HELENA – Angela McLean plans to step down as Montana's lieutenant governor to take a job with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, leaving Gov. Steve Bullock to find a new No. 2 for his re-election bid next year, state officials said Monday.
McLean will remain in her current position until Gov. Steve Bullock appoints what will be his third lieutenant governor in three years. She is expected to begin her new job in January, higher education commissioner spokesman Kevin McRae said.
McLean applied in late October for the position of director of American Indian and minority achievement and K-12 partnerships. She was selected from 20 applicants for the position, McRae said.
"What put her over the top was her current relationships with and knowledge of every tribal college leadership team," McRae said.
McLean's office did not immediately return a call for comment Monday. She said in a statement that she accepted the position "based on its potential to make a direct difference in improving student success and access to college for Montana low-income and minority students."
McLean sought out the position on her own, and she informed the Democratic governor about her decision to resign Monday, Bullock spokesman Tim Crowe said.
"He found out when she called this morning," Crowe said.
McLean's announcement comes as Bullock begins to mount his campaign for re-election in 2016. His potential Republican challengers include Bozeman businessman Greg Gianforte and Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson.
Finding a new lieutenant governor who also will be good for the campaign ticket should not be a problem, Crowe said. Bullock will begin the process soon and plans to select a new lieutenant governor by the end of the year.
"Certainly it's disruptive, but I wouldn't classify it as a problem," he said.
Bullock, who was traveling Monday to attend an Education Commission of the States meeting in Austin, Texas, released a statement that said McLean has contributed to the success of the governor's team. Her commitment to education and the relationships she has built in Indian Country will serve her well in her new job, Bullock said.
"Her passion to work on challenging issues and continually seek opportunities to help others has led her to taking this new role, and she will be terrific at it," Bullock's statement said.
McLean replaced John Walsh as lieutenant governor in February 2014 when Walsh decided to run for U.S. Senate. Walsh dropped out of the race won by then-U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont.
She is a Twin Bridges native and was chairwoman of the Montana Board of Regents. She was a teacher at Anaconda High School and an adjunct professor at Montana Tech before becoming lieutenant governor.
The last time a Montana governor went through three lieutenant governors was during the term of Democrat Frank Cooney, who took over for Gov. John Erickson when Erickson became a U.S. senator in 1933. Cooney's three acting lieutenant governors were Tom Kane, Ernest Eaton and Elmer Holt, who replaced Cooney when he died in 1935.