Democratic candidate for Congress Denise Juneau, touting union endorsements Friday, expressed confidence in winning a House seat that’s eluded her party for 20 years.
“When I look at this race for this year, what I see is a person who has won statewide elections twice already, and we haven’t had somebody in this position to challenge this seat that has actually done that,” Juneau told the Gazette.
Juneau, Montana’s twice-elected state superintendent of public instruction, was flanked by representatives from three different labor unions that are backing the Democrat’s challenge to U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke. A Republican, Zinke is Montana’s only congressman. The unions represent 55,000 workers and have traditionally given their support to Democrats, but that hasn’t been enough to win the seat in the past. The last Democrat to win the U.S. House seat was Pat Williams in 1994. He retired in January 1997.
But only one of the Democrats to run for the House seat since 1996 had previous success in a statewide race. Nancy Keenan, like Juneau, ran for the office after successful campaigns for superintendent of public instruction. Keenan is now the executive of the Montana Democratic Party. Keenan won a little more than 46 percent of the vote in 2000, but lost to Republican Denny Rehberg. Rehberg served for a decade.
Juneau won re-election as the state’s top education administrator with 235,397 votes in 2012. That was a presidential election year with more people voting than in 2014 when Zinke first won office. The number of people actually voting for Juneau was more than the 203,871 who elected Zinke in 2014. However, Zinke trounced Democrat John Lewis by 55,000 votes.
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“My election has actually put me in this office twice in a most trusted position,” Juneau said. “This is the position that oversees public education. It deals with the most precious resource that families have — their children — and I have a good record to stand on. I have a record of raising graduation rates to historic levels. Those graduates are contributing millions and millions of dollars to the economy annually because of jobs and paying taxes and not being on public assistance.”
Education dominated Juneau’s conversation with the Gazette, though she did discuss some issues currently before Congress.
On the Department of Interior’s decision to suspend government coal leases so the agency could determine whether the public was getting a fair price for its resources, Juneau said she supported the time out.
On trade, Juneau said she saw no Montana benefit in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership pursued by President Barack Obama. Unions share Juneau’s sentiments, though the state’s largest agriculture groups want TPP passed.
On whether Congress should pass laws directing technology companies to crack encryption on phones and computers for court-approved searches by the FBI, Juneau said she wasn’t sure, but acknowledged Montanans feel strongly about their privacy.