Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Vermont casts 22 votes for its senator, Bernie Sanders. A minute later, Sanders asks the rules be suspended and that Hillary Clinton be nominated by acclamation. And so the Bernie Sanders’ chapter comes to an end. The question is, “what’s next?”

Let’s explore this from a couple of different points of view.

What’s Sanders’ story going to be? What’s he going to do to advance causes that are progressive? And, more important for my readers, what will he do to improve life in Indian Country?

It’s interesting to explore what happens to senators after they run for president. Most disappear. Some fifty senators have run and lost (only Obama has won the office in recent times) so the “what’s next?” question is actually the norm.

One candidate who came up short was George McGovern from South Dakota. His landslide loss to Richard Nixon did not define his legacy because he recruited so many young people to his cause. Bill Clinton is a beneficiary of the McGovern campaign. McGovern, like Sanders, was not particularly interested in Native American issues before his presidential campaign. But in 1972 campaign McGovern called for the complete restructuring of the Bureau of Indian Affairs either as a White House program or as a cabinet-level agency.

Ted Kennedy is a another example of how someone can build a progressive legacy after his failed White House bid. “Freed at last of the expectation that he should and would seek the White House, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself fully to his day job in the Senate, where he had already led the fight for the 18-year-old vote, the abolition of the draft, deregulation of the airline and trucking industries, and the post-Watergate campaign finance legislation,” The New York Times wrote in his obituary. “In the years after his failed White House bid, Mr. Kennedy also established himself as someone who made “lawmaker” mean more than a word used in headlines to describe any member of Congress.”

Imagine what Sanders the “lawmaker” could do. He could be the architect for many new initiatives, better Indian health or education funding, or, basically taking the best of the Democratic Party Platform and making is so. This is what he told Deborah Parker on a live Facebook feed this afternoon: “We are very proud of the work that Deborah as done (writing the platform) … and we will make sure that the language is implemented.”

It’s clear that Sanders travels to Indian Country changed him. His observations and experiences are bound to stir reform. As Jane Sanders also told Parker today: “He didn’t win the presidency, but he’s a senator.” And now, perhaps, a lawmaker. A lawmaker that will be most effective if he has an ally in the White House.

There is one more thing I would like to see Sanders do: Invest his time and considerable fundraising ability in helping elect five Native American Democrats to Congress. He could especially make a difference in the next few days by raising money for Victoria Steele in Arizona and Joe Pakootas in Washington state. These two candidates have primary elections in August. Both would make great members of Congress (and allies for any Sanders’ legislative agenda).

Ideally Congress is only the start. What about a Sanders’ grassroots movement that supports Native progressive candidates for legislatures, county commissions, and city governments.

What about Sanders’ supporters? (Some of whom continue to maintain they will never support Hillary Clinton. Several are even posting how disgusted they are with Sanders for giving up too easily.) So the options are: Don’t vote in November; vote for Donald J. Trump; vote for a third party candidate; or vote for Clinton.

Staying home and voting for Trump are essentially the same option. A Trump presidency is not the same as Clinton.

Three stark differences:

* Clinton would tip the scales toward climate action; Trump would favor oil, gas and coal.
* Clinton would boost Indian health programs and Medicaid expansion; Trump promises repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
* She would build on the legacy of President Obama; Trump promises a rollback of the past eight years which he calls a failure.

On top of all that: There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and conservatives would be eager to reshape abortion law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and tribal jurisdiction.

What about voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party or the Gary Johnson-Bill Weld Libertarian Ticket?

Philosophically that makes a lot of sense. I’d really like to see third parties be included in the presidential debates and the national conversation. This country ought to have more than two governing parties. But how do you get there and how does it impact the prospect of a Trump presidency? The fact is only two parties are at present competitive. It’s a wild card vote. In some states, say, Montana, or Utah, it could help Clinton pull off a surprise win. But in Florida or other swing states it’s really an unknown about where the votes would come from (Trump or Clinton). Down the road this is one of those structural electoral problems we need to fix. Our vote should count if we go Green. But not in 2016.

Sanders said as much today. He’s quoted in The Washington Post saying, “If we were in Europe right now, in Germany or elsewhere, the idea of coalition politics of different parties coming together — you’ve got a left party, you’ve got a center-left party, coming together against the center-right party. That’s not unusual. That happens every day. We don’t have that. We have and have had [two parties] for a very long period of time — and I know a little bit about this, as the longest serving independent member of Congress.”

Will  the people who followed Sanders do that once again. Most will. Some won’t. (My first question to those who say, #neverhillary is where do you live? In some states you really do have a free vote. But in a swing state? No.)

So there Democrats have a nominee — and it’s not Bernie Sanders. And he has chapters to add to his story.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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The Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Photo via C-Span)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Donald J. Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president Thursday. “Here, at our convention, there will be no lies,” he said. “We will honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else.”

And one of those truths: An extrordinary promise to break treaties. That’s the haunting metaphor from Trump’s speech.

“I have made billions of dollars in business making deals – now I’m going to make our country rich again. I am going to turn our bad trade agreements into great ones,” Trump said. “America has lost nearly-one third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, following the enactment of disastrous trade deals supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton.”

The merits of the North America Free Trade Agreement are worth debating. But it is an international agreement signed by three nations. Trump says Bill Clinton signed one of the “worst economic deals ever made by our country.” So if that’s true, why would Mexico and Canada renegotiate? Or would Trump just walk away and break the word of the United States?

That’s exactly what he said he would do.

“Our horrible trade agreements with China and many others, will be totally renegotiated,” Trump said. “That includes renegotiating NAFTA to get a much better deal for America – and we’ll walk away if we don’t get the deal that we want.”

This was one of Trump’s themes: A promise to break the word of the United States. 

He said he would nix the international pact with Iran, signed by six nations. In the past he’s promised to cancel the Paris climate accords. 

Ah, but these are just “agreements” not treaties. Yet on Thursday Trump promised that, too. Regarding the North Atlantic Treaty Organiztion, Trump said: “Recently I have said that NATO was obsolete, because it did not properly cover terror, and also, that many of the member countries were not paying their fair share. As usual, the United States has been picking up the cost.”

Every Constitution-loving American should be offended; Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land. They cannot be tossed aside because terrorism is scary or because the United States borrows more money than it should. 

One irony from Trump’s speech is that he promised to be the law and order candidate. Yet law and order is impossible without the rule of law, even international law.

Across the country tribes celebrate Treaty Days. It’s a community recognition of the deal made between First Nations and the United States. While it’s true that the United States has failed in so many ways, these documents remain viable because it’s still possible that the United States will step up. But if the president of the United States views treaties, indeed, any agreement, as an ongoing, permanent negotiation, then that entire premise makes no sense.

There will be no treaties. Only the Art of the Steal.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Ted Cruz (photo by Gage Skidmire, Creative Commons)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports
Three explosive words: Vote your conscience.
And in one phrase Ted Cruz ended any pretense of Republican Party unity. He gave permission to his supporters to vote for someone other than GOP nominee Donald J. Trump.

“Don’t stay home in November,” he said. “Stand and speak and vote your conscience.

Cruz exposed a deep divide in the Republican Party, one that’s been festering for decades.

The last time something like this happened was in 1976 when Republican delegates tried to replace a sitting president, Gerald Ford, with a conservative, Ronald Reagan. The split was deep enough that many at the time predicted the Republican Party would disappear like the Whig Party. 

Only there was no place to go. So conservative Republicans and the more establishment Republicans stuck together and figured out how to cooperate. What complicates this story now is that Donald Trump is from neither camp. He’s not an ideological conservative. And he’s certainly not establishment. He’s Donald Trump. Period. He gives voice to people who think politics and governance has failed them. If you need a label, the Tea Party works as well as anything.

This uneasy, three-way Republican coalition survived for so long because there was no where else to go. The Tea Party didn’t want to create a new entity. They took over the party. Establishment Republicans figured they had better go along because, well, the most important thing is winning elections (and a nod to party unity). But Ted Cruz represents a conservative bloc that rejects working in a coalition. 

This three-way Republican division is now exposed and it has all sorts of election ramifications. (Hillary Clinton’s team was quick to spot its meaning. Her official tweet said: Vote your conscience.”)

Cruz would like to see his Trump rebuke as a Reagan-like moment. Reagan lost at the convention to Ford in 1976 but that was the beginning of his 1980 campaign that did win the White House. But what was when voters had only two choices.

But I think “vote your conscience” gave Cruz supporters (and other true believers) permission to abandon the Republican Party and vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson. This is what’s different in 2016. Voters have an alternative. The Libertarians are on every ballot (the Green Party so far is only on 22 state ballots.) And unlike the craziness that surrounds the Trump Republican Party, Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld, both have experience actually governing in New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Johnson addressed the Republican split in a recent essay in Politico. “We provide an honest, principled and sane alternative to the madness that we see in two so-called mainstream political parties … Americans are tired of games. They want and deserve simple, straightforward and good government — not overwrought theatrics and demagoguery.”

Three things to think about going forward: First, The magic number for Johnson and Weld is 15 percent. If the Libertarian candidates reach that number in polls they will participate in the presidential debates (Ross Perot was the last third-party candidate to reach that threshold.) Second, will any major Republican leaders defect to the Libertarians. The most likely prospects are former candidates Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Third, will Libertarian down-ballot candidates pick up steam and be competitive? That will determine if the party is ready to absorb former Republicans and be more than a protest vote. (I would also like to know if the Libertarians have support from any tribal leaders. Is there a committee, any familiar names? Johnson does have a track record and had support from tribes.)
Trump’s Republican Convention is a failure. Instead of talking about issues (or even the ticket) people are talking about speech missteps and a prime time rebuke. At least we know there was no script. No one could make this stuff up.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Twitter traffic for #NativeVote16

Transparency report


So how do we get the word out in an era of social media?

The problem with answering that question is that the rules keep changing. This whole enterprise has gone through lots of experiments.

When I first started it was really a newspaper column on the web. I’d write once a week, post it, send an email to media that used the column, and that was that.

Then I noticed more and more people shared the pieces on social media. So I reframed it along those lines. (I am also writing way too often for most media. By the time this election season is over I will have posted about 150,000 words, writing several items a week).

Several readers have asked about “bias.” I do want to be clear about that: I am independent, but I write opinion posts, not straight news copy. My focus is on Native American candidates and that means writing about both parties and the policy choices that I think important. (One additional note: I will not be covering the party conventions. I’ll write overview pieces, but will keep my focus on Native candidates. It would be great to chronicle the Native American delegates in Cleveland and Philadelphia but I don’t have the resources to do everything I want.)

What posts get the most readership? Clearly graphics. By far. One graphic I posted after the Iowa caucus had more than a 100,000 views. My charts about Native candidates for Congress, legislatures, and statewide offices, don’t do that well but their numbers are several times higher than anything I write.

My idea is simple: Try and chronicle every Native American running for office nationwide. First the federal races, then statewide, then legislative candidates. Soon I’d like to add other offices such as county commissions, city councils, mayors, and school boards. I am doing this without a traditional media partner (at least exclusively) but all of my content is “free use” and may be reposted or published by any organization. I think this is how social media works.

I am happy to report that interest continues to grow in #NativeVote16. Last year, for example, looking at data from TweetReach.Com there were about 36,000 accounts following along and today that number is 127, 582. When people are informed, they make better decisions – so I keep cranking out copy.

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Traffic on Facebook for TrahantReports

Facebook recently changed the way it includes “media” reports in people’s news feeds. And that is a cause for concern. I have noticed a sharp drop in people seeing my posts on Facebook. I am trying to adapt by posting more content on my personal page. It would also be helpful if people share my stories often on their own Facebook pages. Person to person is still the most powerful communications tool.

Thanks for reading.







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Delegates will vote on the Republican platform on Monday.


Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

It’s time for the Republican Party and its soon-to-be nominee Donald J. Trump making their best case for winning the White House and Congress.

This will not be an election where the color gray will be debated. The differences on issues between Republicans and Democrats are stark. On Monday convention delegates will vote on the party platform, the document that outlines the party’s stand on major issues. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who is chairing the platform committee, told National Public Radio, “this was going to be a conservative platform, reflecting the views, and the values, and the vision of the Republican party, and I think we stayed true to that.”

So the draft of the document says the bible should be a guide when legislating and laws “must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.” The New York Times says the draft also encourages the teaching of the Bible in public schools because a good understanding of its contents is “indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.”

According to the Times, Trump’s operators have not played much of a role in the writing of the platform at all. That said: “Another tweak to the platform’s language on immigration will also please Mr. Trump: Though the initial draft called for building a “physical barrier” along the United States border with Mexico, that passage was amended yesterday to call specifically for a wall.”

Republican platforms often include statements of policy on federal-Indian policy. And much of the party’s focus right now is on energy policy. Trump said in Montana and North Dakota this summer that he would remove barriers to oil and coal production to create more jobs.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, will speak at the convention. “In communities like Colstrip and other small communities, coal and other natural resources are the only answer,” Zinke said last month. “For the great coal nation of the Crow, there’s treaties. The treaties specifically state the United States shall not interfere with their destiny if they choose to mine their coal. As a sovereign nation they have every right to export their coal as they choose. But when the government gets in the way, as we have done, we have violated a treaty.”

I am not sure where that line in the Crow Treaty of 1868 is “specifically” found. Literally. (Pronounce “literally” as if you are Rob Lowe’s character in Parks and Recreation.)

In this election cycle, Republicans are carrying the banner for more coal. As the draft platform puts it:  Coal is “an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.”

The problem, however, is that a Republican victory will not bring coal markets back to life. Natural gas is cheaper. Shipping coal to China is problematic (and Chinese consumption is declining anyway) plus every day more renewable sources come on line. The future is doing something else instead of coal as the “only answer.” And, if a kicker is needed, it’s this: Northwest tribes have also asserted their treaty rights to fish for salmon. In waters that are not polluted by coal dust. (Previous: The power of what if? Paying tribes to leave coal in the ground.)

Another draft plank in the Republican platform impacts treaty rights and that’s the call for Congress to  “immediately pass universal legislation providing the timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states.”

As Oregon Public Broadcasting puts it: That’s a message with a familiar tone. “Throughout the refuge occupation, Ammon Bundy and other militant leaders said that the federal government had no right to control public lands.”

Tribal rights to hunt and fish on public lands are often included, yes, even, specifically in treaty language. So any transfer of those lands ought to go to the tribes whose land it was first. As a resolution by the National Congress of American Indians says: Federal lands should be “considered for disposal or transfer to the nearest federally recognized Indian tribe for direct sale at the appraised value prior to subjecting such land to the competitive bidding process.”

Then that’s not the only troubling idea that will be debated Monday. As The New York Times said: “… nearly every provision that expressed disapproval of homosexuality, same-sex marriage or transgender rights passed. The platform calls for overturning the Supreme Court marriage decision with a constitutional amendment and makes references to appointing judges ‘who respect traditional family values.'” Plus just about every cause that the most conservative elements of the party think critical.

How important are party platforms? Are they treaties with voters?

“As a rule, platforms don’t seem to matter much,” wrote Dan Balz in The Washington Post. “Few voters will search, find and read through the many pages of party doctrine — for either the Republicans or the Democrats, whose newly drafted platform reflects a significant left turn. Trump, as with some other previous nominees, will probably ignore it and carry on his campaign as he wishes. The document will be presented early next week, ratified and put on a shelf.”

Still this document reflects the many divisions that are found in today’s Republican Party. Instead of looking for solutions, say, on climate change, perhaps including practical, conservative approaches, the document reduces governing to slogans. There is no climate change, only coal. This reflects the best GOP case.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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Amy Croover is the Native Vote Director for the Montana Democratic Party. (Photo via press release)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

First the news: Montana Democrats hired Amy Croover as director of the Native Vote program. A Democratic Party press release said her task is to increase the number of Native American voters.

The message is significant. Montana Democrats are investing real resources to give American Indian voters a greater say. “As a country and as a state, we’ve moved the needle in the right direction when it comes to our cherished Native American communities and culture, but more work needs to be done,” said Nancy Keenan, executive director of the state’s Democrats. 

Croover has a solid resume. She’s a Ho-Chunk tribal member and has worked with Montana tribes. She’s worked with young people at the Salish Kootenai College. And she was Sen. Jon Tester’s Native American liaison for seven years. “I jumped at the chance to be a part of the team that elects Denise Juneau as the first Native American woman to Congress,” Croover said. “I believe that when Democrats govern, Indian Country wins.”

This is a nice turn of the phrase. It’s a flip of what Denise Juneau often says in her stump speech, when Indians vote, Democrats win.

Now the context. At its core politics is about two things: Policy and mechanics. Policy is the ideas, often the stuff that happens after elections;  mechanics is how policy gets made.

Another way to think about the difference: Policy is usually what politicians talk about. Mechanics is the work that’s actually done by people whose names we may never know.

Political parties (both Republicans and Democrats) talk a lot about American Indian and Alaska Native policy. President Nixon’s 1970 message that declared an end to termination and the promotion of self-determination was a policy prescription. But the mechanics of that pronouncement was left up to Congress, largely, Forrest Gerard working with Sen. Henry Jackson and Franklin Ducheneaux, who was Rep. Morris Udall’s counsel in the House. The idea was not enough. Someone had to do the work.

It’s the same with elections. It’s one thing to lay out an American Indian policy, most candidates who have an interest in Indian Country do just that, but it’s another step entirely to invest in the mechanics. 

This is important because no matter how many of us want to vote for Denise Juneau (or any of the seven other Native federal candidates) that will not happen unless we have registered first. The process is mechanical. Register voters. Then count them. Find out where the numbers could be higher and then register more people. Repeat as often as necessary.

It’s the same step by step process for voting. (I especially like absentee voting because it’s a way to bank and count actual votes.)

And this election is the right one to test the mechanical approach to democracy in Indian Country because there are so many Native candidates on the ballot. The incentives are aligned for people to vote for Denise Juneau as well as Native Democratic candidates for the legislature. 

Other states have seen initiatives to improve the mechanics of the Native vote. Two years ago, for example, Sen. Mark Begich made Alaska Native voters a key element of his unsuccessful bid for re-election. But. The thing is. Begich made the election a lot closer than it would have been had he not made the effort. And, his staff work in the many villages probably helped elect Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot. The mechanics paid off.

The most common complaint I hear from Native candidates (especially former candidates who have lost) is that they get no help from their state or national party. That needs to change because in the years to come Indian Country will need more investment in the mechanical side of politics. As the demographics of the nation shift, there will be more and more states and districts where the Native vote will make the difference. But for that to happen, someone has to do the work.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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