HELENA — Superintendent of schools Denise Juneau was among 10 women selected Wednesday to speak at next month's Democratic National Convention, a move made as the party continues to make issues affecting women a priority this election season.
The speakers also include one of Juneau's predecessors at the Montana Office of Public Instruction, Nancy Keenan. Keenan is now president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Democrats in the state consider Juneau, a Native American from Browning, a rising star for the party. She is wrapping up her first term as state superintendent of public instruction.
Juneau said that Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, called her Tuesday night with the invitation for a prized speaking slot that inevitably will raise her national profile. Messina is a former Montanan who previously ran campaigns in the state and was chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus.
Juneau, 45, said she was excited to accept the offer.
"I think it is not often you have an opportunity to tout Montana's great education system and to be up on a national stage talking about our great state," Juneau said.
Her mom, Carol Juneau, was a longtime state legislator from Browning. Both will be attending the convention as delegates nominating President Barack Obama for re-election.
Juneau has placed a great deal of emphasis on improving graduation rates during her first term in office, and made that and other accomplishments a staple of her re-election bid against Republican Sandy Welch.
Republicans consider Juneau vulnerable because she was the only member of the Land Board to twice oppose development of coal at Otter Creek, which Juneau said she opposed because the state was not getting enough money. The GOP considers natural resource development a top issue.
Welch, who is campaigning on a platform that the state office is over-regulating local schools, criticized Juneau for leaving the state.
"It seems like she is using this office to put herself on the national stage instead of focusing on the kids of Montana and our education system," Welch said.
Although Juneau's speaking role comes amid highly-charged national debates over abortion and its funding, neither candidate said they believe it is an issue in the state OPI race. Juneau said she supports rights to legalized abortion, while Welch opposes abortion with some exceptions such as when the mother's life is at risk.
Juneau was born in Oakland, Calif., and shortly afterward her family moved to Billings then Browning. She is an enrolled member of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes.
The Democrat attended Montana State before getting a graduate degree at Harvard, and then a law degree from the University of Montana.