BUTTE — Former state superintendent of public instruction Nancy Keenan spent 13 years away from Montana, working the political world in Washington, D.C. — but now she’s right back where she started.
Keenan, 62, who spent eight years as head of the National Abortion Rights Action League-Pro-Choice America, is back in Montana, helping out Democratic candidates this election cycle and focusing on reproductive-rights issues.
“It’s nice to come back and be of assistance where I can,” she said during a break at the state Democratic Party Platform Convention in Butte. “I’ve been on the national stage so long, I’m introducing (the congressional candidates) to folks across the country who share our values.”
Keenan moved back to Montana last year and is living just east of Bonner, near the Blackfoot River. After losing the Montana’s U.S. House race in 2000 to Republican Denny Rehberg, Keenan moved to the nation’s capital, where she worked as a consultant to some groups and later as president of NARAL-Pro-Choice America, perhaps the nation’s most prominent abortion-rights groups.
She’s been speaking at occasional Democratic Party events, helping Sen. John Walsh and U.S. House candidate John Lewis with their campaigns, and pitching in on legislative races and party duties whenever she can.
And, of course, she’s making sure that reproductive rights remain a marquee issue for Democrats, saying it can help move elections in their favor.
“What I’ve learned working in this area is, on the issues of reproductive rights and reproductive health, Republican women will cross over and vote (for candidates) that share that value,” she said. “They can make a difference of 3 percent to 4 percent. …
“That is a dramatic difference between Democrats and Republicans. I find it almost hypocritical that Republicans talk about ‘freedom and privacy’ — except on this issue. The hypocrisy on that issue is outrageous.”
Keenan also said she’s been fascinated by the political infighting within the Montana Republican Party, and that she thinks it works to the advantage of Democrats.
“Democrats like each other; we’re getting along,” she said. “You have a governor and legislative candidates working together. Our party actually works very, very well together.”
Keenan said Democrats are focused on offering solutions to problems facing voters, while the other side has little more than anti-government, anti-Washington, D.C., rhetoric.
“I still get that sense having come home, that people out here want to solve problems,” she said. “It’s important that we have a representative in the House and Senate that has those rural values: Working together, solving problems, a responsibility to take care of each other.”