On the Same Page | Meat and Greet

2/21/2019

Senator Tom Jacobson (D), Senator Jen Gross (D), Representative Joel Krautter (R), Representative Zach Brown (D), Debbie Ricci (spouse of Representative Vince Ricci (R) ). Photo by Jessi Bennion

Embracing a Cliché, Montana Legislators Make Sausage in an Effort at Culinary Bipartisanship.

By Lesley Kennedy

You’ve heard the old saying: Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.

But Jon Bennion thinks it’s time to send that notion straight to the, well, meat grinder.

On the eve of the start of the Montana Legislature’s 2019 session, the state’s chief deputy attorney general hosted about a dozen legislators at his home near Helena for a lesson in sausage-making—along with a healthy side of bipartisan comradery.

“You always hear the comparisons of legislating and sausage-making and it just occurred to me: I wonder if there’s a way to put these two things together,” says Bennion, who has been part of Montana’s legislative process since 2007.

With space restraints in mind, he wanted to be sure the invitees included a mix of Democrats and Republicans, women and men, representatives and senators, and urban and rural legislators, but also veteran and freshmen lawmakers. “Not only was there a bipartisan element to this,” he says, “but also a mentoring element that I hope will bloom into something greater, either this session or down the road.”

For the event, Bennion, who has been making sausage as part of a family tradition for a few decades, put together a list of 14 best practices for sausage making that coincided with parallel rules for good legislating. The group whipped up pork and elk recipes ranging from traditional German to breakfast herb to Italian, while discussing their jobs—but not any specific policy.

“I told them, we’re just talking about the policy-making process, so let’s save the debates we know we’re all going to have during the session and just focus now on making delicious sausage,” he says.

Representative Ryan Lynch (D) says the bipartisan nature of the event made it memorable. “People from both sides of the aisle came together to break down barriers and enjoy an old tradition of making sausage,” he says. “It was a celebration of the legislative process and there were many takeaways that were relevant to the process of lawmaking.” 

Bennion also got Montana’s U.S. senators—one a Democrat and one a Republican—to play along via a video message on the importance of being able to cross the aisle. And his boss, Tim Fox, Montana’s attorney general, made a surprise appearance.

“He gave the last rule, which is share the bounty,” Bennion says. “We were encouraging people to give out some of the sausage that they made but also telling them that, in legislating, it’s important to share the credit. There’s usually plenty of credit to go around and the more you share, the better relationships you’re going to have in the future.”

The attendees considered the event a huge success, and although he has no current plans to take the show on the road—despite requests from friends in other states—Bennion does plan to host another one in two years at a bigger location.

“I know I’m not the only person in the world who actually makes sausage and is involved in the legislature, but I know people make the ‘making the sausage’ comparison all the time—in the worst way,” he says. “But, actually, I know sausage can be very tasty and I know passing good legislation can be very fulfilling and rewarding.”

Lesley Kennedy is the manager of digital communications.

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