During the last debate with Superintendent Juneau, Congressman Ryan Zinke said something that has remained with me. In response to criticism that he’s more interested in promoting himself than in representing the state, Zinke said (and his press staff retweeted) the claim that he needs to be so loud because Montana doesn’t have much representation in Washington. Specifically he said:
Montana has one Congressman and one voice. It's my job to be louder than the 55 from California. #mtpol
— Ryan Zinke (@RyanZinke) September 2, 2016
Now that seems wrong on two counts. One is the erroneous idea that being loud is the equivalent of being effective. One need only think of the example of Montana’s Mike Mansfield, who while certainly a heroic veteran and patriot, never loudly promoted himself at the expense of his state. He knew that real leadership came from working with his colleagues in the House and Senate, not putting himself above them, and his quiet, steady leadership offer a model that politicians like Ryan Zinke would do well to emulate.
Zinke was also just plain wrong when it comes to facts. California has 53 representatives, not 55, and if anyone should know that, it’s Congressman Zinke, who spends enough time in California that the Santa Barbara Independent has labelled him a “part-time resident” of the state. More on that later this week.
Never one to shy from a sound bite, even one that isn’t accurate, Zinke repeated this exact line in a softball interview with Fox and Friends this morning, during which he insulted the achievement of Montana students and once again falsely claimed that the House of Representatives had undone Common Core.
Zinke is wrong to denigrate Montana students and especially wrong to do it when speaking to a national audience. Those who understand education know that in the first year of Common Core testing the results were lower than in previous years, because the tests were significantly more challenging. States expected drops as high as 30% given the increased challenge of the new exams, which measured skills far beyond those demanded in previous tests and in 2016, Montana student scores actually improved on the test.
By every meaningful measure, from graduation rates to ACT scores, Montana students are some of the highest-performing in the nation. For our Congressman to go on national television and loudly and dishonestly suggest that Montana students are incapable in Math and English does real harm to our state, discouraging businesses from relocating to a place he’s depicting as some illiterate enclave. One of the roles of a member of Congress is to promote our state, and scoring political points by disingenuously disparaging our schools and students certainly isn’t helpful, no matter how loud it is.
As for the claim about the Common Core, it’s not the first time Zinke has lied about the issue, and it certainly won’t be the last time. Back in May, he also claimed that Congress had ended the Common Core State Standards. Then, not understanding that the Common Core Initiative was entirely separate from No Child Left Behind, he claimed that somehow Congress had restored local control of curriculum, even though they’d never lost it.
Today, the majority of states are still using the Common Core State Standards, something Congress has no say over. Montana is still using the Common Core State Standards, something Ryan Zinke has no control over.
The truth is that no one has done more to help Montana students on this issue than Denise Juneau. There are real concerns about the tests used to measure achievement of the Common Core Standards, so Superintendent Juneau, more interested in getting the job done than in politics, changed the test for all Montana juniors to the ACT, a change that will encourage Montana students to do well and be more prepared for college. Rather than being loud, she was a leader.
Being loud is important for Ryan Zinke, a man who has seriously suggested in his first term in Congress that he’s been considered a candidate for both the Speaker of the House and Vice President of the United States. For Montanans, though, what’s important is that our sole member of the House act like a leader who will put her interests behind the interests of state and its residents. If she’s elected to Congress, Denise Juneau won’t be on Fox News three times a week talking about herself and dishonestly disparaging the people of our state; she’ll be leading the fight to make sure that Montanans are heard where it matters in Congress.