Candidates for Montana House Seat Spar Over Public Lands

Juneau portrayed herself as a champion public lands and access on Wednesday

By Dillon Tabish
Denise Juneau in Browning on Jan. 27, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

HELENA — The Democratic challenger for Montana’s single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives has laid out her vision for public lands, a hot-button issue in this year’s election.

Denise Juneau portrayed herself as a champion public lands and access during a Wednesday appearance at Spring Meadow Lake State Park in Helena, the Helena Independent Record reported.

Both Juneau, currently Montana’s superintendent of public instruction, and Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke have campaigned as opponents to federal land transfer to state or private ownership.

“Public lands offer a promise to every hardworking Montana family that they can access the very best our state has to offer, not just for the wealthy and not just for the privileged,” Juneau said Wednesday.

The Democrat touted her role on the Land Board, where she voted for timber sales and to open access. State Republicans and Zinke’s campaign, however, have pointed out that Juneau has also voted to sell state-owned lands. They also said she misrepresents Zinke’s record on the issue.

“Denise Juneau is absolutely a liar and a hypocrite on selling public lands,” said Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift. “She is launching false attacks against Ryan Zinke, wrongly claiming he is selling land, but she has actually taken votes to sell public land. She made her position that there is no black and white on this issue but has personally voted to sell land.”

For her part, Juneau argues that the votes opened up new access while disposing of often land-locked state parcels. Her campaign said there were 37,000 acres of new accesses during Juneau’s time on the Land Board, as well as $68.4 million in timber revenue that created more than 4,000 timber jobs.

Juneau has criticized Zinke for supporting Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2014 budget, which proposed selling lands to pay down the national debt. Swift argued that Zink supported the “framework” of the bill before he was elected but did not say he would vote for it.