A McKendree University junior earned a front row seat to history — and potentially a new career — by doing some extra credit work.
Michael Butler, 19, of McLeansboro, was part of a school trip to Springfield last year during which he and his classmates planned to lobby state leaders about support for funding higher education.
“We take a group of students to the capitol every spring where they talk to representatives about issues important to people trying to get an education,” McKendree assistant professor of political science Ann Collins said. “Their primary focus is (Monetary Assistance Program or) MAP funds, which a lot of students need to be able to afford to go to school.”
Butler expected to speak to his state representative, Democrat Gary Forby. But Forby was away from the statehouse tending to a family emergency on the day students were there. So instead of shrugging his shoulders and giving up because his assigned representative was unavailable, Butler decided to go speak to another representative whose career he had followed.
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“Mike Bost was the representative of the next district over,” Butler said. “I liked what I knew about him and, like I am, he is a Republican, so I went to talk to him instead.
“I wanted to tell him that I had a lot of respect for him and talk about the issues,” Butler said. “We really hit it off.”
Bost was so struck by the ambitious and thoughtfulness of the student, he offered Butler an internship as he geared up to run for the U.S. Congress.
“Michael impressed me with his friendly nature and his amazing attitude,” Bost said. “He’s so nice and kind and works well with people. He’s always asking what he can do next.”
Bost said he wasn’t even looking for an intern when Butler showed up. But the young man’s gumption and attitude inspired him to find a place on his staff.
“Everybody in the office loves him,” Bost said.
Butler ended up with a behind-the-scenes vantage point, helping to organize the candidate’s appearances in parades and rallies, as Bost improbably won his election. He became the first Republican to win a seat in Congress to represent the district that includes St. Clair County since World War II.
“It was a historic win,” Butler said.
Along the campaign trail, Butler met national political figures including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at one rally and Speaker of the House John Boehner at another.
The junior, who said he wants to go to law school after he graduates from McKendree with a degree in political science and a minor in legal studies, answers phones, looks up information for constituents and, basically, does anything else that’s asked of him.
“He’s always asking what he can do next,” Bost said.
While Butler’s internship will be over in May, Bost said he’d be interested in keeping his protegé on if Butler is interested.
“I don’t know if that’s what he wants to do in his future,” Bost said. “But he’s always welcome here if a spot opens up. And if I am ever asked, I would gladly give him a letter of recommendation.”
Butler, who said one of his goals is to someday hold public office, said he might take Bost up on that offer.
Regardless of what career path he takes, Collins said Butler is a great example to his classmates.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” Collins said. “This is the sort of thing that can happen when a student takes some initiative.”