Growing up in the Dallas suburbs, Matt Butler ’12 (Southlake, Texas) wasn’t politically active. Now, less than three years after enrolling at Macalester, Butler co-chairs its Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) chapter, has worked as an election judge, and pitched in for Get Out the Vote campaigns. Last month, Butler took on another new experience: testifying on a bill at the Minnesota State Capitol.
He credits Macalester for jump-starting his passion for the political process. “At Macalester, I live in an environment where everyone expects you to have a reason for your political stance,” says Butler, a political science major and Russian studies minor. “You can’t simply say you are liberal or conservative without people asking why. That debate really makes you think about politics and your own opinions.”
The college’s location has also played a role in his political involvement. Macalester students can visit the state capitol easily because of its proximity—just four miles up Summit Avenue. “Being in St. Paul helps us hold our legislators more accountable by being at the capitol and being more engaged in state politics,” Butler says.
“Being in St. Paul helps us hold our legislators more accountable by being at the capitol and being more engaged in state politics,” Butler says.
On behalf of MPIRG, he testified against legislation that would require voters to show photo ID with a current address on Election Day. Supporters argue that the change would reduce voter fraud, but opponents contend that the two bills being debated would make it harder for out-of-state students to vote in Minnesota. Butler opposes the legislation because it would “force students to jump through hoops to take part in the most fundamental part of democracy,” he says. “I vote in Minnesota because I live here most of the year, so the laws here have a direct influence on my everyday life.”
This particular legislation reflects a relatively new issue for Butler; the bills were written when Macalester students were home during winter break. This semester, MacPIRG members will head to the capitol as a group to talk with legislators about the bills.
“The more I got involved in politics, the more empowering it was to see the issues I care about the most being addressed by legislators,” Butler says. “It all starts with voting.”