When Rep. Amanda Curtis, D-Butte, arrived in Helena in January, her 10-year-old laptop was on the verge of crashing. She used a technology stipend available to all legislators to purchase a new Toshiba laptop, but felt guilty about getting it “on the taxpayer’s dime.”
“When I opened it up and saw that it had Windows 7 and this really easy movie maker,” she says, “I realized I could use this stipend to do something of substance for my constituents, and ease my conscience.”
Curtis opens that laptop every evening after leaving the Capitol and dishes about the business of the day in video updates she then posts on YouTube. Sometimes she offers a straight review of committee hearings and floor votes. Other times her emotions spill over. On day 66 of the session she openly wept while chastising House Republicans for voting against Medicaid expansion. On day 73, she admitted she had to fight the urge to “punch” Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, for his “hateful testimony” opposing a bill to decriminalize homosexuality in Montana. See both videos below.
“I’m not saying anything in those videos that I wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face,” Curtis says. “I would definitely tell someone, ‘I was so mad I felt like punching you’ … It’s not a threat. But I don’t know how else to express how overwhelmingly offended I was.”
Curtis’ daily updates typically get a few dozen hits. Her day 73 post, which the Huffington Post called a “stinging rebuke,” got nearly 9,000 views.
But the videos aren’t intended as mere political rants. Curtis, a teacher at Butte High School, has attended numerous training workshops on creating video lessons. Her approach to the legislative updates is similar: Talk straight to constituents and “promote public knowledge of what’s actually happening.”
The response has been “overwhelming,” Curtis says. She gets high-fives in bars and grocery stores back home. She gets thank-you cards from people outside her district. Educators from sixth grade to high school are showing her videos in class. Even her peers on both sides of the aisle—as well, she says, as the Butte Tea Party—are following her updates. And while she’s felt tempted to tone down her posts at times, particularly in the wake of the Kerns-punching comment, Curtis feels no guilt about telling it like it is.
“I don’t sit down and plan how in-your-face I’m going to be in those videos,” Curtis says. “It’s just my daily report. It’s just who I am and how I feel.”