I decided to stop by and see her.
For those of you that don’t know, Melissa Romano is running for Superintendent of Montana’s Office of Public Instruction.
That’s the state department that pretty much oversees the whole K-12 school system in the state.
That comes out to 314 districts with 102,698 elementary students and 41,749 high school students.
You can find that information on page 1 of the 2015-16 OPI Directory.
Romano, if elected, will also be a member of the 5-member Land Board.
For the most part, the Land Board figures out how to take the $45 million that the 5.2 million acres of Montana school land produces each year (or at least did in 2002).
I sent a tweet to Linda McCullough today asking if she had any numbers more recent than those from 14 years ago.
I’ve yet to get a response.
As to the Land Board, they can’t spend that money as it’s for schools, but they do decide where that money comes from…typically through grazing leases, timber harvests, oil and gas leases, easements, recreation fees, cabin leases, and land sales.
So that’s a big job, and Melissa Romano wants to have a 20% say in what happens there.
She doesn’t really care about that, in my opinion – she just wants to help students!
Of course, the best place to help students – at least from my 5 years of teaching experience – is by being in the classroom where they can see and hear you.
Uh-huh, that’s right…you guessed it – there’s a little bit of political ambition here.
Alright, a lot.
You don’t run for statewide office right out of the gate if you don’t have ambition, and Romano seems to have that.
After all, she announced her candidacy way back in February 2015.
We all thought that Amanda Curtis would go for that job, c’mon – let’s just admit it.
And by golly, we were sure all taken by surprise when this total unknown came out of nowhere and stole that one.
Of course, Curtis could have filed as well. And honestly, maybe Curtis wasn’t interested in that position.
She’d been through the gristmill from August to November 2014. Maybe she was ready for a break, or just ready for her old legislative seat back (remember, she lost it because of redistricting).
Anyways, Romano filed and I think she might have even spoken at the Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner last year – I can’t remember.
She’s moving up, but will it be enough to stop her opponent, who has run for statewide office before?
Elsie Arntzen was in the legislature for six terms and ran for the U.S House in 2014, losing out to Zinke in the primary.
Age could be a factor as well – Arntzen is going to be 60 in November and Romano will be 39.
The unions will be big, and both women are a member of MEA-MFT. We’ve already seen the union speak out against Arntzen, so there’ll be no support there.
Is that a death knell for a campaign? Some think so, but I’m not convinced.
A better place to look might be the financing.
You can find Romano’s campaign finance reports through a simple name search here, on the Commissioner of Political Practices page.
For the last quarter of 2015, shown by the report issued January 5 of this year, Romano is doing well.
She had $11,000 in the bank and upped that to nearly $30,000. With expenditures for the quarter, she’s at just over $24,000 in cash.
As far as I can see, all of Romano’s spending is in Montana. High ticket items include printing with the Billings Gazette and some stuff with Campaign Compliance, a D.C. PAC that moved to Missoula in 2008.
The only thing I’d be alarmed by, from a campaign perspective, are the banking fees going to Virginia and the ActBlue fees.
Really, do we need to get money on our site that way? I hate to lose a cut to National so they can piss it all away on Hillary, but that’s just me.
I think a lot of people just send Romano checks in the mail, to be honest.
On the other side of the aisle, Arntzen has raised more than $12,000 during the same time, and after expenses, she currently has just under $25,000 in the bank.
You can find Melissa Romano on Twitter and on Facebook.
I guess it’s time we get to a bio, huh?
Montana’s Melissa Romano attended Connecticut’s University of Bridgeport and got a B.A. in science and an M.S. in elementary education.
She began teaching in Connecticut in 1999, transferring to the Helena School District in 2000.
She’s worked as a kindergarten teacher, second grade teacher, and Instructional K-8 Mathematics Coach.
For several years now she’s been a fourth grade teacher at Four Georgians.
She’s married and has four kids.
Full disclosure – Melissa Romano’s full name is actually Melissa Romano-Lehman.
In 2009 Romano won the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for mathematics.
I bet that made math teachers proud.
I personally believe that Helena math teachers are a more tight-knit group, perhaps owing to the death of Helena High School teacher Wendy Driscoll on New Year’s Eve 1998.
We know that math is extremely important for students, and especially young girls.
You always hear ‘math and science’ themed ads on the radio, and they always say how important it is for girls to get that kind of education.
In that regard, Melissa Romano will do really well if Gianforte wins. His whole platform revolves around those high-tech computer jobs that depend on math and science, but particularly math.
After all, if only 18% of women are getting computer science degrees and 19% engineering, we’ve got some work to do (currently women get 43% of math degrees).
I can see Gianforte sending Romano and McLean out to the rural areas to really get some things done.
Hey, working together...right?
The utter lack of information on Romano is frustrating, and I have a feeling it’s most frustrating for her.
For instance, a quick Google search of her name pulls up about 2 pages of information that’s worth anything.
Of those 2 pages (20 results), just four are from major state news sources (3 newspapers and MT public radio) and they’re all from 2015, typically when she first announced.
In other words, this is very low information.
The top 3 search engine results page (SERP) returns give us Melissa Romano’s website.
This is a very simple website and it fulfills the following functions:
- Gives people an idea of who this person is;
- Gives people an idea of what issues she supports;
- Gives people a way to follow her on social media;
- Gives people a way to donate money.
That’s the main function of this campaign website and most campaign websites.
And when I say “what issues she supports,” I mean a page with a few things.
You’re not going to get candidates blogging regularly like I do here on Big Sky Words.
That’s typically seen as fodder for opponents and candidates are encouraged to steer clear of that.
Besides that, it’s hard work. When you’re teaching all day and then driving to Missoula for a campaign event, then back to Helena so you can teach again in the morning, you have no time for that.
That’s what Melissa Romano did today at least, and I went down to see why.
Melissa Romano in Missoula
I thought this was a good location. It’s not a private residence so there’s no awkwardness. It’s a public place so you don’t feel any pressure about coming or going.
I signed in around 6:30 and inquired about how many people had come so far.
I was told about 30 had, though I think it might have been closer to 35 or 40 as a few more people came and went.
Romano was busy talking with voters when I first arrived so I scanned the scene.
My, the union knows how to put on the spread.
- First up was a table by the door. They had some small brownies, the homemade square/cube kind. Also, several bowls of nuts and candies.
- In the center of the room was the main affair – a full-size table with a bucket of ice cold beer, wine, and even some coke and water.
- A meat platter replete with cheese offered itself up tantalizingly. I could see that many had fallen to its temptations. The large bowl of tortilla chips had not been so lucky.
I steered away from these delights, and from the people chatting it up. One man didn’t seem to be talking with anyone and he also had a name tag on.
I went ahead and started talking with him. He does some work up at the university with training teachers that go out and work in Montana schools.
I talked with him quite a bit about the problems facing the world, the lack of funding for education, and the general apathy that people in this country are feeling.
We talked politics and elections and funding – the stuff I like to discuss.
So that was fun. After that I went ahead and started talking with a woman that worked for MEA-MFT, Melanie Charlton I believe.
Actually, I got a photo of both her and Melissa Romano.
What do you talk about on a Wednesday night in February, six days before Super Tuesday and 258 days until the election in November?
For the most part we talked about MDC.
I have to admit, earlier today I got a little on the case of Mary Caferro, the woman who brought the bill forward in the legislature to close the Montana Development Center (MDC).
From Caferro’s standpoint, MDC was not working. There were reports of abuse and sexual assault and even rape.
It’s MEA-MFT’s jobs, as the union that oversees the workers working there, to make sure things are going well…not to mention for the patients.
That did not happen…repeatedly.
Someone told me that it wasn’t so much Caferro that wanted it closed as it was Disabilities Rights Montana.
That organization, as well as Caferro, were concerned with the charges of abuse.
She tried to close MDC in 2013. Instead, MDC promised to fix it. More abuse occurred. It was decided to close MDC, the bill passed the legislature, and Bullock signed it.
We’re hearing a lot of MEA-MFT blowback this week.
Boulder will understandably freak out because MDC’s a pretty big employer there. So Democrats have to choose between advocating for the vulnerable or for union jobs.
Of course they can't admit that they’re doing that.
Closing MDC is not a perfect solution. Many think there will be problems when it comes to shutting it down.
Still, if you're not going to fix it, the situation that caused the abuse has to stop. Maybe it, or another institution, can be opened in the future.
Sometimes you have to start over if there's no will to make it right. Caferro thought that and butted heads with all the bullshit at DPHHS for a long time.
She’s suffered the consequences of going against the Democratic establishment because of it.
From the union standpoint, things are bad.
I discussed this firsthand tonight with a top official in the union.
For the most part, MDC had 53 patients. In January, 21 of them were transferred out of the facility.
That means those patients were shown the front door and told to do as best as they could. These people often have no families or support and they can’t fend for themselves.
Supposedly one former patient was just arrested in Billings this past week.
So now the jail is housing them. Who does that help?
One big problem is that MDC and other agencies around the state simply aren’t receiving the funding they need from the legislature.
Overwhelmingly, this is due to the intransigence of the Montana Republican Party.
They believe that using tax money to fund our needs and obligations is wrong. Instead, that money should be given back to rich people.
That’s what Greg Gianforte, the GOP candidate for governor thinks.
Still, it was Bullock that closed MDC. He did this knowing that there were no private clinics open that could accommodate those patients, like the 21 we just saw released.
One irony is that the infrastructure bill that was killed on the final day of the session would have funded these clinics.
You can point fingers both ways on the infrastructure bill debacle, but the bottom line is that we’ve got a problem and people are talking about it.
When it came to Romano, she just wants to ensure that Montana schools remain the best places to get an education.
When I finally talked with her she was very nice and knowledgeable. Romano grew up in Helena and went to Warren Elementary School then graduated from Helena High.
So she went through the whole public education system. Obviously the system must be working. I mean, she got a Presidential Award for Excellence.
That’s the main argument this election will be about when it comes to these two women – should we continue to fund public education or should we divert more funds to private schools?
Many of our teachers and our schools are struggling now. If we take away needed funding we’ll be creating a mess.
Melissa Romano knows this and that’s why she’s supporting the current model, plus more funding from the legislature.
It comes down to Trump, and Hillary, and maybe Bernie and one of the other idiots still around.
When the final matchup is determined in late-July (and it could turn into a 3-way race by August or even earlier), we’ll have a strong idea of what turnout will be like.
I’ve already explained how it’ll probably go – if Trump is the candidate expect high turnout and Montana to go for him, most down-ticket races going for Republicans as well.
If it’s Bernie I feel that the youth vote could get out more…though they’re not getting out now. Worse, it’s spring break next week, right when Super Tuesday comes. Think that’s a mistake?
I know I’m not excited about Hillary and I know a lot of others aren’t alone.
Hillary could cost Romano the election, but then again, it could win it for her.
Maybe I’m totally wrong and Democrats and independents will come out in droves to ensure Trump does not win.
I have a feeling they’ll turn the tide and help him over the top, however, like they did for Reagan in '80.
We know Montana Democrats have a terrible time voting down-ticket as it is now.
Why is it so hard to fill in a few more circles besides governor?
I dunno, but that could cost Romano.
Funding is close and we’ve got about 8 months to go.
Anything could happen.