by Mary Sheehy Moe
Sen. Moe represents Senate District 12 in Great Falls. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Disingenuous.” When Elsie Arntzen used that word in her televised debate with Melissa Romano last summer, I had to wonder whether it still means what it used to. Romano had been taking Elsie to task for supporting bills that dedicate public dollars to private schools, making the case that a Superintendent of Public Instruction ought to be a solid supporter of – well, public instruction.
“I’ve always been a big supporter of public schools,” Elsie protested. “To make that decision that I’m not is disingenuous.”
Huh? I double-checked my dictionary: “dis·in·gen·u·ous (adj.) – not being candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.”
The meaning hadn’t changed. And the only person being disingenuous in that exchange was Elsie Arntzen. She told Project Vote Smart in 2012 that she supported state funding for private charter schools, as well as vouchers for parents who send their children to private schools. As a legislator, time and time again she supported bills to do just that. Yet in the debate – and throughout the campaign – she did everything she could to obscure her position. Disingenuous.
It isn’t just her ALEC-imported school choice agenda that Elsie enshrouds in fog. This week, she announced her senior staff appointments. Reminding us that her campaign slogan was “Putting Students First,” she presented what she called “a team of diverse talents and geographic backgrounds to ensure that OPI is responsive to the needs of students all around our state.”
Puh-leez. Of the nine senior-level appointments, six are from Billings. So much for geographic diversity. As for their expertise, only one has ever worked in education – and his is the only interim appointment! Another one may have worked with children in the practice of family law, but since he just got his J.D. last year, whatever interaction with kids he’s had hasn’t been very sustained. He’ll be Elsie’s Chief Legal Counsel. The rest of the appointees have no apparent professional experience with putting children first, second, or anywhere.
One is a Billings lawyer whose brief practice has included consulting for extraction industries. An oil-and-gas man at OPI? Elsie says he’ll be invaluable to her on the land board. You have to wonder what her land board agenda really is when she’s the first superintendent ever to dedicate a full-time position to it. But don’t ask, or the fog will roll in.
Apart from another Billings hiree from the hospitality industry, the common bond the rest of the appointees share is being paid to politic.
Her Senior Policy Advisor is a one-time policeman whose colleagues nicknamed him “Thumper” for reasons that have nothing to do with Bambi. His money career, though, has been as a congressional staffer — for Rehberg, then Daines, then Zinke. How does any of that qualify him to be Elsie’s foremost advisor on education? It doesn’t. At best, Elsie could pass him off as Federal Policy Advisor, but no. She gave that job to a guy whose only post-graduation job has been – you guessed it –staffing Steve Daines.
Director of Policy and Planning? A Billings guy who’s been a Republican congressional staffer and field director. Senior Office Administrator? A Billings gal who’s working for Ryan Zinke.
OK, OK: With Zinke leaving and Elsie’s campaign a success, Republican insiders expect the patronage of soft landings and new launchpads. That’s nothing new. The problem is that Elsie promised at every campaign stop “to get the politics out of OPI.” Yet her “diverse” team of senior staff reads like a roll call of Billings Republicans with no background whatsoever in education.
And the kicker? Elsie didn’t send her press release on her top “education” appointments to the press. She didn’t even send it to the OPI staff she’ll direct. She sent it to Montana politicians.
What do you call that? Disingenuous, for starters.