During the final week of September and first week of October, Roger Koopman published guest columns in newspapers across Montana chastising and attacking Montana high school students who participated in the international climate strike and educational forums on Sept. 20. Koopman likewise condemned school administrators who granted students excused absences in Bozeman and Missoula, and he cited the $11,000 per student that Montana taxpayers expend each year.

It’s not the first time Koopman challenged neighbors who were acting conscientiously to improve community well-being. Koopman delayed a project in Bozeman, filing a lawsuit which merely served to add additional cost to the project.

Bozeman voters had, in November 2018, overwhelmingly approved a $37 million bond to build Bozeman’s Public Safety Center. Koopman sued to block it. A district judge dismissed his suit as invalid and without basis, and both the Commissioner of Political Practices and Bozeman Board of Ethics found no city wrongdoing. Still, Koopman threatened to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. So commissioners offered him a $22,000 settlement to avoid further construction delays and cost overruns (estimated at $2 million per year). He took the taxpayer money and dropped his lawsuit.

Koopman, who lives in Bozeman, is a native-born New Yorker like Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He entered Montana politics, served several years in the state legislature, founded Montana Conservative Alliance and its associated right-wing political action committee, and sits on the Public Service Commission (PSC). Yet, Koopman seems to remain, in many ways, an abrasive New Yorker in Big Sky Country. An outside agitator of sorts.

In June 2018, a judge ruled against a PSC action, stating that PSC members (who earn six-figure public salaries) had expressed bias against renewable energy development, favoring coal instead, and had denied solar energy company MTSUN due process in a rate request. The judge cited PSC member statements as evidence of bias, including articles penned by Koopman. In response, Koopman lambasted the judge.

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Once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker? I don’t believe this is necessarily so. Montana’s natural grandeur, outdoor lifestyles and warm, welcoming communities draw many of the finest people in the world to our state. Many of these people love the land and people here and do all they can to fit in and help maintain our quality of life, embracing Montana values.

So, Montana students, please ignore the strident voice of the New York native who criticized you. I, for one, applaud your engaged and participatory action. I remember the first Earth Day in Missoula and SCUM Day — Students Clean Up Missoula. High school students spread out across the valley and took pride in helping clean up the environment.

Pay no attention to any Koopmans. You students have the power to create a better future for us all. We need your vision, idealism, energy and intelligence. We need your diverse voices, political participation and informed civic action. Montana students and school administrators: I salute you, your resolve and your collective action!

Roger Koopman, I’m reminded of another New Yorker who told four young women to go back to from where they came. I prefer to say this: “Roger, stay here and learn from these young Montana students who are not afraid to face the future with courage, conviction, urgency, and knowledge — and they do it for us all, not for personal gain!”

Student protest can be educational.

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Hal Schmid is a researcher, writer and educator based in Missoula.


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