Dakota Hileman is on a mission to become the youngest legislator in the country.
On Friday afternoon, Hileman cleared one of his first hurdles by graduating from high school at Shodair Children’s Hospital, which provides psychiatric treatment for children and adolescents. The next step is to turn 18 in November and file his candidacy paperwork in January.
Hileman started high school in Lincoln, his hometown, before finishing at Shodair, which has an accredited school of its own. At a graduation ceremony filled with family and friends, Hileman was also congratulated by Gov. Steve Bullock, who came at Hileman’s request. Bullock had heard Hileman liked ties and gave him one of his own at the ceremony.
“It was a gift to be part of your celebration,” Bullock said.
Now that he has a diploma, Hileman is focused on a seat in the Montana House of Representatives. He plans to run in 2018 against Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston. Hileman said he received a congratulatory card from Beard, who said she looks forward to running against him.
If he wins, Hileman could be the youngest serving legislator in the country, a position currently held by Jacob Bachmeier, another representative from Montana. Hileman said there’s a good portion of the state’s population who would benefit from being represented by younger people.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are,” he said. “I hope I can bring something positive to our community.”
Several other legislators from Montana got their start early. Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney started his first legislative term at 22 and Jesse Laslovich, a candidate for auditor last year, entered the Legislature at 19. Jack Uhde was 18 when he was elected to serve in the House in 1976.
In the 2015 session, the average age of a legislator was 57. Millennials held 6 percent of seats in 2015, but made up 29 percent of the population. Hileman is technically too young to be considered a millennial, but his experiences so far are valuable in creating solutions for the people of Montana, he said.
If elected, Hileman said he wants to focus on bettering mental health services and economic issues, like raising the minimum wage.
When he wasn’t busy with school, Hileman said he spends his time reading the news and with friends. He plans to get a job to save money ahead of the election and eventually plans to go to college where he’ll most likely study political science.
His teacher, Amy Allen, said Hileman’s interests have been different than any of her previous students at Shodair. She said she often found him watching recordings of meetings from the Legislature.
“Almost everything he does has some political angle to it,” she said.
Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Jim McCormick and Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, both spoke to Hileman’s accomplishments.
“I can’t wait to serve with you in the Legislature,” Funk said. “You had people who had your back getting that (diploma) and you’ll have people who have your back in the Legislature.”