Denise Juneau, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, is a potential candidate for President of the University of Montana.
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports
The period between an election and a new presidential administration is nothing short of frantic. There is just not enough time to fill all the positions that open up on Jan. 20, 2017, some 8,000 posts that are political in nature. About 1,200 of those jobs require Senate confirmation. President-elect Donald Trump is interviewing a lot of people, moving fast to staff his administration.
The extraordinary thing is that this huge federal hiring spree opens up prospects up and down the line.
At every newspaper I have worked at over the years there were always those December stories about prospective appointments from back home to DC. North Dakota, for example, has several candidates ranging from Rep. Kevin Cramer to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. Sen. Heitkamp makes sense as Energy Secretary in a Trump administration because she’s supported the oil and gas industry, including the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline. (Let’s be clear here: No one against pipelines or demanding a quicker transition to green fuels is going to get this job.) Her appointment would also mean one less Democrat in the Senate (and two years ahead of schedule).
Cramer has a lot of options. His side won. He can move up to the Senate. He can take a post in the administration. Or he can be the reliable voice for oil and gas in the House (as if that’s an underserved community). Any of the North Dakota seats that open up would be long-shot prospects for Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo or Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun. All three learned a lot during recent statewide campaigns. But a special election in a deep red state is especially difficult. Then again. Stranger things have happened.
Another potential Trump appointment is Cathy McMorris Rodgers, possibly as Interior Secretary. (She’s being considered as is Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.) A couple of points. First, McMorris Rodgers has shown little interest in Native American issues while in Congress. She almost always sides with opponents. On the other hand, a McMorris Rodgers appointment opens up the House seat. And former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas already has an organization and name identification. In this case, a special election could be an advantage. Fallin, however, would have the ear of many Oklahoma tribes who have worked with her in the past. If she were to head Interior, many of the appointments in Indian Affairs would be familiar names.
And one potential job shift that’s outside of politics: Yesterday Royce Engstrom, the president of the University of Montana, resigned. The Board of Regents has appointed an interim leader and a search committee will begin looking for a spring hire. But one name is already surfacing: Denise Juneau. She will soon end her time as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. A petition from change.org calls Juneau “a rising star” who is well suited to reform the university and taking on the challenges of declining enrollment, budgets being slashed, and students not being able to take the courses required for graduation.
Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services. Price is a physician and has been a consistent critic of Obamacare. (Photo via Facebook).
Price plan calls for Indian Health savings accounts
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports
President-elect Donald Trump and Congress are moving quickly to reshape health care, including the Indian Health system. And so far the path looks to be chaotic.
First, the who: The Trump administration will be led on health care issues by Tom Price, a Georgia physician, a persistant critic of the Affordable Care Act, and a member of Congress. Seema Verma will be the next Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. As a consultant Verma has helped conservative governors, including the Vice President-elect Mike Pence, implement Medicaid expansion.
And let’s be clear about their task. As the president-elect said, “he is exceptionally qualified to shepherd our commitment to repeal and replace Obamacare and bring affordable and accessible healthcare to every American. I am proud to nominate him as Secretary of Health and Human Services.”
These two appointees know the machinery of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, including how to effectively dismantle the programs.
Price has already floated in Congress an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, the Empowering Patients First Act. That bill would repeal Obamacare in its entirety (including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act) and replace it with a free-market version. The plan would give tax credits that “makes it financially feasible for all to purchase coverage they want for themselves and their families – not that Washington forces them to buy.”
This plan would impact the Indian Health System in several ways. First it would allow participants of federal programs, such as Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans health, and even military TRICARE, to opt out and get a tax credit to buy a personal health plan. (Making it less likely those plans will survive on their own.) In the bill’s section on government health programs there is no mention of the Indian Health system, although the bill later calls for a personal health savings accounts that can be spent at IHS. In other words: save your money so you can pay for your own doctor (at IHS or elsewhere).
But forget the details for a minute. Price’s plan is important because it signals the radically different approach to health care that’s ahead, basically less government spending, more tax credits if you choose to buy health insurance, individual health savings account, and shifting Medicaid to a block grant program run by states.
It’s important to remember that Medicaid now accounts for more than $800 million of the IHS’ $6.1 billion budget and that’s often money targeted for the local service unit. (A smaller Indian health system impact would be ending the requirement that tribes provide insurance for employees. That accounts for about $100 million in the IHS budget.)
The problem for Congress is that any replacement of the Affordable Care Act requires at least 60 votes in the Senate, and that means some Democrats will have to agree to new legislation. That’s where chaos begins.
Legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act can be done through a process called budget reconciliation (the same method that enacted the law in the first place). That means tightly tying the legislation to the budget (something that has not passed in this Congress yet). But a replacement law would require legislation. And to do that there would have to be a consensus in the House (218 votes) and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate (60 votes).
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Monday that Congress should move quickly to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then come up with a replacement plan down the road. McCarthy told The Washington Times: “I think once it’s repealed you will have hopefully fewer people playing politics, and then everybody coming to the table to find the best policy.”
And that policy shift will be dramatic. Tax credits instead of funding. A bigger role for states. And the pretense that the private sector is equipped to deliver health care to all.
According to Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, “The larger story is GOP preparations for a health policy trifecta: to fundamentally change the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare–all three of health care’s major programs–and in the process, fundamentally alter the direction of the federal role in health and core elements of the social contract.”
American Indians and Alaska Natives are in a risky situation. Our best health care programs, those run by tribes and tribal organizations, will get less funding from this kind of trifecta. Neither tax credits nor state funding are likely to help. And interest from the private sector? Get real.
The Rule of Law. Four words that are cited over and over as the reason why the water protectors at Standing Rock should back away from their efforts to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. The reasoning goes: The Rule of Law makes it ok to stand over there, hold a sign, until this dispute goes away. Shhh! Be quiet. The pipeline will be built as planned.
And on Monday, using a snow storm as an excuse, the governor dipped into his legal tools and called on the most powerful words in his arsenal. “I, Jack Dalrymple, Governor of the State of North Dakota, order a mandatory evacuation of all persons located in areas under the proprietary jurisdiction of the United States Army Corps of Engineers located in Morton County …”
The Rule of Law. The governor issued this proclamation knowing full well that none of the people at the camp will leave after his lofty proclamation. He knows that in order to enforce The Rule of Law there will have to be a massive law enforcement action where hundreds of people are rounded up and incarcerated.
And the word from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and its allies is as expected. “This state executive order is a menacing action meant to cause fear, and is a blatant attempt by the state and local officials to usurp and circumvent federal authority,” Chairman Dave Archambault II said in a news release. “The USACE has clearly stated that it does not intend to forcibly remove campers from federal property. The Governor cites harsh weather conditions and the threat to human life. As I have stated previously, the most dangerous thing we can do is force well-situated campers from their shelters and into the cold. If the true concern is for public safety than the Governor should clear the blockade and the county law enforcement should cease all use of flash grenades, high-pressure water cannons in freezing temperatures, dog kennels for temporary human jails, and any harmful weaponry against human beings. This is a clear stretch of state emergency management authority and a further attempt to abuse and humiliate the water protectors. The State has since clarified that they won’t be deploying law enforcement to forcibly remove campers, but we are wary that this executive order will enable further human rights violations.”
But that’s it. Every time the state of North Dakota and Morton County have had the opportunity to de-escalate, they favor the more violent course. Instead of crossing the bridge, acting as a governor of all the people, Dalrymple responded to the crisis by calling up the National Guard and then writing checks as fast as he could for more law enforcement to act as a military. The state’s clear and consistent message is comply or else.
And that’s because there is an urgency that’s driven by the corporate sponsors of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Truth be told: The Rule of Law takes too long. The pipeline has a schedule. So any disagreements about interpreting that rule of law must be accomplished as a matter of academic debate. The pipeline must be built. Now. (The company can’t even seem to wait for a court to rule on its own action.)
Then, The Rule of Law is such a funny phrase. One I have heard many times. It’s what was said in Washington, Oregon and Idaho when Native Americans insisted that treaties gave them the right to fish for salmon. The states disagreed and used the power of government to arrest people. Many, many Native people. Until finally the courts said, wait, the rule of law has to include the Constitution of the United States and the powerful article six that declares “treaties as the Supreme Law of the Land.” In the end the states were wrong. One idea that came out of that litigation was that treaties had to be read as the tribal negotiators would have understood the words.
Imagine that. So the Rule of Law means that the tribal interpretation of treaty language is critical to understanding, and implementing, that sacred agreement.
There is another parallel between the salmon fishing treaty battle in the Northwest a generation ago and the fight for clean water by the Standing Rock Tribe. There is no way that salmon would have survived as more than a curiosity had the tribes lost their treaty claims in the 1970s. States and tribes were forced to work together so that salmon could prosper. Before the courts weighed-in, there was an imbalance, caused by overfishing, over-building, and a lack of respect for the natural world. But the treaty forced the states to get serious about working with tribes and managing a scarce natural resource. The Rule of Law won.
And that is exactly what upholding a treaty could do for water in the Great Plains. Especially if the state subscribes to The Rule of Law.
Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, says a patient-centered culture at Indian Health Service is long overdue. Barrasso is a physician. What happens to Indian health after the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, especially Medicaid as a funding source. (Senate photo)
A few years ago I had a chance to ask President George Bush what he thought about tribal sovereignty in the 21st century. His answer went viral: “Tribal sovereignty means that. It’s sovereign. You’re a … you’re a … you’ve been given sovereignty and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity.”
Think about that question today; we would be lucky to get a similar answer. Bush (except for the “given” part) was correct: tribal sovereign means that, you’re sovereign.
This idea is relevant now because during the campaign Donald Trump was dismissive of any sovereignty except his perception of what America’s sovereignty is all about.
So a treaty with Mexico and Canada? Junk it, day one. A United States pledge to reduce global warming? Out. Perhaps even historic military alliances will disappear into lost budgets.
And when it comes to the federal relationship with American Indian and Alaska Native governments as sovereigns we will likely see ideas pop up that were long ago discarded as impractical, expensive, or out-and-out wrong.
At the top of that list: Shifting power from the federal government to state capitals. That was Ronald Reagan’s plan when he came to Washington. In 1981 he proposed rolling dozens of federal programs into block grants for states. Then the budget was cut by 25 percent, the argument being states could deliver the services more efficiently. But a Republican Senate didn’t buy the whole plan. In the end most of the programs were managed by states, but under federal oversight. According to Congressional Quarterly, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, then chairman of the Senate Labor Committee said at the time, it was the best deal possible. “We’ve come 70 to 80 percent of the way to block grants,” Hatch said. “The administration is committed to pure block grants, and so am I. But there was no way we could do that.”
Expect Hatch, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, to take another shot at substantial block grants to states, representing a fundamental shift for programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.
Ryan’s agenda, “A Better Way,” proposes to do this with Medicaid. It says: “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.”
This is a significant issue 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 funding, and, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, at least 65,000 Native Americans don’t get coverage because they live in states that did not expand Medicaid.
The Affordable Care Act, which is priority one for repeal and replacement, used third-party billing as a funding source for Indian health programs because it could grow without congressional appropriations. The idea is that when a person is eligible, the money is there. The Indian Health Service budget in fy 2017 includes $1.19 billion in third-party billing, $807 million from Medicaid programs. This funding source is especially important because by law third-party billing remains at the local clinic or other unit. And, most important, when the Indian Health Service runs short of appropriated dollars it rations health care. That’s not the case with Medicaid funding.
One problem with the Affordable Care Act (after a Supreme Court decision) is that not every state participates in Medicaid expansion. So an IHS clinic in South Dakota would have less local resources than in North Dakota or Montana. This especially important for health care that is purchased outside of the Indian health system.
The most important gain from the Affordable Care Act has been insuring Native children. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation: “Medicaid plays a more expansive role for American Indian and Alaska Native children than adults, covering more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native children (51%), but their uninsured rate is still nearly twice as high as the national rate for children (11% vs. 6%).”
Ryan’s House plan would convert Medicaid spending to a per capita entitlement or a block grant depending on the state’s choice. There is no indication yet how the Indian health system would get funded through such a mechanism.
During the campaign Trump promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid expansion, but said there would be a replacement insurance program of some kind.
Earlier this year Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, introduced legislation to “improve accountability and transparency at the IHS.”
Barrasso is a physician.“A patient-centered culture change at the Indian Health Service is long-overdue,” he said. “This bill is an important first step toward ensuring that tribal members receive proper healthcare and that there is transparency and accountability from Washington. We have heard appalling testimonies of the failures at IHS that are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We must reform IHS to guarantee that all of Indian Country is receiving high quality medical care.”
What will reform look like after the Affordable Care Act goes away?
Last week Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said on CSPAN that the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was one of the good features of the Affordable Care Act and ought to be kept. But nothing has been said by Republican leaders about how to replace the Indian health funding stream from Medicaid, potentially stripping $800 million from the Indian health system that is by all measures underfunded.
Perhaps the most important idea in government, one that had been expanding, is the idea of including the phrase “… and tribes” in legislation and funding. That means tribes get money directly from Washington rather than the round about from DC to state capital to tribal nations. And clearly in this era that’s a hard sell. Just last week the state of North Dakota opted to punish (or so it thinks) tribes by canceling a joint appearance before the legislature because the state is not happy with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. At a moment where there should be more talk, not less, the state walks away.
That, of course, begs the question, is this how government will work over the next four years?
So I am writing my 3 challenges piece (from my latest idea board & I will post that Sunday morning) … but I am also musing about the role of the media, especially Native media.
Is Facebook and other social media the best platforms to reach Indian Country?
As Facebook & Google crack down on fake news * important as it is * it also has the potential to disrupt independent journalism because we don’t have organizations behind us. What looks real, is often not? What’s serious is sometimes ignored? What gets a lot of clicks may be nutrition-free? How do we make certain that context gets as much attention and discourse as a fad story.
To me the biggest problem with social media (and much of our indigenous media) is that all stories are treated equal. There’s not the visual clues that help readers understand what’s more important and what’s less so. (Or even better, leading a path that helps a reader navigate complexity).
Elias Boudinot wrote in 1832: “I do conscientiously believe it to be the duty of every citizen to reflect upon the dangers with which we are surrounded; to view the darkness which seems to lie before our people — our prospects, and the evils with which we are threatened; to talk over all these matters, and, if possible, come to some definite and satisfactory conclusion.”
More than ever we need a satisfactory conclusion. So, what should indigenous media look like? How should it be funded? And, most important, how do convey a sense of purpose and direction?
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, speaking on C-SPAN Friday morning, said any replacement of the Affordable Care Act should include keeping the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Cole said this was included in Obamacare as an incentive for Democrats to support the measure.
That’s an interesting interpretation. The reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was blocked by Republicans as well as President Bush. As The New York Times said in 2008: “The nation has clear legal and moral obligations to protect the welfare of Native Americans. Congress must rebuff President Bush’s veto threat and vote overwhelmingly to strengthen and reauthorize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.”
A year later Democrats rolled the Indian Health Care Improvement Act into the Affordable Care Act because the votes were not there to pass the measure on its own.
Elections are about ideas. What should our world look like? How do tribal nations, Alaska Native corporations, and communities fit into the American experience?
Elections are about tactics. Who runs? Are there resources? (And, when I say resources, I really mean, cash money.) And, does that make it possible to win?
Elections are about power. Do you have the votes to change the world? To protect a pipeline? Or to sell coal in a world that is shifting away from fossil fuels?
Elections are about people. The people who expect the Indian health clinic to have enough money to pay for a hospital stay. Or the people that decide how medical care should be funded, and who’s even eligible.
And elections are never forever. There is always another ahead. And that’s true win or lose. If you win, get ready to defend the gains you’ve made. If you lose, pick up the pieces, and start working for the next ballot.
Let’s examine 2016 and what worked, what needed work, and what must be rethought.
At one point more than a hundred candidates were running for Congress, state legislatures, and a variety of state offices. That is fabulous. Yes, the field was narrowed after primary contests, and, of course, the general election. But the point is you gotta run to win. So many talented people from across Indian Country gave elective office a shot. (In fact, for me, the one take away from this election: We have some incredibly talented people out there. And that talent is not disappearing just because voters didn’t discover them.)
There are some extraordinary hurdles. Money is a big one. There has to be at least enough money so that the Native candidates get consideration by voters. Then again. This election was a bit odd. Money played less a role than you would think.
Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) ran a frugal campaign. At one point he was basically selling t-shirts to finance his enterprise (although he did receive more money toward the end). And the result: His opponent easily won re-election with 69 percent of the vote, while Iron Eyes was stuck at 25 percent. This is not as bad as it looks because the Democrat-NPL candidate for governor only earned 19 percent of the vote. And the party’s Senate candidate: 17 percent.
What this tells me? Iron Eyes has a base of support. It’s his first run and I know he learned a lot. So a next time? Something to think about.
On the other hand, Denise Juneau (Mandan Hidatsa Arikara) broke fundraising records for a Native American running for Congress as a challenger (it’s way easier if you are an incumbent). She raised more than $2 million in an extraordinarily expensive House race. But Juneau demonstrated success. She was competitive. And that will be important in future races, too.
Indeed, the match between a well-funded incumbent and a challenger from Indian Country was true in Washington state, too, where former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas ran against Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, a member of Republican leadership.
And elections are never forever: It’s entirely possible that one of the Republicans that Iron Eyes, Juneau, or Pakootas, ran against could be recruited to the new Trump administration. And, then, well, opportunity time. North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer could end up serving in the Trump administration as Energy Secretary (or more likely, a Deputy Secretary.)
This election cycle at least 31 Native American candidates ran unopposed. Often these were reservation-based districts where there aren’t as many potential Republicans who would surface as opponents. But Rep.-elect Tanwa Sanchez (Shoshone-Bannock) was also in this group, running in Portland, Oregon, as well as Rep. Ponke-We Victors in Kansas.
Another twist this year: Districts where both candidates are Native American. There were two such districts in Montana. Sen-elect Frank Smith (Assiniboine Sioux), a Democrat, defeated Rep. G. Bruce Meyers (Chippewa Cree) in the northern part of the state. And Sen.-elect Jason Small (Northern Cheyenne), a Republican, defeated incumbent Carolyn Pease Lopez (Crow).
This was also true in New Mexico where Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage narrowly won with 5,042 to GloJean Todacheene’s 4,246 votes. Both women are Navajo.
Wyoming will have a new member of its legislator, Affie Ellis (Navajo) was elected to the state Senate as a Republican, defeating an incumbent. She posted on Facebook: “I am humbled. And honored. Thank you for all the kind words of support. We knew it would be a tough race and I’m proud of our efforts. In the end, I secured 60% of the vote and am looking forward to serving in the Wyoming State Senate.”
Nine Native Americans now serve in the Montana Legislature. That’s the most in the country both in percentage terms and as a total. (Trahant photo)
Montana continues to be the state with the largest Native American caucus in the legislature, 8 Democrats and 1 Republican. Rep. Susan Webber (Blackfeet) told The Montana Standard: “We’ve been literally and figuratively the minority’s minority. I know it looks like we have a lot of people in the Indian caucus, a lot of people were elected, but in reality it should be more. But just us getting in there, from my perspective, is a real positive.”
In Minnesota the Native American caucus is also a Native women’s caucus after the re-election of Rep. Susan Allen (Rosebud), Rep. Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock Sioux) and Rep.-Elect Jamie Becker Finn (Ojibwe).
And every election sows seeds of what can be. This one is no exception. In Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan (Coeur d’Alene) showed how to get elected as a Democrat in a largely Republican state. Jordan is the only Democrat elected north of Boise and the legislature will be 84 percent controlled by Republicans, a super-majority.
Jordan posted on Facebook: “We worked hard, with great diligence and incredible dignity above all else. However, while we continue moving forward after a shocking outcome, it’ll be up to us, the next generation of millennials to make a more productive change our state and country needs. We have to chalk this up as a valuable lesson learned, while challenging ourselves to be more engaged and begin organizing in all the best ways possible. I remain optimistic for my community, as I have been blessed with your support and tasked to protect our base values for another term!”
Last week’s election will require new thinking and new alliances. And that is already happening in Alaska. A new coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents has flipped the state House away from Republicans. The state is facing a multi-billion budget crisis. One of the Republicans who joined what’s being called the Musk Ox Revolt is Gabrielle LeDoux who told The Alaska Dispatch News, “We’re hired to do a job, and the purpose of our job is not to keep our job. It’s to actually do something.”
There are six Alaska Natives in the legislature, five Democrats and one Republican (whose race remains in recount territory).
Elections are about ideas, tactics, and power. Yet the outcomes determine policy. What choices the Congress will make, how a state chooses to implement those policies, and who gets to decide. There will be a lot of action in state houses over the next four years as the Trump administration goes about shedding federal power. This shift could mean a state-based energy policy. Or a new block grant to pay for health care, even for people in the Indian health system.
There will be challenges ahead. But remember: Elections are never final. There is always another one ahead.
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
It’s hard to understate how important the difference the enthusiasm gap made in this election. Bernie Sanders showed how to stir passion in voters. Hillary Clinton? Not so much. (Trahant photo from Billings rally.)
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports
This election Indian Country was like America. Perhaps only more so.
Most American Indian and Alaska Natives voted for Hillary Clinton. But that support was mild. There were not enough votes to make a difference in red states like Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota. Just enough votes to stay the course in blue states like New Mexico, Washington or Oregon. And, most important, not nearly enough votes in the swing states.
Hillary Clinton earned the most votes, 60, 839,922, to Donald J. Trump’s 60,265,858. But that, of course, is not the way we elect the national leader and Trump’s 290 electoral votes were more than enough to win. What’s more: The margins within those states were such that Native American voters could not have made the difference. There would have had to be a wider coalition of voters, something Barack Obama did so well, and Secretary Clinton did not.
A few examples.
If you look at a color-coded 2012 election map Indian Country pops out. There are bright blue pools of voters in deeply red states. Shannon County (now Oglala Lakota County) voted 93.4 percent for Obama. That’s Pine Ridge. Obama won 3/4s of the vote in Rolette County, North Dakota, which includes the Turtle Mountian Band of Chippewas.
Or next door in Montana, voters from the Fort Peck Reservation came out and led the county with 56.5 percent voting for Obama. But blue faded in the red states this election. Trump picked up 200 more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, but the real number is that nearly 600 fewer voters went for Hillary Clinton compared to Barack Obama.
Same story in Oglala Lakota Country. Clinton won, and by a large margin, but with 500 fewer votes than Obama.
In Rolette County nearly 1,300 fewer votes for Clinton.
The red states did not change because of that, but it’s a good indication about how tepid the support for Clinton was, even in Indian Country.
This story played out in blue states, too. More than 2,000 voters disappeared in McKinley County on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.
And, in swing states, such as Arizona, that slight difference, a few hundred people who did not vote here and there, added up into real numbers. In Apache County, where the majority of the voters are Navajo, 17,147 picked Obama four years ago. This election only 12,196 voted for Clinton.
Indian Country will make a difference in future elections. The demographic makeup of the country is changing fast and we are a part of that. What’s most stunning about this election is how little demographics mattered. I wrote in December: “Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates will whip up magic and united a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters.” And that would have been true: If enough of us had been motivated to vote.
I think it’s clear that Clinton took Indian Country for granted. There was no attempt to learn and execute what worked from the Bernie Sanders campaign. In June, I suggested the Clinton campaign appoint and promote public Native surrogates because “there ought to be a face from Indian Country.” This could have helped build enthusiasm.
And ignoring Standing Rock was a sure way to turn off Native voters. There was probably a “let’s get past the election” conversation, although eventually Tim Kane did weigh in, but nothing changed the narrative that Clinton represented more corporate power, not less. Supporting Standing Rock would have been the right call morally. But I can see how the politics was more complicated because union voices (and donors) wanted the pipeline to proceed.
Yet that might be the essence of Hillary Clinton and why she lost. Her campaign was a package of powerful interests trying to market itself as the voice of ordinary people. Indian Country’s answer was, yeah, whatever. Meh.
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
Mark Trahant: I have been thinking a lot in the last 48 hours about my role, the role of journalism, or what’s left of that, especially in terms of Indian Country.
I wonder how effective we are in the age of social media. And if there might be another way to go about distributing ideas?
Two specific issues: The filter bubble. What we read and consume that challenges our thinking? Does it make it more difficult to build a coalition?
And, perhaps, more important, how do we challenge things we know not to be true?
From a NY magazine essay on Facebook: “They found that users only clicked on 7 percent of “hard” content (politics, national news) in their feeds, as opposed to “soft” content like entertainment, sports, or travel. The researchers found that conservatives see about 5 percent less ideologically diverse content than their more moderate friends, with liberals at 8 percent.”
There are so many examples from Indian Country (and from Indian Country news enterprises) that illustrate this example well.
Who, then, writes about policy? And how do we pay for that?
Introspection time. (Still working on stories on white board, plus looking at actual returns to see where Indian Country voted … and where we did not.)