The Montana Democratic Party announced Monday that Nancy Keenan, a veteran of state and national politics for three decades, will become the party’s new executive director on April 20 after an extensive national search.
Keenan is a former state legislator from Anaconda, state superintendent of public instruction and president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She succeeds Andrea Marcoccio, who stepped down as the party’s executive director in February after two years.
State Democratic Party Chair Jim Larson of Billings praised political leadership roles that Keenan has taken on over the years.
“She has the experience and Montana know-how to help re-elect Gov. (Steve) Bullock and our statewide officials, take back the U.S. House seat and make additional gains in the Montana Legislature,” Larson said. “Our top priority is to hold Republicans accountable for their failed policies and out-of-step extremism.”
Keenan, 63, was born and raised in Anaconda in a working-class family. She worked in the Anaconda smelter to pay her way through college.
She received a bachelor’s degree in education and special education at Montana State University Billings and went on to teach children with special needs in Billings and Anaconda. Keenan received a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Montana in 1999.
She served in the Montana House for three legislative sessions before her election in 1988 as state superintendent of public instruction, a post she held for three terms or 12 years.
In 2000, Keenan ran for Montana’s open U.S. House seat, losing to Republican Denny Rehberg.
She served as education policy director for a national group known as People For the American Way from 2003-2004.
In 2004, Keenan became president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading national women’s abortion rights group. During her tenure, there were “huge gains” in the election of abortion-rights advocates elected to Congress, the party’s press release said, adding that Keenan also “was instrumental in the election of President Barack Obama."
Keenan stepped down from that post in 2013 and moved from the Washington, D.C. area back to Montana, where she has been advising Democratic candidates.
“I’ve dedicated my career to fighting for Montana families and building strong progressive coalitions,” Keenan said in a statement. “I have great respect for the people of Montana and am honored to have this opportunity to champion our Montana and Democratic values together with folks in our smallest rural towns and larger communities.”
In an interview, Keenan said she believes 2016 will be “a watershed election cycle for Montana.”
The top priority, she said, is to re-elect Bullock as governor, hold onto the other statewide offices and gain seats in the Legislature.
“The key here is electing Democrats and making sure Montana continues to move forward with a positive agenda,” Keenan said. “We also need to keep the Republicans accountable and listen to Montanans and talk to them about the out-of-step agenda here.”
Keenan said she would partner with, and looks forward to working with Bullock and Sen. Jon Tester to “ensure that Democrats are elected at all levels.”
“I took this job to make a difference, and the last thing I want is for Montana to become another Idaho and Wyoming,” Keenan said.
Both Bullock and Tester separately applauded Keenan’s selection.
"As a teacher, a legislator, and Montana's superintendent of public instruction, Nancy Keenan has always worked to make Montana a better place,” Bullock said. “Her tough Anaconda spirit and her knowledge of the state’s politics will be invaluable as we head into 2016.”
Tester said, "Nancy is a fearless leader who has spent a career fighting for middle-class families, seniors, women, veterans, students, labor and Indian Country. She's got the tenacity, savvy and fortitude to guide Montana Democrats to victory in 2016.”