State Superintendent Juneau Announces 2016 Congressional Campaign

Denise Juneau, a Democrat, will challenge GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke in 2016 election

By Molly Priddy
Denise Juneau. Courtesy photo.

Denise Juneau, the state superintendent of public schools, has formally announced her intent to run for Montana’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2016 election.

The seat currently belongs to Rep. Ryan Zinke, a Republican from Whitefish.

Juneau, a Democrat, was first elected to the state superintendent post in 2008, and was reelected in 2012. Taking the last seven years into consideration, Juneau said holding another public office would allow her to continue working for Montanans.

“Looking forward to what I want to do next, I just really want to continue my public service for the state of Montana,” Juneau said in an interview with the Beacon. “I’ve spent my career fighting for Montana families.”

Juneau said she’s optimistic about Montana’s future because she’s worked so closely with the younger generation who will define it. As superintendent, she launched the statewide Graduation Matters initiative, which brought together local schools, business leaders, community members, students and families to work toward reducing high school dropout rates.

“We’ve actually created historically high graduation rates,” Juneau said. “All of these solutions have been from the ground up, it’s never been a top-down model.”

This work is an example of what she’d like to do with issues that matter to Montanans in Congress, Juneau said, because it brought together the people on many sides of the problem to form a solution.

Such approaches would benefit problems like deferred resource development jobs in the state, she said, such as those in the timber industry. These issues need a thoughtful approach, Juneau said, because they affect Montanans’ livelihoods.

Juneau said Congress is a divisive place, and that illuminating the dark money in campaign contributions will be on her agenda, as well as keeping educational solutions that fit Montana’s schools.

“We should at least know who’s paying for these elections,” she said. “Our election can’t be bought. I’ll raise enough money to make sure I’m carrying my message of what I stand for to the voters. At the end of the day, it’s about them, it’s about who they want to represent them.”

As a child, Juneau lived in Billings until second grade while her parents worked through college. The family moved to Browning, where her family has roots, possibly 54 generations deep.

She graduated from Browning High School, and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Montana State University. She then earned a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

After teaching in North Dakota and Montana, she went back to school and earned her law degree from The Law School at the University of Montana.

As an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendent of the Blackfeet Tribe, Juneau was the first American Indian woman in the country to be elected to a statewide office.

A woman hasn’t served in Montana’s congressional delegation since Jeanette Rankin’s 1941 term, and an American Indian woman has never been elected to Congress.

Juneau said she believes Montanans will vote for someone who represents their values, and that she has performed well under that pressure thus far.

“Montana has twice elected me to a statewide position and has trusted me with their most precious resource – their children – and a system that serves everybody,” Juneau said.

As for her competition, Juneau said Zinke went against what his constituents would want when he thought about running for Speaker of the House after nine months in the House of Representatives, and when he voted against women’s healthcare.

She also noted that Zinke celebrated Kalispell’s recent $10 million TIGER grant despite voting for H.R. 2577, a bill that would have cut the program by 80 percent.

“Montana gets one shot at putting someone in that seat who actually represents our values,” Juneau said. “I have proven experience of bringing communities together on biggest challenges facing us.”

Zinke’s communication director Heather Swift said Zinke has already proven himself to be a “leader who stands for all Montanans” with his work in forest management, public lands, and working with the rest of the Montana delegation to help farmers approach global markets.

The next steps in Juneau’s campaign will be the launch of her site, www.denisejuneau.com, which went live at noon on Wednesday, and getting out to speak with voters, Juneau said.