By Nicky Ouellet
Just a month after losing her hard-fought congressional bid, Montana’s Denise Juneau is looking to turn defeat into a new opportunity. She’d hoped to be the first Native American in Congress. Now, Juneau confirms she’s interested in the top post at the University of Montana.
“I think I have a great record, and I am interested in the position,” Juneau said. “It is something I’ll be looking really closely at and if the answer was today it’d be yeah, I’m going to apply for the UM presidency.”
The current president, Royce Engstrom, made the surprise announcement this month that he’s stepping down. The university has endured declining enrollment and a wave of sexual assault reports.
Juneau’s tenure as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction ends in January and she doesn’t have any solid plans for what comes after that. “I look forward to a little time off to readjust the sails and think about what it is I want to do and accomplish,” she said.
During her campaign, Juneau paid special attention to voters on Montana’s seven reservations – she’s Mandan and Hidatsa and grew up in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation. Many pollsters and analysists expected her background to draw out the Native Vote, but it didn’t. Get-out-the-vote groups estimate Native American voter turnout in Montana at 59 percent. Montana’s overall rate was 74 percent.
Juneau says the loss stings, but she did everything she was supposed to.
“We just lost,” Juneau said. “People believed in this race, they believed in my candidacy and you can’t ask for more than that.”