Indian Country politics and public policy

Commentary by Mark Trahant

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Trahant Reports

Speaker Paul Ryan said House Republicans are close to a deal that would allow them to pass the American Health Care Act. He says this is because of “improvements” suggested by President Donald J. Trump.

Let’s be clear about these so-called improvements: The bill would still wipe out Medicaid as we know it. Medicaid represents 13 percent of the Indian Health Service budget (or $808 million). Now. It could produce even more revenue as more states opt into the plan and more American Indians and Alaska Natives sign up for that public insurance program. This is how the Indian health system reaches full-funding one day.

(Previous: Three ways to add money to Indian health.)

Ryan tweeted that the idea behind the new bill is “to give the states the ability to kind of customize the reforms to maximize the ability to lower premiums.” And the method for that is to allow states to walk away from requiring essential services. The result would be people who have insurance policies that do not cover what would be covered under the Affordable Care Act. This weakens the idea of protecting people from insurance companies that use pre-existing conditions to limit or exclude coverage.

That’s the debate that is taking center state right now. But for Indian Country the bigger concern ought to be Medicaid, Medicaid and Medicaid.

There are now 30 million children covered by Medicaid; more than half of all Native children,

I wrote last month that two states show the impact: Alaska and Montana. Both are new to Medicaid expansion. Montana currently does not have representation in Congress — so there is no voice in this “reform.” Alaska’s Rep. Don Young, a Republican, is so far listed as an undecided for this new House proposal. I also wrote that the previous House bill was particularly bad for Alaska. That’s still true but now those voting for the measure have a way to spin it: They can say it will lower premiums. Sure. And that will be fine as long as you never need the policy to actually pay for expensive medical treatment.

A House vote could come as soon as Friday. — Mark Trahant

 

 

 

 

 

 

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James Singer will announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate on May 2. (Campaign photo)

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

James Singer will run for the United States Senate in Utah. He’s the first Native American to run in 2018 elections. Singer is a member of the Navajo Nation. He’s also the first candidate to cite Standing Rock as the answer to the question, “why run?”

“This past year has marked an awakening for Indigenous Peoples,” Singer said on his web site, Singer for Senate.  “At the center has been the struggle at Standing Rock, North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I was moved to action as I saw my Native sisters and brothers stand against an encroachment which threatened not only their inherent sovereignty, but also their humanity. These water protectors were pummeled with rubber bullets, sprayed with powerful water cannons in freezing temperatures, attacked with dogs, and shot with pepper spray, while bulldozers cleared away sacred land and burial sites so that a pipeline could be pushed through. The love of money by a small, but powerful few, is sickening to the rest of Americans, regardless of political affiliation.”

Singer has already filed his paperwork, but the official announcement will be made at the Glendale Public Library in Salt Lake City on May 2. Singer is from Kearns, Utah, and currently resides in Salt Lake City. He teaches sociology at Westminster College and Salt Lake Community College and is currently in the sociology doctoral program at Utah State University. More about his background here.

According to his web site: “The Singer for Senate campaign stands alone as not only a representation of Native voices in Utah, where James is the first Diné (Navajo) candidate in the state, but also a departure from the grip of establishment politics as a social democrat.”

This is an interesting idea because it raises questions about the next generation and the rise of a new kind of politics. Imagine: Running for office in Utah on the issues of Standing Rock, and therefore climate change, the excesses of capitalism, gender inequality, and “a vision to live more sustainably.”

And 2018 will not be an ordinary election. Even in Utah. Sen. Orrin Hatch has already raised $1.3 million for his re-election effort but he may not run. Hatch is 83 years old. There have been several other Republicans who are considering campaigns, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney. It’s also possible that Evan McMullin, a former CIA agent who ran for president as an independent, could run again as a conservative independent.

It’s way to early to say this, but what the heck, a three-way race would be the ideal outcome for Singer because it could split the conservative votes (Utah is one of the reddest states in the country) and open up a path for a different kind of politician.

It’s also true that Utah’s demographics are changing. Recent census data show that nearly four out of every 10 new Utah residents are from a racial or ethnic group. And Salt Lake County, the base of Singer’s candidacy, is 27.4 percent minority (accounting for nearly half of the state’s diversity). Another urban county, Weber, is 22.9 percent minority. (One rural county, San Juan, is 53.4 percent Navajo.)

But to win a Senate seat a candidate must create a much broader coalition. “I have lived in Utah nearly my entire life,” Singer says. “I know our values: We work hard. We want safe communities and to have enough to provide for our families, whatever they look like. We want people to be treated fairly and justly. We want to be able to better our lives. Our hearts ache to see suffering. We have a spirit of service and giving that is unmatched. We want to help those in need and share when we are prospering. There are so many things that we share in common.”

The Singer campaign is asking for small donations of $27 to fund their campaign. (Six years ago Hatch spent nearly $12 million for his re-election. Hatch has been in office since 1977.)

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

 

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The new health care team: President Donald J. Trump (clockwise from left) Seema Verma, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Secretary Tom Price, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Vice President Mike Pence in an Oval Office meeting last month. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

 

Brace for another government shutdown

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Can President Donald J. Trump and the Republicans actually govern? As we near the 100th day mark the answer has been a loud “no.” So far. This week the Congress and the president will once again try for wins to fund the government, repeal the Affordable Care Act, extra money for Defense, and to construct a wall on the southern border. A nearly impossible order.

The House of Representatives does not have a governing coalition. There remains, essentially, three parties: Republicans, Democrats, and the Freedom Caucus. Two of these three groups must work together in order to pass any legislation. And to complicate the politics even more, many of the Republican members are already worried about their own re-election, so they might not support their own party’s leaders. Especially if that deal is sanctioned by the Freedom Caucus.

Yet Speaker Paul Ryan told his caucus Saturday that funding the government is the priority. The president was equally optimistic. “I think we’re in good shape,” President Trump said.

There are two budgets at issue. First there is the one proposed by the White House, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” That budget would not begin until October and would result in a dramatic restructuring of the federal government. Many members of Congress have said there is no chance this budget will be enacted as proposed.

But this week there is another budget problem. Congress must pass budget extension for this year by April 29 or there will be another government shutdown.

Shutting the government has become too common: On Indigenous People’s Day in 1990 (Ok, back then it was called, Columbus Day) President Bush sent workers home after Congress failed to enact a spending bill. Then during the Clinton years there was a five-day closure in 1995 and another three-week shutdown in 1996. There was a 16-day shutdown in 2013, followed by the double-whammy of sequestration. Tribal governments were impacted almost immediately and had to suspend nutrition programs, foster care, law enforcement, schools and health care. Some tribes had to temporarily layoff workers.

A policy report by the National Congress of American Indians put this in perspective: “For many tribes, a majority of tribal governmental services is financed by federal sources. Tribes lack the tax base and lack parity in tax authority to raise revenue to deliver services. If federal funding is reduced sharply for state and local governments, they may choose between increasing their own taxes and spending for basic services or allowing their services and programs to take the financial hit. On the other hand, many tribes have limited ability to raise substantial new revenue, especially not rapidly enough to cover the reduction in services from the across the board reductions of the FY 2013 sequestration.”

That could be the good old days. The prospect of a serious meltdown is a far greater possibility in 2017 than it was four years ago.

First of all the White House is incompetent. Instead of laying out a plan that will lead to a working majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate it has offered nonsense. “I think we’ve made it very clear that we want border wall funding, we want greater latitude to deny federal grants to sanctuary cities,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said last week. “We want hiring of immigration agents, and we want $30 billion to infuse the military budget. Those are our priorities.”

That adds up to a blank check for the wall and immigration control, at least $30 billion for Defense, and a cut of at least $18 billion to domestic spending.

Those priorities are not possible without at least a few Democratic votes in the Senate (unless the rules are changed) because it takes 60 votes to approve any new Continuing Resolution. There are only 52 Republicans. So which Democrats are going to favor punishing sanctuary cities? How about none. And that’s only point one. Leaders in the House will need nearly every Republican to vote yes as well, something that’s always unlikely.

(Building a coalition with Democrats is even more important when you consider that Congress must soon raise the national debt limit, something that many Republicans always oppose without conditions that are unacceptable to Democrats.)

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But this week what makes a government shutdown even more likely is that the White House, Republicans, and Democrats, are all staking out claims on a variety of issues.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said he would not vote for another budget extension unless it increases military funding. In the past, Democrats have gone along with that notion as long as there is a mechanism to protect domestic programs budget cuts, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

But the Trump administration (here is that competence thing) is already acting if its stingy budget is the law, telling agencies to shrink and reduce the number of federal employees.

An April 12 memo from OMB Director Mick Mulvaney says: “The president’s FY 2018 Budget request to Congress will propose decreasing or eliminating funding for many programs across the federal government, and in some cases redefining agency missions. The president’s FY 2018 Budget should drive agencies’ planning for workforce reductions and inform their Agency Reform Plans, consistent with final 2017 appropriations and current applicable legal requirements. OMB and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will work with agencies to facilitate reductions in the size of their workforce and monitor progress.”

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Congress is unlikely to go along with President Trump’s budget plan. Unlikely is too strong a word. How about? There is absolutely no way to get 216 votes for such a radical restructuring of the entire federal government. But programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives could be hit hard if there is another government shutdown.  (Trahant photo)

Yet there is no way Congress will agree with the restructuring of the federal government as proposed. The votes are not there. But the OMB is basically moving forward anyway, directing agencies to “begin implementing some reforms immediately while others will require congressional action.”

The White House message is stick it in your eye, Congress. (Oh, by the way, we still need your votes.)

So how does the White House move the ball forward? By threatening Democrats over the Affordable Care Act by proposing an exchange one dollar of funding for health care for every dollar spent on the wall. That took Democrats a few seconds to well, uh, no.

And coming next week the president said on Twitter that he will announce “big tax reform and tax reduction.”

That will subtract a few more votes for everything else that needs to happen this week.

Of course there is a way of out of this mess. The White House could work with Democrats and spend money on their priorities. It’s the basic formula that has led to enactments of budgets for the past 8 years. The bargain would mean continued spending for domestic programs as well as add money to the military. The wall? No. Cutting support for Planned Parenthood? Get serious. And health care funding? That’s why it’s called the art of the deal.

There are three doors on the governing stage. Door number one: An impasse and a government shutdown. Door number two: A deal with Democrats. And door number three: A short-term budget extension so the debate can go on. And on. And on.

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

 

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A singing lawmaker: Rob Quist is the Democratic candidate in Montana’s special election next month. Special elections will soon set the tone for the 2018 campaign season.(Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Remember this: There is always another election.  And the 2018 congressional elections already promise to be extraordinary.

Let’s look at the landscape so far. Last week voters in Kansas surprised Republicans by barely winning a district that’s supposed to be safe. President Donald J. Trump tweeted: “Great win in Kansas last night for Ron Estes, easily winning the Congressional race against the Dems, who spent heavily & predicted victory!” And, indeed, there was a late surge that had many Democrats thinking victory. But Kansas is a deep red state. The district was represented by Mike Pompeo, who’s now the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who won by a margin of 30 points. Trump’s margin in the same district was 27 points. And Tuesday? Estes won the district by less than seven percentage points.

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The Washington Post points out that special elections are complicated. There are a lot of factors at work beyond voters view of the White House. “But a sharp shift to the left in even deep-red parts of the country has obvious implications for the GOP that this experiment simply lays bare: the potential for an electoral disaster,” the Post said.

The shift from a House managed by Paul Ryan to one led by Nancy Pelosi would have huge implications for the Trump administration — and certainly for federal-tribal relations and programs.

Was Kansas the beginning of something bigger? Look for more answers to emerge in Georgia this week and Montana in May.

Tuesday voters in suburban Atlanta will weigh in. That special election to replace Tom Price (the Health and Human Services Secretary) is a “blanket primary” meaning that all candidates run on the same ballot regardless of party. Then the top two positions — unless one wins 50 percent vote — will face each other again. A number of Republicans are splitting the conservative vote. The Democrat in the race is Jon Ossoff and he has been leading in polls from the low- to mid-40s. Enough to win this round, but not enough to win the seat. Yet. Or maybe.

At this point you can boil this race down to one question: Who will show up? If more Democrats than normal show up (by about nine points) they could win this seat on Tuesday. That’s still possible in June but more difficult in a one-on-one race.

Indian Country’s first judgement of the Trump administration comes in Montana on May 25. Montana voters will pick a replacement for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke defeated Denise Juneau to win re-election. Now the race is between a singing cowboy, Rob Quist, and a wealthy entrepreneur, Greg Gianforte, who lost the November race for governor.

But that’s only the headline race. What makes the Montana special election more interesting is that the Libertarian Party is also on the ballot, Mark Wicks, a rancher and writer from Inverness. At the same time: Other party candidates, including the Green Party and independents, did not get signatures to make the ballot.

So this will be a three-way race. Libertarians are more popular in Montana than any  other state. (Indeed: I think one of the challenges for Juneau’s historic bid for Congress was that the Libertarians did not engage in a serious campaign. In the 2012 Senate race, Libertarian Mike Cox picked up nearly 7 percent of the vote in the race between Democrat Jon Tester and Republican Denny Rehberg.)

One important issue for Indian Country has yet to be resolved: The election process itself. Many county clerks and voting advocates have argued the special election is the ideal test for a vote-by-mail election (saving the state hundreds of thousands of dollars). However many in the Legislature argued that would give Democrats an advantage. The bill was killed. But Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock used an “amendatory veto” to revive the legislation. The Montana Legislature has not yet taken up that legislation even as county clerks move forward without a plan for a general mail ballot. I would love to see a major experiment with mail balloting for tribal communities. There is good data from Washington and Oregon that shows how effective mail ballots can be as a way to increase voter participation.

Back to the big picture. How would the Trump administration change in a world where Democrats control Congress? We actually might see a hint of that soon. The federal government must pass a new spending bill by the end of this month and it will likely be a coalition of Democrats working with Republicans to pass the measure. That means there will be funding for the Affordable Care Act, Planned Parenthood, and other programs supported by Democrats. The Republican Congress has the same problem on a spending bill as it did in the health care debate; there are not enough votes to pass a conservative alternative.

And in the House Democrats are well-positioned by history. Remember the president’s party nearly always loses seats in the first election after winning the White House. In 2010 after Barack Obama’s historic election, his party lost 63 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate. And according to Gallup polling, since 1946, when presidents are above 50 percent approval, their party loses an average of 14 House seats compared with an average loss of 36 seats when presidents are below that mark. And President Trump remains far below that mark.

In 2016 there was a remarkable group of Native Americans running for the Congress. For that to happen again, in this next cycle, there needs to be a recruitment of candidates.

In Arizona, for example, Victoria Steele would be well-suited to run again against Rep. Martha McSally. McSally would have to defend Trump’s unpopularity in a swing district.

It would be interesting to see a strong Alaska Native candidate surface in Alaska against Rep. Don Young. Young was lucky that the health care bill failed when it did because he did not need to take a vote. He would have had to choose between his party and his state (Medicaid expansion works in Alaska and the House bill would have cost Alaskans more per person than any other state). He still may have to make that choice.

Ideally I would like to see younger candidates from Indian Country. Young people who could build innovative, digital campaigns instead of relying on what’s been done in the past in terms of fundraising and advertising.

This is why the special elections right are so important. Because win or lose in Kansas, Georgia, and Montana, it shows that the House is not cemented to Republican leadership. The 2018 election cycle will be very different than the one that moved Trump into the White House. And all it takes is for a few potential candidates to see the possible … and to think, “I can do that.”

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

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No coal here. The Native Village of Tyonek, Alaska, celebrated the suspension of a project by PacRim Coal. The tribal community is located some 45 miles west of Anchorage. PacRim estimated the project would have mined some 242 million tons of coal. (Trahant file photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A couple of years ago a tribal leader showed me an abandoned lumber mill near the village of Tyonek, Alaska. The company promised jobs. And, for a time, for a couple of decades, there were those jobs. But after the resource was consumed, the mill closed, the company disappeared, and the shell of the enterprise remains today.

This same story could be told in tribal communities across North America. Sometimes the resource was timber. Other times gas and oil. Or coal.

The lucky communities were left with a small toxic dump site. More often there was major cleanup work required after (plus a few more jobs). And in the worst case scenario, a Superfund site was left behind requiring government supervision and an even greater restoration effort.

But all along, and in each case, the accompanying idea was that jobs would be a part of the deal.

There would be construction jobs to build the mine, pipeline, or processing plant. Then there would be truck driving jobs moving materials. A few executive jobs (especially in public and community relations) and, of course, the eventual supervision of the cleanup (especially if the tribal government had its own environmental protection agency.)

That was the deal. But it’s one that is no longer true. Now the resource is extracted, pipelines are built, and toxic waste is left behind … while the promised jobs are limited to the initial construction jobs.

The renewed effort to build the Keystone XL pipeline is a classic example of this shift. When President Donald J. Trump signed the executive order to approve the project he promised “thousands of jobs.” That’s true enough for the construction phase, but only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline, according to the State Department report.

Keystone, at least, is prospective jobs. New ones. But the bigger challenge for the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation and some thirty tribes with coal reserves or power plants is that new deal for resource-based plants and extraction does not create as many jobs.

The numbers are stark.

The U.S. Energy and Employment Outlook 2017 shows that electricity from coal declined 53 percent between 2006 and 2016. Over that same period, electricity from natural gas increased by 33 percent and from solar by 5,000 percent.

Coal is still a major source of energy. But it’s in decline. Coal and natural now gas add up to two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S. And that’s expected to remain so until at least 2040 when the market share declines to a little more than half.

But because it’s a market that’s going down it means that tribes that develop coal will not share in the rewards of either major profits or in a spike in jobs.

The only hope for this shrinking industry is to export the coal to other countries (something that will be extremely difficult because so many other nations have already agreed to the Paris climate targets). As Clark Williams-Derry has reported for the Sightline Institute:

“Robust, sustainable Asian coal markets were never a realistic hope for US coal exporters: the transportation costs were too high, the competition too fierce, and the demand too unstable. So the coal industry’s PR flacks may continue to spin tales about endless riches in the Asian coal market, the financials are telling a much more sobering story: that the coal export pipe dream continues to fade away, leaving a bad hangover on the coal industry’s balance sheets and a lingering bad taste in the mouths of coal investors and executives alike.”

On top of all that, Derry-Williams points out that China’s coal consumption has fallen for three consecutive years.

And the international context is that coal is the most polluting of the three types of fossil fuels. More than 80 percent of the world’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to meet global warming targets.

There are jobs in the energy field, but, as the Department of Energy report puts it: “Employment in electric power generation now totals 860,869 … (and) the number of jobs is projected to grow by another 7 percent but the majority will be in construction to build and install new renewable energy capacity.”

graph of U.S. net electricity generation and coal production, as explained in the article text

The green economy is taking over. (Trump or no Trump.)

The extractive economy (much like the farm economy a generation ago) reached its peak, probably back in 2014. Oil and gas employed 514,000 people. Today it’s 388,000. Coal and extraction related jobs peaked at 90,000 and now that number is about 53,000.

Then Indian Country’s development of coal (or not) has been the story so far in the Trump era.

Last month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a memorandum lifting restrictions on federal coal leasing. He said the “war on coal is over.” Then he quoted Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying, “there are no jobs like coal jobs.”

A day later the Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed suit. The tribe said the Interior Department did not consult it prior to lifting the restrictions. “It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne’s trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our Nation or evaluating the impacts to our Reservation and our residents,” Northern Cheyenne Tribe president L. Jace Killsback said in a news release. There are 426 million tons of coal located near the Northern Cheyenne and on the Crow Nation.

Meanwhile in Alaska, another coal project was put to rest in a tribal community. The village of Tyonek has been opposed to the Chuitna Coal Project. (Previously: Mother of the Earth returns to Tyonek) After a decade of planning, PacRim Coal suspended the project last month because an investor backed out.  The project could be brought back to life. But that’s not likely. Because coal is a losing bet for any investor.

According to Alaska Public Media that meant a joyful celebration in Tyonek.  The president of the village Native Council, Arthur Stanifer said, “What it means for us is our fish will continue to be here for future generations, also our wildlife, like the bears and the moose and the other animals will be secure and they’ll be here. They’ll have a safe place to be.”

And what of the jobs? That’s the hard part. The prospects for extraction-related jobs are about to be hit by even more disruptive forces. For example in the oil fields of North Dakota one of the great paying jobs is truck driving. Moving material back and forth. But already in Europe companies are experimenting and will soon begin the shift to self-driving vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before that trend takes over because it fits the model of efficient capitalism. Self-driving trucks don’t need rest breaks, consume less fuel, and fewer accidents. That same disruption of automation is occurring across the employment spectrum. Jobs that can be done by machines, will be.

So if jobs are no longer part of the equation, does natural resource extraction benefit tribal communities?

The answer ought to include a plan where the United States government and tribes work together to replace these jobs: Retrain workers and invest in the energy sector that’s growing, renewable fuels. But that’s not likely to happen in Trump Era.

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Former Montana State Sen. Carol Juneau once said that she considered state office because that’s where she could make a difference. (She is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Tribe but was living in the Blackfeet Nation). The year was 1998. She was first appointed to the legislature to replace a man who left office to take up a seat on the Blackfeet Tribal Council and then she became one of two Native American members of the Montana House of Representatives. In February of 1999 she made the case to the House Democratic Caucus that Montana’s American Indians ought to have better representation, because tribal people “are citizens of the state of Montana, the same as any other citizens. I’d like to see that Indian people and Indian tribes in Montana aren’t left outside of everything.”

Today Native Montanans are not left out.

The state has the most Native Americans elected as legislators in the country, three members of the Senate and six members of the House. More than that: Montana has elected more women than any other state: Four of the nine legislators.

And though she is not currently in office, Denise Juneau (Carol’s daughter) was the only Native American woman to ever win a state constitutional office, she served two terms as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as a congressional candidate.

The Montana story has a national application, too. A higher percentage of Native American women serve in state legislatures than do women nationally.

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Women make up about 25 percent of state legislatures. But a little more than 40 percent of all American Indian and Alaska Native legislators are female. The numbers break down this way: There are at least 67 Native American legislators out of 7,383 seats in 50 states or nearly one percent. (If you think that’s bad: Congress only has Native representation pegged at one-third of one percent.) Of those 67 seats, at least 25 of them are held by Native American women. So another way to look at the data: There are 1,800 legislative seats held by women; that works out to a Native representation of 1.4 percent.

There is still a long way to go to reach parity with the population, but it’s much better than just about any other category in the body politic. For example: A recent report by the Bureau of Indian Affairs shows more than 570 elected tribal leaders and, in that group, just under 25 percent are women.

The Native delegation in Minnesota is eighty percent female; its own caucus. (You could even argue that women are 100 percent of the delegation because the other tribal member in the legislature, Republican Rep. Steve Green, is White Earth Ojibwe, but he rarely champions or mentions tribal issues.)

A recent article in the Minnesota Post was headlined, “Something new for the Minnesota Legislature: A caucus of first Minnesotans.” Rep. Susan Allen, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, was first elected in a special election. “Before Allen was elected in 2012, only nine legislators in state history who self-identified as American Indian served in the Legislature — all men — and most of them were elected back when Minnesota was still considered a territory,” the Post said.

Allen told the Post: “You can be a part of an institution that is predominantly white and not have to lose your identity. I can be here without having to lose my identity to do it, and previous generations, I don’t think they had that.”

The Post explained several reasons why it’s so important for a legislature to hear from Native American legislators and for those elected representatives to keep an eye out for bills that impact the Native community.

One anecdote in particular was powerful. The Post said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Poden, a Standing Rock descendent, was giving American Indian students a tour of the Capitol. She could see they were overwhelmed. “I said, come back again and again and bring other Natives to the Capitol so that you’re not nervous, so that you’re not intimidated, so that some day you’ll be sitting in this office doing the work that we’re doing,” she said in the Post. “You could almost see the light bulb go off in their head: I could do this?”

Arizona is another state where most of the Native delegation — three out of four — are women. This fits Arizona. Its legislature is third in the nation for the highest percentage of women at nearly 40 percent.

New Mexico is the only state where the male-female balance is 50/50. And five states, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, have only a woman representing Native Americans in the legislature. Conversely, Colorado, North Carolina, and North Dakota have only one Native American man serving in the legislature. Alaska (88 percent) and Oklahoma (86 percent) are primarily represented by men. South Dakota has three American Indian men in the legislature and no women.

Idaho’s Rep. Paulette Jordan, Couer d’Alene, is not only the only Native American in the legislature, she’s the only Democrat elected north of Boise. She told the Spokane Spokesman Review: “How can we continue to fight for balance in the state, with the overwhelming odds?That’s part of the beauty of our connection to our ancestors. We know that they’re always walking with us, guiding us and helping us in this lifetime … the fact that we’re still here – we still have the beauty, the inner identity, our connection to everything, to the land, to the earth itself, to our relatives both tribal and non-tribal alike.”

Nearly all of the Native American women who serve in state legislatures are Democrats. 21 out of 25. But it’s also worth mentioning that two of those Republican women are in leadership in Alaska and Hawaii. (Previously: Native Republicans open up a channel for discourse about Indian Country’s issues.)

I don’t have the total numbers for Native Americans elected at the city and county level. Yet. (Early drafts of spreadsheets are here and here. Please do let me know who should be on these lists.)

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Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, currently represents more citizens than any Native woman in America (more than 90,000 people live in her North Seattle district). She was elected to Seattle’s City Council in November of 2015. (City of Seattle photo)

But this much is clear: Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, currently represents more citizens than any Native woman in America (more than 90,000 people live in her North Seattle district). She was elected to Seattle’s City Council in November of 2015. In an interview with the Tacoma Art Museum she talked about her idea about the role of women: “While men were in charge of external power, women had interior, spiritual, and domestic power. They were the centers of the community.” That’s exactly how she’s approached her job on the council. She’s argued for community services from sidewalks to child car. On Juarez’ blog she reports: “In this budget I advocated for and secured $4.4 million in targeted investments in our community including improvements in human services, construction of sidewalks, and neighborhood planning initiatives. Ultimately, I achieved a 94% success rate for my specific District 5 budget priorities.”

Denise Juneau, of course, is the only Native American woman to hold statewide office (twice). She actually earned thousands of more votes from Montanans than did Barack Obama in 2012. (Previously: Denise Juneau’s eight years of promise.) She had a remarkable run even though last year fell short of being the first Native woman to ever win a seat in Congress.
In addition to Juneau, at least seven Native American women have run for Congress starting in 1988. Jeanne Givens, a Couer d’Alene tribal member in Idaho was the first. Then Ada Deer, Menominee, in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free, Choctaw, in Oklahoma, and Diane Benson, Tlingit, in Alaska, Three Native women have run in Arizona: Mary Kim Titla, White Mountain Apache, Arizona Rep. Wenona Benally, Navajo, and Victoria Steele, Seneca.

It’s so long past the time to erase that phrase, “ever” or for that matter, “the first” when it comes to Native women in office. And I suspect the 2018 elections will be a remarkable opportunity for more Native Americans to win office. It will be a referendum on President Donald J. Trump and his policies.

It’s also worth noting that Native American women have run for the vice presidency three times.

LaDonna Harris, Comanche, was on the ticket with Barry Commoner for the Citizen Party in 1980 (the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide). This was Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders. The party highlighted the structural limits of the Democratic Party and blamed corporate America for the excess. The antidote was people power.

What’s interesting about the campaign now is that Commoner and Harris focused on environmental issues (long before the words global warming or climate change were in public discourse). Get this: The Citizens Party platform cited the role of science in managing complex environmental challenges.

“As a Comanche woman fighter, I’m proud to be a part of this party,” Harris said. “The traditions of my people have always held to the unity of the oppressed. That is why I want to show that we care about the problems of Chicanos, the Blacks, women, the elderly and the poor.”

Winona LaDuke, White Earth Ojibwe, joined Ralph Nader on the Green Party Ticket in 2000 and again in 2004. When LaDuke announced her candidacy she was asked whether a Native woman from rural Minnesota should even be considered? “I would argue yes,” she said. “In fact, I would question the inverse. Can men of privilege … who do not feel the impact of policies on forests, children or their ability to breast-feed children … actually have the compassion to make policy that is reflective of the interests of others? At this point, I think not.”

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

***Updated***

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Good morning.

A quick update. So a reader points out that I really ought to include Debora Juarez in this list (and in the broader review of Native women in office). And it’s a spot on suggestion.

So I have added Juarez and a couple of county commissioners I know about … but there should be more. Please let me know about women serving on city councils, as mayors, county commissions, etc. Montana? South Dakota? Alaska?

Do you know of any Native women who are elected as city and county officials that should be included? Thank you.

I am working on a piece about Native American women who were elected to office at the state (or, I wish, at the federal) level.

**City of Seattle Council Member Debora Juarez Blackfeet NP
***Coconio County, Arizona Board of Supervisors Lena Fowler Navajo D
***McKinley County, New Mexico County Commission Carolyn Bowman-Muskett Navajo D
***McKinley County, New Mexico County Commission Genevieve Jackson Navajo D

This is my spreadsheet. Please take a look and let me know if anyone is missing.

I have identified 62 American Indian or Alaska Natives in state legislatures — 25 women (40 percent) and 37 men (60 percent). As a comparison, nationally, women make up just under a quarter of all elected legislative seats. (1,363 members or 24.4 percent).  And that means Native American women are 1.834 percent of the women who serve in office.

Also eight Native American women have run for Congress and two have run for the vice presidency.

I am planning a story and an interactive graphic for the weekend. (It’s taking me longer than I planned. I keep getting distracted by the frenetic pace of the Trump administration.

Thanks for any help (or ideas). — Mark

Governing without a working majority

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Smiles no more. President Donald J. Trump failed in his pitch to the Republicans who opposed the speaker’s Affordable Care Act replacement.  (Photo via Speaker Ryan’s page.)

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

President Donald J. Trump’s legislative agenda has crashed. The Republican promise to quickly repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Friday failed to win enough votes from conservatives to make it so.

As House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a post-failure news conference: “Obamacare is the law of the land … We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

For his part, President Donald J. Trump (who, of course, says he is not to blame for the loss) told The Washington Post, “the best thing politically is to let Obamacare explode.” He called the law, “totally the property of the Democrats,” and that “when people get a 200 percent increase next year or a 100 percent or 70 percent, that’s their fault.”

The president and his administration can do a lot to make that happen. The Secretary of Health and Human Services has extraordinary authority under the Affordable Care Act and they can use the power regulation to gunk up Obamacare. There will be many battles ahead on the regulation front. But, and this is the good part, states will have a say in this too. And there is the potential for a few states to engage in experiments that might improve the law. The question here: Is the administration willing to work to improve insurance options for Americans or are they more interested in punishing Democrats? (Yeah, I know, but there is a political upside to answering that question correctly.)

Here’s the thing: There is a crisis in insurance markets. And a bipartisan solution, meaning most Republicans working in partnership with Democrats, is the best way to reach a solution. There are three ways most of us get health insurance: our employers, public insurance such as Medicare and Medicaid, and the individual market when we buy our own insurance policies. Employer-based care is an accident of history (it’s a long story) and has been shrinking for the past fifteen years. Public health insurance has been growing (something the conservatives in Congress really object to because it codifies the notion that health care is a right) and under the Affordable Care Act individual insurance has increased from about 10.6 million people to 15.6 million.

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Much of the current health insurance debate is about that individual market. Even if it is the smallest part of the problem. It’s important to understand, as David Blumenthal and Sara Collins wrote in the Harvard Business Review:

Individual markets were troubled prior to the ACA’s enactment in 2010. One reason was that premiums for these policies were increasing more than 10% a year, on average, while the policies themselves had major deficiencies. They often excluded pre-existing conditions, charged higher premiums for people with health risks and for young women, placed limits on annual and lifetime benefits, or refused to renew policies for individuals who became sick. Many people who tried to buy plans were turned down. In 2010, an estimated 9 million adults who had tried to buy a plan in the individual market over the prior three years reported that they were turned down, charged a higher price, or had a condition excluded from their plan because of their health.

Thus “returning to the status quo ante — before the ACA — is not a viable option for the individual markets.”

The fix does not involve a “great mystery” according to Blumenthal and Collins. It’s simply making certain that more young people buy insurance to help pay for the higher health care costs of older Americans. The bigger the pool, the lower the cost. (Which, I should add, is why single payer works as a public policy.) One part of that solution is to increase the government subsidies so more people will buy in. That’s how the insurance market could work better.

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More money for Indian health

Enough background. Where does Indian Country fit into this matrix? So there is a legal understanding that the Indian health system is federal obligation that stems from the promises made in treaties to provide doctors and nurses to reservation communities. Yet no Democrat nor Republican government has ever (as in ever) proposed fully-funding that Indian health system. Members of Congress often acknowledge the treaty responsibility, but have never followed those words with a budget.

But the Affordable Care Act separates insurance from health care delivery. It basically makes the Indian health system (both the government-operated Indian Health Service facilities, and those run by tribes and tribal organizations) medical care that’s mostly funded by federal appropriations and funded by insurance. Nationally that mix right now is about 80 percent appropriations and 20 percent insurance. But, and this ought to be huge, the insurance side of the equation under the Affordable Care Act is unlimited. That pool of money grows every time an eligible American Indian or Alaska Native signs up for insurance. This makes full-funding of Indian health a possibility. (Even better: Insurance collections remain at the local clinic or hospital. It really is the best kind of funding.)

There are three ways to add money to Indian health now.

First: More American Indians and Alaska Natives can sign up for Medicaid. The fact is there are many more people eligible than have signed up. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nationwide one million American Indians and Alaska Natives lack coverage (depending on the state). Already Medicaid covers more than half of all children but 11 percent of those children remain uninsured.

Second: More American Indians and Alaska Natives can sign up for exchange plans under the Affordable Care Act. This is huge.  According to healthcare.gov “If you get services from an Indian Health Care Provider, you won’t have any out-of-pocket costs like copayments, coinsurance, or deductibles, regardless of your income. (This benefit also applies to Purchased and Referred Care.).” And this benefit has essentially a permanent open enrollment.

Signing up for insurance (including plans from an employer) makes the Indian health system stronger for everyone. It’s the same principle as any insurance, the larger the pool of people who participate, the lower the cost.

Third: It’s time to make the case for Medicaid expansion in state governments that have said no. Now that the Affordable Care Act remains the law of the land there remains unequal funding. States can remedy that by expanding Medicaid eligibility (even while trying some of the conservative experiments such as imposed work rules). It’s a win for Indian Country when a state does this because it increases the number of people eligible for insurance. It’s a win for the state because Indian health patients are a 100 percent federal obligation so the state will be reimbursed by Washington.

Kansas is the latest state to consider expansion. And it’s likely that the Trump/Ryan failure to repeal and replace will push other state legislatures to consider this approach. Indian health patients would benefit from Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Utah, Idaho, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. A total of 19 states are on this list.

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The dangers for Indian Country ahead

It’s easy to see the defeat of Trump and Ryan’s plan as a huge win. But it is also a warning sign. Make that a flashing red light with sirens. The problem is that Congress is deeply divided and cannot govern.

The same Republican divisions that killed their health reform plan will kill President Trump’s budget (thank you). But it will also make it nearly impossible to pass any kind of budget. As I have written before the best outcome might be a Continuing Resolution, a status quo budget.

An even bigger challenge will be for Congress to pass an increase in the debt ceiling. Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin informed Congress that the United States reached its limit on March 15. The Treasury is now juggling accounts so that the government can continue to pay bills.

Conservatives in Congress (actually, just about every member of Congress) hate this part of governing. But a no vote here has enormous consequences for everyone’s finances. markets. There is an absolute requirement that Congress increase that borrowing authority. It will be a nasty fight.

Of course there is one solution: Create a new coalition of Republicans and Democrats. This works in state legislatures across the country (most recently Alaska). It takes 216 votes to pass legislation in the House so a working body of 22 or so Republicans, plus the 194 Democrats in the House, could accomplish a lot together. But that would mean rethinking the role of party politics. And governing.

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

 

Good morning.
No post this morning, but a couple of thoughts before the House vote on the plan to repeal & replace the Affordable Care Act.
President Trump has made this an either, or vote for House members. With the president or not? Are they more worried about a primary from Trump supporters or their own constituents? As I wrote yesterday, Alaska’s Rep. Don Young will be worth watching on that score. This bill is terrible for Alaska. And a “yes” vote will be risky come election time. Or will Trump supporters use this an opportunity to take on Young in the primary?
Second point (and future stories) If this is end of repeal and replace, then the action will shift (as it already has) to the rule making process. Secretary Tom Price has a lot of power to make deals with the states on how ACA is implemented (and for that matter, Medicaid).
Third. It’s really interesting to see the new round of leaks coming from the White House. They were against this whole thing from the beginning, see. Blame is directed to Paul Ryan. (Trump’s news favorite Brietbart even calls this bill RyanCare.) So the question is what does this do to Ryan’s speakership going forward (if he continues in office)? As I wrote the budget divisions ahead are even greater than those that surfaced in the health care policy debate.
That’s it for now. Working on something not-Trump-related for the weekend. — Mark
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Governor Bill Walker and Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson announcing the expansion of Medicaid in Alaska in 2016. (Picture from video feed.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The story of Alaska and Montana is not front and center in the health care debate in the House today. But it should be.

Montana does not get a vote. (The state does not currently have a member of Congress after former Rep. Ryan Zinke was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior.)

And Alaska ends up with legislation that is by all measures, a raw deal. No state (and no pool of voters) will lose more under the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act than Alaska.

Alaska only expanded Medicaid in 2016. But the program has been a success. As Chris Ashenbrenner  wrote in the Anchorage Dispatch News: “Expansion is a bright spot in a dismal Alaska economy. Over 25,000 people now have health coverage at no cost to the state of Alaska. Alaska health care providers have received over $288 million in revenues since it started in September 2015.” One reason for that is the role Medicaid plays in funding the Indian health system. Recent changes (promoted by Alaska Gov. Bill Walker) resulted in “a change to their policy resulting in even more Alaska general fund savings — projected to be over $30 million this year and growing each year.  By 2022, it’s estimated to be over $90 million. This would not have happened without expansion.”

Alaska Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie “Nurr’araaluk” Davidson recently told a state legislative committee that the American Health Care Act does not save money but shifts costs to the states. would shift the cost of health care to states. “I get nervous every time I hear a member of Congress talk about the great savings to the Medicaid program, because what they’re saying is, it’s a savings to the federal government,” Davidson said on Alaska Public Media. “They’re not saying it’s a savings to states – they’re actually shifting that cost to states, and that’s a problem for Alaska.”

But that’s not the only problem for Alaska. The Republican plan to give taxpayers a flat rate subsidy to purchase individual plans will mean that Alaskans would pay far more for insurance. “That’s because unlike the ACA’s tax credits, the House plan’s tax credits wouldn’t adjust for geographic variation in insurance premiums,” according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “They’d be the same for a 45-year-old consumer in Alaska, where benchmark health insurance coverage costs $12,600 this year on average, as in New Hampshire, where it costs $3,600.” The total bill: A whopping $10,500 more for a health insurance policy in Alaska.

Watch Rep. Don Young today. Alaska’s only member of Congress will likely demand a special deal from the House leadership. If not, will he still vote for the bill? Young told Alaska Dispatch News that he’s undecided. And on Facebook today, Sen. Lisa Murkowski will brief Alaskans on the legislation.

A poll published by FiveThirtyEight shows that 45% of Alaskans oppose the House bill, and 33 percent strongly oppose the legislation. It’s a similar story in Montana where 43 percent oppose the bill and 31 percent would strongly say no.

Montana, like Alaska, has a short experience with Medicaid expansion. But the numbers are strong. Montana Public Radio reported after seven months the program was nearly double the projected number of people insured. “Recipients have used their benefits to get $75 million worth of health care, 100 percent paid for by the federal government. That’s a big windfall in this state with slightly more than 1 million residents,” Montana Public Radio said.

Medicaid and Medicaid expansion are a critical, and growing, source of funding for the Indian health system.

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

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

 

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