Gov. Judy Martz may have given herself an “A” for effort, but maybe Martz’ report card should have gone to Rep. Carol Juneau (D-Browning). After repeated failed attempts to pass legislation that would enable schools to give hiring preference to American Indian teachers, she has had her most recent attempt tabled in the House Education Committee.
“This is about the fourth attempt at this particular legislation,” she says. “I think that giving a preference to a certain racial group doesn’t sit well with some of the people in the Legislature, although I thought the bill was so narrow.”
House bills 422 and 423 would have affected only schools that are within reservations or that have more than 50 percent Indian students. And neither bill would have forced those school districts to choose Indians over other candidates. Rather, the bills would have empowered school districts to decide for themselves on the preference issue.
“The bill was very flexible,” she says. “There were lots of provisions in the bill. It wasn’t just that if I were an Indian I would get the job. I had to be substantially equally qualified.”
The bill was tabled on a straight party-line vote—a fact that distresses Juneau.
Republicans would seem to be at an impasse deciding on the bills using their traditional logic. They typically support legislation that takes power from centralized government and grants it to locals—local school districts in this case. But as top Republican President Bush has made clear, his party won’t support preferential treatment based on race.
It was the latter Republican logic that convinced Rep. Bob Lawson (R-Whitefish) to vote against the bills.
“I guess I have some issues with discrimination or giving preference based on the birth of a person,” he says. “I have some problems supporting discrimination, or reverse discrimination, or whatever you would call it.”
Juneau may still try to use a blast motion (forcing the issue to the floor with a two-thirds majority vote) to punch the bills out of committee, but with Republicans controlling the House, it doesn’t look like the bills would fare much better out on the floor. Still, Juneau is undeterred. If she fails again with the issue, she says she’ll be back at it next session, her “A”-game in tow.