some they don’t even discuss at all and others they can talk about for half an hour or longer,” she explained. “Passing out thousands of half sheets of paper of emails” was understandably the most difficult part. Scott will take away an awareness from this experience about how stressful it is to be a legislator and also “how more bills are bipartisan than you would expect.” Scott described how it was “cool to see government working with my own eyes.”  

Though a sometimes challenging and demanding job, the rewarding experience of being a Page is something that we will never forget. The one-week opportunity has formed us students into greater and better-informed citizens. So, if you ever have the chance to page or at the least, take part in your legislature, try it and you’ll see democracy . . . in action.