ANACONDA — After Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Anaconda High School teacher Angela McLean to be Montana’s new lieutenant governor on Monday, he told her honors government class why he chose her.
“I truly can’t think of someone that is more up to the task to be my partner in governing and making a meaningful difference not just today but in the future as well,” Bullock told the students.
But he joked that he probably had lost a few “friends among Copperheads today” by taking their popular teacher away from them.
McLean, 43, shook hands and hugged her students, choking up slightly as she said farewell. Her family, friends, school administrators, community leaders and others were there to watch.
“Thank you so much for the inspiration that you have provided me as I have felt so blessed to have had the opportunity to teach every single one of you,” McLean told the students. “And I hope that you know that though this may be my last day in this classroom, my classroom now gets to extend to all 56 counties.”
One final lesson McLean taught the students was on Article VI, Section 6 of the Montana Constitution — how a governor fills a vacancy for lieutenant governor.
Her students got to see the transition in action when Bullock told how he chose McLean as lieutenant governor to replace John Walsh, who is succeeding Max Baucus in the U.S. Senate. Baucus will be the next U.S. ambassador to China.
Her classroom featured large photos, including a silhouette of John and Robert Kennedy conferring, one of Eleanor Roosevelt and the famous Life magazine shot of the sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square when World War II ended.
She also posted a saying from Gandhi, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
When McLean and Bullock walked out of the high school, dozens of students, teachers, administrators and staff lined the halls to cheer.
McLean became Montana’s 31st lieutenant governor early Monday morning when District Judge Ray Dayton of Anaconda swore her in. She reports to work in Helena on Tuesday.
Bullock said his top priority as governor is “making sure we have an incredible education system and that’s from before our kids even enter kindergarten all the way through the higher-ed system.” McLean has “incredible experiences across all facets of the education system,” he said.
But the governor said he doesn’t intend to have McLean “cubby-holed” in just education. She’ll be involved in the administration’s overall agenda, which Bullock said is parsed down to “better jobs, a better education system and a more effective government.”
To be lieutenant governor, McLean had to resign her post as chair of the state Board of Regents, which oversees the Montana university system.
She is the first classroom teacher and the second woman to become lieutenant governor in Montana history. The other female to hold the post was Republican Judy Martz, of Butte, who later was elected governor.
Bullock said he had gotten to know McLean over the years as she regularly brought a class to meet with him at the Department of Justice when he was attorney general. He also worked with her when she was a regent and member of the Board of Education.
“I’ve just really been impressed with her commitment to the same values as I have,” Bullock said.
McLean, a Twin Bridges native, is the first member of her family to graduate from college.
After graduating from Twin Bridges High School, McLean obtained a bachelor’s degree from what now is University of Montana Western in Dillon and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Montana.
“As a high-schooler waiting tables at the Blue Anchor Cafe, it would have been hard for me to imagine one day becoming lieutenant governor — but great teachers and the support of my friends, my community and my family have made today possible for me,” she said.
These teachers “made me believe the sky was the limit,” she said. “I think, even at times when the challenges I felt were so overwhelming that I might not have believed it, they made me see it.”
“So I hope that somewhere along the line that I made a difference in the lives of my students the way the teachers in my life made a difference.”
She thanked Bullock for this opportunity for her and her family and promised she would represent the state of Montana well.
McLean and her husband, Mike, an attorney, have a son, Colin, in eighth grade and a daughter, Ellen, in fourth grade.
McLean taught at Arlee High School from 1994-1997 and has taught at Anaconda High School since then.