Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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A quick update on a steamy Washington morning.

I had planned to double post at Trahant Reports and Indian Country Today. That doesn’t work (just not enough hours in the day).

So, please, go directly to Indian Country Today for my posts.

Three links.

Main site: Indian Country Today

Trahant authored pieces.

And … how to get Indian Country Today on your phone. This is important because Indian Country Today is mobile focused. This is where you will get the best experience as a reader.

Data page for Trahant Reports will be updated through the election season.

And ICYMI … (about the journalism)

http://kuer.org/post/indian-country-today-goes-mobile-how-once-ailing-news-outlet-bounced-back

https://www.ktoo.org/2018/05/09/indian-country-todays-editor-on-future-of-native-journalism/

https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-best-reads/2018/06/13/indian-country-today-revived-after-closure-aims-cover-tribal-news-mark-trahant/677380002/

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Paulette Jordan and Debra Haaland (via Twitter).

#NativeVote18 Election notes before the June 5th primary in NM, SD, Montana

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

New Mexico voters will decide Tuesday on two races involving Native American candidates for Congress.

First: In Albuquerque Paulette Jordan will champion Deb Haaland in get-out-the-vote rallies. Haaland is Laguna Pueblo and is running in a crowded Democratic primary for the 1st congressional district. The race is expected to be extraordinarily close with Haaland and two other candidates, former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez and former UNM law professor and civil rights activist Antoinette Sedillo Lopez. The latest poll shows all three candidates within the margin of error.

Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, is the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor in Idaho. In mid-May she won a contested primary despite getting little support from the establishment. Now she’s the one reaching out to broaden the party’s base.\

“As Native American women, no one is an outsider to the system like Deb Haaland and I are. Our political system was not designed to elect women of color, and so we must work harder than anyone else to overcome that culture of political insiders and dark money in order to truly represent the people we wish to serve,” Jordan writes in a pre-election e-mail blast. “I’ve been following Deb’s campaign since she announced over a year ago — I can tell she’s a fighter like me! She absolutely can win her race with the swell of grassroots support that surrounds her campaign. I saw it work on mine, and I’m confident she will have the same success.”

Jordan will campaign in Albuquerque Monday with Haaland at three events. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, is also campaigning with Haaland on Sunday and Monday. In every election it’s easy to say that turnout matters. However in a race this close that’s even more so.

In the congressional district to the South, Republican Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, told the Deming Headlight that he has “a callus on my knuckle from knocking on doors.” He predicted he would add 2,000 more miles on his car before the votes are counted. New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district stretches from a portion of Albuquerque throughout the southern part of the state.

Clarkson, who speaks Spanish, told the Headlight that his strategy is win the tribal vote and to reach socially conservative Latinos “who believe in the rule of law and don’t like the fact that sanctuary cities and open borders just fumble up the rule of law.”

There have been no independent polls released in the 2nd congressional district. The GOP primary includes state Rep. Yvette Herrell and former Republican Party Chairman Monty Newman. The district is currently represented by Republican Steve Pearce who is running for governor.

In South Dakota, Allison Renville who is running for a state Senate seat in the first district, was named a “2018 Champion” from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. Only 127 candidates nationwide were identified as champions, including

Allison Renville, Hunkpapa Lakota, is in a three-way race against Rep. Susan Wismer and Thomas Bisek.The winner of the Democratic primary is likely the district’s next senator because the GOP did not field a candidate.

Montana’s Jade Bahr, Northern Cheyenne, was also cited as a “2018 Champion.” Bahr is running in Billings for a state House seat district 50. Bahr also has a primary election on Tuesday.

“Our 2018 Champions across the country are committed to solving big problems affecting their communities,” said Marissa Barrow, a spokesperson for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. “Selected for their bold vision, these candidates are highly capable leaders ready to make change.”

Nationally there are 102 Native Americans running for state legislatures, another 15 running for Congress, and 16 campaigning for state offices. This week marks the high water mark for #NativeVote18 candidate totals.

 

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter Follow @TrahantReports

 

Cross posted at IndianCountryToday.com

 

 

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Conventional wisdom says Paulette Jordan has no chance, but Idaho is changing fast

Can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? The New York Times (and so many others) have already answered that question with an almost certain, nope.

“In a state that Donald J. Trump won by more than 30 percentage points and has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990, the Republican primary is almost certainly where Mr. Otter’s successor will be chosen,” The Times said.

The Times is not alone. That’s the conventional wisdom. Idaho is, after all, one of the most Republican states in the country. There is not a single Democrat who has been elected to any statewide office in the past couple of decades. And a Native woman, a young woman at that? Nah. Case closed.

But Jordan is not a conventional candidate. And this is not a routine election year. And Idaho has a history of sharply reversing course (ok … you have to go back a century for that one).

Let’s look at the numbers. Nearly 195,000 voters picked a Republican in the primary election and only some 66,000 voted for any Democrat. That seems daunting at roughly 3 to 1. But it will be closer than that in the general election. A lot closer. Four years ago the margin was 15 percentage points, 54 percent for the Republican to 39 percent for the Democrat. So the issue is how to get from 39 percent to 50 percent, plus one. To do that Jordan will need to win over at least 70,000 voters.

The most important thing for Jordan to do, she’s already doing. And that is to make Idaho cool and smart. (This is where the national attention helps.) On election night the music of Drake singing “God’s Plan” filled the room. Later supporters posted a video of Jordan dancing. Cool.

“The video of her speech to supporters in the Boise bar is revealing,” writes Dean Miller. “That is a very savvy, very disciplined Gen X politician, singing along to hip-hop lyrics, greeting workers with attention, holding weirdos at arm’s length with generous caution and immediately reaching out to all Idahoans. Her skills and instincts are top-notch.” Miller is the former editor of the Idaho Falls Post-Register and a longtime observer of politics in the Gem State.

Jordan also has the ideal message for the voters who are new to Idaho politics, especially those who have moved to Boise from other cities across the West. More than 75,000 people alone moved to Idaho last year (that includes families, but it’s still a huge number).

Idaho is increasingly a technology state. Consider this bit: “In one year Idaho saw a 44.9 percent increase in job postings related to emerging technologies, including the Internet of Things, smart cities, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality, and blockchain. “While these positions accounted for a small percentage of total tech job postings, it indicates where organizations are headed with the technology investments,” reported Cyberstates in 2018.

Idaho’s tech sector is already responsible for some $6.1 billion in the state’s economy, the report said.Tech’s impact on the Idaho economy ranks third behind manufacturing and government. (Bigger than agriculture.) There are some 51,900 tech workers in the state with an average wage of  $87,740. (Compared to the state’s average annual private sector wage of $40,290.)

The tech world has no use for the old school — and that includes politicians. It’s about inventing the future, not repeating routine slogans about social issues, border walls, or even extractive energy development.

This gives a reason for people who are Republicans to vote for a Democrat. Jordan speaks the language.

Jordan can also sell the technology industry to rural Idaho and Indian Country. Most of the technology jobs are in Boise. Jordan can make the case for creating jobs in northern Idaho, tribal communities, and telecommuting and other jobs that would work in rural Idaho.

Another reason why Jordan could be competitive is that she is exciting. People want to be around her. That is especially important for attracting new voters to the process. Four years ago less than 60 percent of the voting age population cast a ballot. The higher than number, the better Jordan’s chances.

This is challenging in a mid-term election. Idaho young people, like those across the country, are more likely to vote in a presidential election year. Two years ago the share of voters under 29 years of age was nearly 15 percent of the electorate. But four years ago, during the last governor’s election, the share of young voters was only 8.2 percent. Again, the higher the number, the better Jordan’s chances.

A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows a marked increase in the number of young Americans who indicate that they will ‘definitely be voting’ in the upcoming midterm elections.

“The big picture: 37 percent of Americans under 30 indicate that they will ‘definitely be voting,’ compared to 23 percent who said the same in 2014,” the study found. “Young Democrats are driving nearly all of the increase in enthusiasm; a majority (51 percent) report that they will ‘definitely’ vote in November, which represents a 9-percentage point increase since November 2017 and is significantly larger than the 36 percent of Republicans who say the same.”

Indian Country is important in this regard too. Native American voters are only about one percent of the population, but among young voters, the number climbs to 3.3 percent. That might seem small, but it could be a good reflection of voter engagement.

Support from Indian Country is essential for Jordan to raise enough money. It’s how she gets her message out to voters. So far Jordan has collected more than $367,000 in contributions. Some of her largest contributors have been tribes, including her own, Coeur d’Alene, as well as other tribal nations in Idaho, Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce and Kootenai. She also received support from tribes from across the country.

One potential pool of voters for Jordan is foreign-born citizens. A study by the Partnership for the New Economy said Idaho was home to almost 34,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote in 2014, including an estimated 14,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered.

“Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by roughly 208,000 votes in 2012. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries,” the report said.

The challenge for Jordan is to reach these new groups and serve the core Democratic constituency. But that’s what election coalition building is all about.  She has to make sure to reach union workers, make inroads into Mormon counties (most likely by finding strong surrogates who are LDS) and basically round up every Democrat, independent, and enough Republicans to put her over the top.

Once again, the higher the turnout number, the better Jordan’s chances. And there is a flip side to that idea: Republican turnout could be down across the country. If the country senses a landslide for the Democrats in the House, a lot of regular GOP voters might not show up. This is particularly acute in North Idaho because it’s on the Pacific time zone and TV viewers will have already seen the wave while they are still voting.

So can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? Yes there is a path. And now she can run against The New York Times who has already told her she can’t win. Conservatives will love that. Idaho has a history of defying the odds. Frank Church, a liberal Democrat, won a Senate seat when he was only 32 years old. And Democrat Cecil Andrus won the governor’s chair four different times. Church’s strength was his intellect. Andrus was a great storyteller. And Jordan owns cool.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports (Crossposted at Indian Country Today.)

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

Paulette Jordan won a convincing primary victory in her bid to be the next governor of Idaho. She convinced more than 60 percent of Democratic voters that her progressive message would work in November.

“I am so moved by the strength and determination of our Idaho voters today. Their voices were heard loud and clear — our vision for a more prosperous future lies with the progressive values embodied by this campaign,” Jordan said in a telephone call to Indian Country Today. “Our communities have spoken., and now we must unite as never before to move onward together.”

Jordan said she is “honored by the widespread support received from my relatives throughout Indian Country.”

“This is a huge step for us and I’m excited to be on this journey with all of you. This is a great indicator of where we as indigenous progressive leaders in rural states can help lead our communities,” Jordan said.

Already some dismiss Jordan’s chances going forward. The New York Times described the race this way: “In a state that Donald J. Trump won by more than 30 percentage points and has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990, the Republican primary on Tuesday is almost certainly where Mr. Otter’s successor will be chosen.”

When asked how she will convince voters in a state that is overwhelmingly Republican, Jordan laughed, and said, “we’re about to find out.”

Then again Idaho is a state that did once elect Democrats. Former Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus won the governor’s office four times, the last time in 1990.

The formula? “Connectivity,” Jordan said. “It’s about connections to the land and people.”

Jordan also is already bringing new voters into the process, young people. A tweet Tuesday before the vote captured that very idea.  “Today I became a #firsttimevoterand my first vote ever went to the one and only @PauletteEJordan,” wrote Taylor Munson.

The turnout in the Democratic Primary was remarkably high. The Idaho Statesman reported in the state’s largest county, Ada, officials scrambled to supply enough ballots. “I am super curious to see what actual turnout was for the Democratic Party, because we were certainly overwhelmed by it today,” Ada Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane told The Statesman.

In addition to Jordan’s messages about her rural values, her outreach to younger voters could also be the key to reversing the Republican hold on Idaho.

Jordan defeated a well-funded candidate, A.J. Balukoff who used his own personal wealth to fund his campaign. She also defeated the Democrats establishment, most of the elected party officials endorsed Balukoff (who had been the party’s nominee four years ago). Balukoff was gracious in his defeat. He said he would work hard to elect Democrats.

So that’s another first. Jordan easily erased a substantial gap in campaign funding.

This is history. Jordan is  the first woman to ever win a party’s gubernatorial nomination in Idaho.

She also made history because Kristen Collum is her running mate. It’s the first time two women have run together to lead Idaho.

See previous coverage: Making news, making history, and breaking rules. Idaho’s Paulette Jordan announces an all-female ticket

Then this is going to be an election of firsts and making history. Jordan, Coeur d’Alene,  is now the first Native American woman to ever be a major party’s nominee for governor. Get used the phrase “first ever” is going to pop up a lot between now and November.

On Facebook, Seahdom Edmo posted: “I am watching this with my daughter. I said, ‘look she is a Native woman running for Governor, do you want to be Governor?’ She said, ‘no, I want to be President.’ Paulette, you are inspiring all of us!”

Cross posted on Indian Country Today. Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter Follow @TrahantReports

Agency Says Indian Health Should Not Be Exempt From Medicaid Work Rules Because They Are ‘Race-Based’

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Trump administration is supporting a major policy shift on Indian health programs which could result in a loss of millions of dollars and sabotage treaty rights.

A story in Politico Sunday raised the issue. It said “the Trump administration contends the tribes are a race rather than separate governments, and exempting them from Medicaid work rules — which have been approved in three states and are being sought by at least 10 others — would be illegal preferential treatment. ‘HHS believes that such an exemption would raise constitutional and federal civil rights law concerns,’ according to a review by administration lawyers,” Politico said.

The new policy on Medicaid work requirements “does not honor the duty of the federal government to uphold the government-to-government relationship and recognize the political status enshrined in the Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, and other federal laws, said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “Our political relationship is not based upon race.”

“The United States has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans,” Mary Smith, who was acting head of the Indian Health Service during the Obama administration and is a member of the Cherokee Nation, told Politico. “It’s the largest prepaid health system in the world — they’ve paid through land and massacres — and now you’re going to take away health care and add a work requirement?”

Medicaid has become a key funding stream for the Indian health system — especially in programs managed by tribes and non-profits. Medicaid is a state-federal partnership and public insurance. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid eligibility, but the Supreme Court ruled that each state could decide whether or not to expand. Since the expansion of Medicaid some 237,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in 19 states have become insured.

Officially Medicaid represents 13 percent of the Indian Health Service’s $6.1 billion budget (just under $800 million).

But even that number is misleading because it does not include money collected from third-party billing from tribal and non-profit organizations. In Alaska, for example, the entire Alaska Native health system is operated by tribes or tribal organizations and the state says 40 percent of its $1.8 billion Medicaid budget is spent on Alaska Native patients. That one state approaches the entire “budgeted” amount for Medicaid.

Other states report similar increases. Kaiser Family Foundation found that in Arizona, one tribally-operated health system reported that about half of visits were by patients covered by Medicaid in 2016. And, an Urban Indian Health Program, reported that its uninsured rate at one clinic fell from 85 percent before the Affordable Care Act to under 10 percent.

Those Medicaid (and all insurance) dollars are even more significant because by law they remain with local service units where the patient is treated (and the insurance is billed). In Alaska more than two-thirds of those dollars are spent on private sector doctors and hospitals through purchased care for Alaska Native patients. And, unlike IHS funds, Medicaid is an entitlement. So if a person is eligible, the money follows.

A recent report by Kaiser Health News looked at Census data and found that 52 percent of residents in New Mexico’s McKinley County have coverage through the Medicaid.  That’s the highest rate among U.S. counties with at least 65,000 people. “The heavy concentration of Medicaid in this high-altitude desert is a result of two factors: the high poverty rate and the Indian Health Service’s relentless work to enroll patients in the program,” Kaiser reported. Most of McKinley County is located on the Navajo and Zuni reservations.


Kaiser Health News said Medicaid has opened up new opportunities for Native patients to “get more timely care, especially surgery and mental health services. It has been vital in combating high rates of obesity, teen birth, suicide and diabetes, according to local health officials.”

However the growth of Medicaid is resulting in unequal care for patients in the Indian health system. The benefits in some states, including those that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, are more generous. Other states not only refused to expand Medicaid and have been adding new restrictions such as requiring “able-bodied” adults to have their Medicaid eligibility contingent on work.

But the Indian health system — the federal Indian Health Service and tribally and nonprofit operated programs — are in a special case because there is a 100 percent federal match for most services. So states set the rules, but do not have to pay the bill. (Medicaid is often the second largest single item in a state budget behind public schools.)

Medicaid is the largest health insurance program in America, insuring one in five adults, and many with complex and long-term chronic care needs. The Trump administration and many state legislatures controlled by Republicans see Medicaid as a welfare program. While most Democrats view it simply as a public health insurance program.

Work rules are particularly challenging for Indian Country. Unlike other Medicaid programs, patients in the Indian health system will still be eligible to receive basic care. So stricter rules will mean fewer people will sign up for Medicaid and the Indian Health Service — already significantly underfunded — will have to pick up the extra costs from existing appropriations. That will result in less money, and fewer healthcare services, across the board.

A letter from the Tribal Technical Advisory Group for Medicare and Medicaid said American Indians and Alaska Natives “are among the nation’s most vulnerable populations, and rely heavily on the IHS for health care. However, the IHS is currently funded at around 60 percent of need, and average per capita spending for IHS patients is only $3,688.” The latest per person cost for health care nationally is $10,348 (totalling $3.3 trillion, nearly 20 percent of the entire economy).

The tribal advisory group said it is “critically important” that there be a blanket exemption for IHS beneficiaries from the mandatory work requirements.

A report in September by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives on Medicaid already work, yet continue to face high rates of poverty. It said over three-quarters of American Indians and Alaska Natives are in working families, but that’s a gap of about 8 percent compared to other Americans (83 percent).

The Trump administration’s characterization of tribal health programs as “race-based” is particularly troubling to tribal leaders because it would reverse historical precedence.

A memo last month from the law firm of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “has ample legal authority to single out IHS beneficiaries for special treatment in administering the statutes under its jurisdiction if doing so is rationally related to its unique trust responsibility to Indians. Under familiar principles of Indian law, such actions are political in nature, and as a result do not constitute prohibited race based classifications. This principle has been recognized and repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court and every Circuit Court of Appeals that has considered it, and has been extended to the actions of Administrative Agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services even in the absence of a specific statute.”

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a Shoshone-Bannock tribal citzen. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Cross posted on Indian Country Today.

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

 

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House Speaker Paul Ryan said he will not run for re-election. His legacy includes a massive spending while calling for smaller government. (Photo by Vince Schilling / Indian Country Today)

 

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

Paul Ryan came to Washington to blow up Washington. He was first elected to represent his Wisconsin district at 28 years old. He campaigned over his career for a federal government that should shrink dramatically, spend far less, that taxes should be low, and the Republicans should be the party of big ideas.

Ryan announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election. He says he will complete his term as Speaker, but that’s not certain. He likely will face pressure to step down early, so another Republican can lead the party’s team into the November election. (More than forty Republicans have already announced their retirement contributing to the story about a coming Democratic wave.)

The Speaker leaves behind a different kind of legacy. He did get his tax cuts and substantial changes in the regulatory framework. But he also delivered more federal spending than ever. The deficit will hit $804 billion this year (a jump of 21 percent in a single year) and exceed $1 trillion by 2020. And, a new report by the Congressional Budget Office, says that a decade from now the total debt will be larger than the entire economy. “That amount is far greater than the debt in any year since just after World War II,” the CBO said Monday.

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The problem for Ryan, like Speaker John Boehner before him, is that the Republican majority is nearly ungovernable. The only way for Congress to function, to actually pass a budget, is to build a coalition that includes most Republicans, some Democrats, and work with a similar coalition in the Senate. That often means spending more money. That’s not the Congress — and the party of big ideas — that Ryan once had imagined.

And President Donald J. Trump has made that process worse. He caters to the bloc in Congress that cares little about actually governing. Chaos is fine. Big ideas, not so much.

Ryan proposed a major reform of government in 2010 long before he was elected Speaker of the House. It had his big ideas: Replace Medicare with direct payments to seniors who then could buy their own health insurance; turn Medicaid into a block grant to states; end employer-based health insurance; and dramatically cut government and taxes. There was no support for that plan.

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Then two years ago, as a new speaker, Ryan unveiled another plan for reshaping government. “A Better Way” included a reform of the Indian Health Service by “giving choices to American Indians.” His big idea was to have the government issue vouchers for Indian health, outside the system. “Not only will this give American Indians more choice in where they receive care,” the Ryan plan promised. “It will challenge Indian health facilities to provide the best care possible to American Indians.”

And of course that voucher system would have cost less. The Ryan plan also included a provision for a Native American Health Savings Account so individual tribal members could buy their own health care services  (Never mind a treaty sanctioned right.)

The basic premise of Ryan’s plan was that poverty is a problem because of government programs, thus, shrink the government, and poverty will go away. He told National Public Radio: “Let’s break up the welfare monopoly, instead of having just the welfare agency at the county level give people their benefits, which they basically rubber-stamp. … They don’t actually treat the person. Let other providers also provide these full-scale wraparound benefits. Let the Catholic Church do it. Let Lutheran social services. Let America Works, a for-profit agency that’s good at this.”

This is not a new idea; it was the same logic in the 1940s when Republican complained then that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was responsible for poverty, horrible living conditions, and general mismanagement. The solution over the next decade was the idea of “freeing the Indians” by terminating the federal responsibility, Termination. And a hundred and nine tribes were terminated, representing some 12,500 tribal members, and the end result was poverty conditions that were far worse.

That’s likely what would have happened again had Ryan’s “choice” approach to Indian health became law.

Ryan’s, “A Better Way,” once again called for turning Medicaid over to the states. “Instead of shackling states with more mandates, our plan empowers states to design Medicaid programs that best meet their needs, which will help reduce costs and improve care for our most vulnerable citizens.”

Medicaid has become a significant revenue source for the Indian health system. Under current law, Medicaid is a partnership between the federal and state governments. But states get a 100 percent federal match for patients within the Indian health system. Four-in-ten Native Americans are eligible for Medicaid insurance.

Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma and a Chickasaw Nation citizen, said Ryan will be missed in Congress. “Paul Ryan is a visionary leader, a committed conservative and a master of the legislative process. His tenure as been marked by exceptional accomplishments – the largest tax cut and reform in a generation; the most regulatory reform for any Congress in the modern age; the most substantial defense buildup in 15 years; the end of the individual mandate in Obamacare – and a host of other important legislative accomplishments,” Cole said.

“He is not only the best Speaker I’ve had the opportunity to serve with, he’s also the finest person. Even Paul’s political opponents readily concede that he’s a person of absolute integrity, deep sincerity and of profound decency.”

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter: @TrahantReports (This story is cross posted with Indian Country Today.)

Paulette Jordan is one of seven Native American candidates running for statewide office — and one of two Native women running to a lead a state

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Paulette Jordan: The issues “that tribes push forward are good for everyone.” Jordan is running for governor of Idaho and has a May 15 primary. (Official photo)

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

A couple of weeks ago I was driving across the border into Idaho from Montana. I stopped the car and took a picture of the “Welcome to Idaho” sign. I thought: It would be cool if that sign read, just under the Idaho greeting, Paulette Jordan, Governor.

Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, is running as a Democrat in what is perhaps the reddest, most Republican state in the country. So it’s an impossible task, right?

No. Let’s do the math.

The first part of that equation is done: Running. So many talented people survey a political campaign and then, for whatever reason, pass. But the inviolate rule of politics is that you must run in order to win. So that is a huge step.

Jordan is one of seven Native American candidates running for statewide office and one of two Native women running to a lead a state, (something that has never been done before.) She will be the first of those candidates to face voters and she will need to win a contested Democratic primary on May 15. A date that’s coming up fast.

One of the most important reasons for Native American candidates is the aspirational aspect. It’s a way for young people to see a future, (one that is far more important than just politics.) During a recent trip to Fort Hall, and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Jordan took time out to visit the students. She also met with community members where she said on KPVI 6 that the issues that “tribes push forward are good for everyone, all of humanity. So when we talk about education in tribal communities, it’s the same for Hispanic communities, it’s the same for every single district up and down this state.”

Jordan is running against A.J. Balukoff, who, unlike Jordan, can use his own wealth to fund his campaign. (Something he has already done to the tune of $175,000.) Four years ago Balukoff was the Democratic nominee for governor and lost by a wide margin.

Idaho has an odd primary. The Republicans limit their ballots to anyone except those who publicly claim party membership. But anyone who is “unaffiliated” or independent can pick up a Democratic Party ballot on election day. Because Idaho is such a conservative state, most voters sign up with the Republicans. Four years ago more than 155,000 voters did just that, while only 25,638 voted in the Democratic primary.

This is actually an advantage for a candidate like Jordan. She only needs to find a few thousand votes (my bet is there will be more interest than four years ago.) So, let’s say that means the primary winner will earn at least 25,000 votes. That’s a plausible number in a season where nontraditional candidates are getting a second and third look.

There is only one county in Idaho that regularly votes for Democrats: Blaine County. That’s Sun Valley, Ketchum, the Wood River Valley. Think lifestyles of the rich and famous. Hillary Clinton had a two-to-one margin over President Donald J. Trump in Blaine County. Jordan must do well here.

Votes from Idaho’s five reservations could help, too. The numbers are small, but if they are one-sided, say 100, 200, 300 votes to a handful, it could give her an edge. Especially in a primary.

Jordan should also poll well with younger Democratic voters and with Hispanics. These two constituent groups are growing in numbers and importance. Well, sort of. Idaho is a young state: There are more people under 18 than any other demographic group. And younger voters from 18 to 25 are a relatively small cohort at roughly 155,000 people. But in the last elections this group increased its turnout rates, so there is a potential upside. Hispanics now account for 12 percent of Idaho’s population and, according to Pew Research, are some 80,000 eligible voters (far more than what would be needed in a primary election.)

The math is there. It’s possible.

What about Jordan’s message? Is she connecting with primary voters? That’s a much tougher call. She has to reach voters in a state with two time zones and a distinct geographic divide. I often joke that Idaho is the only state with three capitals: Salt Lake City, Spokane and Boise. Each major city has its influence over regions of the state.

Recently Jordan’s team made a rookie mistake adding the word “ever” to an email about her being the only Democrat elected in North Idaho. This took away from an important message: Jordan won re-election to the Idaho House two years ago in a terrible cycle for Democrats. Her campaign convinced voters who would not normally vote for a Democrat. This should be said over and over as a reason why Idaho Democrats should vote for Jordan.

And after that? The toughest hill to climb come after the primary. Jordan would then need to make her case to Idaho’s deeply conservative Republican voters. But if there is ever a year to do just that, it’s this one.

But first the May 15 primary is coming fast. That’s a hurdle that Jordan needs to clear first.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter: @TrahantReports (Cross-posted on TrahantReports)

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President Donald J. Trump speaks about the $1.3 trillion Omnibus Spending Bill before signing into law. (Official White House photo by D. Myles Cullen)

Indian Health, Bureau of Indian Affairs see a budget increase

Mark Trahant / Indian Country Today

The federal government’s newly enacted budget is a massive “omnibus” act that spends $1.3 trillion and makes some members of Congress pleased and others angry. It’s a document that reflects a broken budget system. And, at the same time, it’s a business-as-usual document in a presidential administration that has promised structural change.

“There are a lot of things I’m unhappy about,” President Donald J. Trump told reporters at the White House Diplomatic Reception room. “But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. Nobody read it, it’s only hours old.”

But the negotiations were not hours old. The back and forth between Democratic and Republican lawmakers was essentially a year late. This spending bill only funds the federal government between now and the end of September. But the process took so long because neither side had enough votes to pass the document on their own; Republicans needed votes from Democrats and to get those votes there had to be deals. Lots of deals. Business as usual.

And business as usual is good for Indian Country. Federal Indian programs, some of which had been slated for either elimination or deep cuts, continued on course.

The omnibus spending bill increases funding for the Indian Health Service by 10 percent, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Indian Education by 7 percent to $3.064 billion. The IHS budget line s $5.5 billion. When the budget is compared to the president’s request, the increases are even sharper, more than 16 percent for the IHS and 23 percent for the BIA.

At the BIA, according to an analysis by Amber Ebarb at the National Congress of American Indians, “Overall, the eliminations and reductions proposed in the president’s budget were rejected.”

Other budget items:

  • The bill includes a 3 percent set aside for Indian tribes within the funds available under the Victims of Crimes Act. The cap for these funds was set at $4.4 billion, which amounts to $133 million. As Ebarb wrote: “This is an important step forward for Indian Country, which has the highest rate of criminal victimization and had up until this point been left out of this funding. This funding will address the long standing inequity and meaningfully improve the landscape of victim services in Indian Country.”
  • The bill provides $50 million for grants to Indian tribes or tribal organizations to address the epidemic, and $5 million for tribes in the Medication-Assisted Treatment for Prescription Drug and Opioid Addiction program.
  • Infrastructure spending would increase for BIA and IHS construction, BIA road maintenance, and a $100 million competitive grant program is added under Native American Housing Block Grants in addition to the $655 million provided for the NAHBG formula grants.

 

President Trump said he signed the bill into law because it increased military spending. “I looked very seriously at the veto. But because of the incredible gains that we’ve been able to make for the military, that overrode any of our thinking.”

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter: @TrahantReports (Cross-posted on TrahantReports)

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