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'Ostracized and isolated': Montana lawmaker shares experience amid sudden resignation

Posted at 12:49 PM, Jan 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-24 14:49:29-05

BILLINGS - Montana's youngest lawmaker stepped down from her seat in the state legislature saying the pressures of school and party politics became too much.

Mallerie Stromswold, 21, is a Republican from Billings representing House District 50.

At the age of 19, Stromswold celebrated her new adulthood with two life goals — becoming a full-time student studying political science and running for public office.

"I want to help people without necessarily being a nurse or being a counselor," Stromswold said. "So for me, that might look like policy advocacy work, most likely."

Running and winning her election to House District 50 in 2020, Stromswold headed to Helena for the 2021 Legislative Session.

"I quickly learned that politics is politics and policy is policy," Stromswold said.

In Helena, she sat on the House Judiciary and House Human Services committees and carried a few bills that reflected her belief in privacy rights — all while taking a full-time course load in school.

But it was a handful of other bills that started driving a divide between Stromswold and her party, namely two bills carrying controversial restrictions to transgender rights.

"When those bills came across my desk and I saw them, I was immediately like no, I don't agree with this, it's not part of my principles," Stromswold said. "I didn't think there would be a problem with that and then I learned that there was in fact an issue with that."

The bills in question would have required youth athletes to participate in sports based on their sex assigned at birth and would have prohibited doctors from giving adolescents gender-affirming care like puberty blockers.

On these bills, Stromswold was one of five Republicans who voted no - votes, she says, that left her feeling isolated and ostracized by her party.

"It came from more places than just within the building," Stromswold said. "I was sent a RINO of the year award, they were offering money for people to primary me, and then it goes deeper into the face-to-face."

Planning to take a full course load at MSU, Stromswold decided not to run again after the first session but a filing error kept her on the ballot.

She decided to stick with it and won her re-election against Democrat James Reavis by 103 votes.

Returning to Helena, Stromswold said the new session was more of the same.

"I guess I never really mentioned that in the moment, some of it was hard, some of the interactions I had, I left admittedly crying or I left feeling very upset, but I didn't think it affected me," Stromswold said.

"But I think slowly, down the line, it has had a huge effect."

Two weeks into the 2023 session, Stromswold resigned from her position as a legislator.

Now, she's focusing on school and her college experience and hasn't ruled out running for office in the future and she hopes to find a bridge across a growing political divide.

"What that looks like is just acceptance and welcoming and broadening our tent."