A Native American woman in Congress? This is Trahant Reports.
Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes, and Montana’s two-term Superintendent of Public Instruction, is running for Congress. She’ll face incumbent Republican Ryan Zinke.
One of her first pitches is fantastic, saying her Montana roots run deep. Her family’s ancestry traces back to before Montana was even a state, possibly 54 generations on this soil.
Fifty-four generations. That’s cool. Juneau has many issues that work for her, especially jobs. As schools’ chief, Juneau increased graduate rates to the highest level ever recorded.
That’s the news.
But here is why this race is so important: Juneau can win. Think about what it will mean to have her voice in Congress. She is already the first Native American woman in history to win a statewide election — and soon could be the first to serve in Congress.
Now the nitty-gritty. Juneau can win because she’s already earned votes from Montanans, 235,397 four years ago when she was re-elected schools’ chief. To put that number in perspective: The winning Montana Senate candidate had only 213,709 votes. (The huge difference is because the first number was during the 2012 presidential election year and that’s when Juneau’s best voters will turnout.)
What’s more: Montana is changing. The population is only about 6 percent American Indian now, but if you look at the schools (where Juneau spends her days) that number is more than double.
Juneau’s first challenge is money. Her opponent has already raised more than $800,000. But if Montana is seen as a “pick up” opportunity, then the national money will be sure to follow. It will also be interesting to see how much money is raised from Indian Country to further Juneau’s campaign.
I think there is one more possibility: this could be a wave election. If the Republicans nominate an outsider for president — Donald Trump or Ben Carson for example — there will be little support for candidates across the border. And by support I mean less money and less organization.
Not only that, no matter who wins the Republican nomination, will have a significant block of voters who see the winner as “not their kind of Republican.” The Republican Party is divided three ways. There are Tea Party folks, establishment Republicans, and Libertarians. No matter who wins the nomination, some body will be on the losing side.
I think this could be a national trend. But it’s even more likely in Montana. A 2010 study by the Cato Institute called Montana “the state with the highest Libertarian constituency in the nation.”
Democrats, on the other hand, will be united behind Juneau.
I am Mark Trahant reporting.