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I am busy working on several special projects. I will post again after January first. I am writing a piece that explains the difference between Republicans and Democrats  on Native issues. I hope it’s context for the election ahead.

Enjoy this picture for the holidays. I took it at 6 am. A morning moon over the Mediterranean Sea from Sardinia.  

#NativeVote16 – Debate was a curtain hiding the real business of governing


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (House photo)


Leading in a time of chaos


Tuesday’s debate was kind of like looking at a traffic accident. You drive by not wanting to peek, but then you do, and it’s awful, so you think, “why did I do that?”

About the closest thing to reality was when Jeb Bush pointed out that Trump is a chaos candidate who would be a chaos president. True. But that idea fits Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and perhaps others on the stage. And worse, the idea of willful chaos also fits the majority of Republican voters right now. It’s these voter groups that are demanding destruction in Washington.

Meanwhile in Washington folks are actually trying to govern. The new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, announced a compromise with Democrats early Wednesday morning on a spending bill to fund the government next year. The current funding bill expires today. A vote could come on Friday on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. It’s a 2,000-plus page bill that wraps up spending across the government, including funding for the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs including contract support costs. (I am still reading the bill, but here are a few details from The Washington Post.)

The bill means no more fights over Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Protection Administration, zeroing out the Affordable Care Act, or a shut down of government.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans won every position. Most Democrats aren’t keen on a provision that ends a ban on the export of U.S. oil (although that provision has been championed by North Dakota Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp working with Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.) But Republicans were unsuccessful in getting tighter restrictions on refugees and stripping Planned Parenthood funding.

One especially disappointing provision is a continued ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence. It’s one thing to be against gun control, but to not even study the problem? C’mon.

The basic problem for Speaker Ryan is that the only way this budget passes Congress is with Democratic votes. Too many Republicans will vote no on any budget that is not ideologically pure. (Measures that have no chance of becoming law.)

Watch what happens next: Will talk radio and conservative groups such as Heritage Action lobby against the bill? There are a lot of ways that can happen: Such as threatening primary opponents to those members who vote yes.

The question is Congress ready to govern? Or do they really like the chaos that was stage center in Las Vegas? Ryan, at least, has chosen to govern.



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

#NativeVote16 – The Road to the White House is red, brown, black and young

Screenshot 2015-12-13 13.46.41

The final Electoral College tally in 2012. President Barack Obama won re-election with 332 electoral votes to Republican Mitt Romney’s 206 votes. This is how to think about 2016: Which states will be in play? Which candidate can build the winning coalition? (National Archives graphic.)


Confused by the 2016 presidential campaign?


It’s easy to get confused by this year’s campaign for president. If you get information from watching television or from Internet rumblings, you might think Republicans are driving toward a massive victory. And why not? Donald Trump packs thousands of people into every one of his rallies and the television ratings for G.O.P. debates are ginormous. So this must be the Republican year, right?

The problem with that narrative is that it misses the demographic shift that’s been occurring in America.

Fact is any Republican candidate for president starts off in a deep hole. To win a candidate will have to erase a structural deficit. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s also growing more unlikely because of the tone coming from the 2016 campaign so far. Why the deep hole? When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today it’s about 63 percent white.

One demographic profile of voters by The National Journal shows how dramatically the country has changed since Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support 56 percent of white voters in 1980. “But in 2012, when non­white voters ac­coun­ted for 28 per­cent of the elect­or­ate, Mitt Rom­ney took 59 per­cent of white voters—and lost the pres­id­en­tial race by 4 per­cent­age points. Without a total brand makeover, how can Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pect to pre­vail with an even more di­verse electorate in 2016?”

The country’s diversity trend is just beginning. The U.S. Census reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives grew 1.4 percent since 2013, compared to 0.5 percent for whites. “Even more diverse than millennials are the youngest Americans: those younger than 5 years old. In 2014, this group became majority-minority for the first time, with 50.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group,” the Census said. So in 13 years the majority of new voters will be people of color and in twenty-five years a majority of all voters.

The GOP’s demographic challenge

The Republicans have a long term problem.

“Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote,” Dan Balz recently wrote in The Washington Post. “Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle. Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.”

It’s important to remember, however, that presidential elections are 50 separate state elections that determine the electoral college vote. So ignore every poll you see that compares one Republican versus one Democrat.  Instead think: Which states?

And it’s in these state contests where the American Indians and Alaska Native voters are becoming more important, especially as part of a coalition.

Nevada is a good place to start examining these trends. In 2012, Nevada voters were about 65 percent white. Next year’s voters are projected to drop to about 60 percent. So it will be possible to build a winning coalition made up of  some white voters (a third or so) plus significant majorities from Latino, African American, Asian American and Native Americans.

Other states where such coalitions are possible: Alaska, Arizona, Wisconsin, and, eventually, Oklahoma.

The web site Five Thirty Eight has a nifty electronic interactive calculator that lets you project election scenarios. What happens if more minority voters turn out? Think landslide. More important: Break down the Republican constituencies and see where that party’s strength comes from. “Whites without college degrees are now the bedrock of the Republican coalition: They voted for Mitt Romney 62 percent to 36 percent in 2012,” Five Thirty Eight reports. “However, their share of the electorate is rapidly shrinking: They skew older and more rural, and we project that their share of the national vote will fall to 33 percent in 2016, down from 36 percent in 2012. Nonetheless, they still factor heavily in battleground states such as IowaNew HampshireOhio and Wisconsin.”

What’s striking about this election so far is that the Republican candidates are not trying to build a coalition with minority voters, young voters, or even fix the gender gap that’s been a problem for decades.

Millennials are now the largest age group – some 90 million people – and are more independent than previous generations. Most millennials lean toward the Democrats, but even those who say they are Republican see the world very differently than today’s Republican candidates. Pew Research Center found: “The generational divisions among Republicans span different dimensions of political values. Some of the most striking generational differences within Republicans concern social issues like homosexuality and immigration, but younger Republicans are also less conservative when it comes to values related to the environment, role of government, the social safety net and the marketplace.”

So as we enter 2016 it’s important to discount the news coming from the campaign. It’s going to be a crazy year with all sorts of scenarios possible ranging from fights at the conventions to third-party runs. Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates will whip up magic and unite a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters. There will be another GOP debate Tuesday. (I will be live tweeting.) Watch and see if even one candidate recognizes that the road to the White House is red, brown, black and young.

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










#NativeVote16 – Names wanted for my crowdsource project

Reminder: This election I am compiling list of all Native Americans elected to office (as well as those running for office.)

I need your help to make this list complete.

So far:

Tribal governments

Federal offices

State offices

County, city and school board posts

#NativeVote16 – Rethinking terrorism, guns and the study of violence

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Nevada’s John Oceguera, a candidate for Congress, resigns his membership in the National Rifle Association. (Picture via Facebook.)


U.S. spends billions to “fight terrorism” but not a dime to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence.


*** Updated after President Obama’s Sunday speech from the Oval Office.


The news cycle often defines the political story. So instead of a thoughtful conversation about climate change, or last week’s vote in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or even guns and violence, we turn on the television and terrorism dominates our discourse. This is where the narrative of fear trumps the data.

Yes, terrorism is a problem. And It’s frightening. But it’s hardly the most important (or deadly) one that this nation faces. Vox World (before the San Bernardino massacre) pointed out: “More than 10,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence. By contrast, so few Americans have been killed by terrorist attacks since 9/11 that when you chart the two together, the terrorism death count approximates zero for every year except 2001. This comparison, if anything, understates the gap: Far more Americans die every year from (easily preventable) gun suicides than gun homicides.”

That is certainly true in Indian Country. A recent study by the University of North Dakota found that firearms are used 41 percent of the time in suicides, a significantly higher rate than other ethnic groups.

What’s terrorism and what’s routine gun violence? This country averages a mass murder every day. Yet every proposal to do something from the president has been ignored or condemned by the Congress. On Sunday the president said it’s too easy for “people who want to harm Americans to buy guns.”

But that’s not a message Congress will hear. Right now, even funding studies about gun violence is seen as biased and anti-gun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been blocked from research for more than two decades. “The amount of money available today for studying the impact of firearms is a fraction of what it was in the mid-1990s, and the number of scientists toiling in the field has dwindled to just a handful as a result,”The New York Times said. “No other field of inquiry is singled out in this way.”

Instead Congress is eager to spend billions of dollars on military operations that’s don’t solve terrorism and, in the case of Daesh, the war effort clearly fueled the group’s rise to power.

Last week that same political divide surfaced again in the Senate when it voted against an amendment to prevent people on the terrorist “no fly” list from purchasing a weapon. Republicans argued that preventing people from buying guns would violate their Second Amendment rights. This is not just an academic debate. The Government Accountability Office found that “from February 2004 through February 2009, a total of 963 NICS background checks resulted in valid matches with individuals on the terrorist watch list. Of these transactions, approximately 90 percent (865 of 963) were allowed to proceed because the checks revealed no prohibiting information, such as felony convictions, illegal immigrant status, or other disqualifying factors. Two of the 865 transactions that were allowed to proceed involved explosives background checks.” And how many of those sales were stopped? GAO said: “About 10 percent (98 of 963) of the transactions were denied based on the existence of prohibiting information. No transactions involving explosives background checks were denied.” Not that that “No Fly” list is perfect (but that’s another story).

Guns? Check. Explosives? Fine. Your Second Amendment rights are protected as defined by the National Rifle Association. The NRA’s version of the Senate vote  was “Senate holds the line on Second Amendment rights.”

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John Oceguera, a candidate for Congress in Nevada, made national headlines this week by renouncing his membership in the National Rifle Association. “I am law-abiding gun owner, and have been a Life Member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). I grew up in a family of hunters,” Oceguera wrote in a letter to the NRA. “But more importantly, I’m a father and a husband. I believe that keeping our families safe is our most fundamental priority.”

Oceguera is a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe. He said the country can no longer ignore gun violence. “Still, the NRA opposes any legislation that would help keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, criminals and the mentally ill, and spends millions to stop any action in Congress that could help prevent further violence. I cannot continue to be a member while the NRA refuses to back closing these loopholes. Therefore, I resign my membership in the NRA, effective immediately.

Across the country, Native American congressional candidates are split on the gun issue along party lines. In Arizona, Democrat Victoria Steele said: “The issue of gun violence in Arizona and around the country has reached epidemic proportions. Stories of mass shootings and casualties by the dozens are on the brink of becoming commonplace.  And yet, despite that alarming trend, Congress does nothing.”

Meanwhile, in Montana, Denise Juneau, who’s the state superintendent of public instruction, dismissed an initiative that would permit public school employees to be armed. She told Montana Public Radio that she’s against the proposal …  “because schools are supposed to be safe places for learning, adding guns into that mix threatens that. It just has so much opportunity for crisis to happen that it’s just a bad idea.”

However, Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, called the measure to prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns “a paper tiger.” He told Oklahoma’s “If the Attorney General is aware of individuals engaging in terrorist activities on American soil, those individuals should be in jail. They ought not be free to buy groceries, let alone guns.”

This is not an easy issue or debate. People in Indian Country own a lot of guns. (In general people living in rural areas own guns at higher rates than those in cities.) On top of that, we know how important hunting is to most Native Americans.

Perhaps, that’s one role for Native politicians. It might take leaders who own guns, those who are lifelong hunters, to rip up their NRA membership cards,  and then propose reasonable firearm policies and restrictions.

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












#NativeVote16 – How would Republicans fund Indian health


EVERY WORD? Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act without presenting an alternative to fund the Indian health system. (Senate photo)

Obama will veto Senate bill, but will next president?


Republicans who serve in the House or the Senate should be asked a simple question: How would you fund the Indian health system? The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is a mechanism that has added new dollars to many tribal, nonprofit and Indian Health Service clinics and hospitals. So without Obamacare, what’s the alternative?

Thursday night the Senate voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act using the budget reconciliation process. The House will have to agree to the amendments and then it will be sent to President Obama. He’s already promised a veto.

But this is a presidential year. A Republican president would support  this repeal effort. So it’s important to find out just what is the alternative (and not just for the Indian health system) to the Affordable Care Act.

Turns out House Speaker Paul Ryan said it’s time for Republicans to offer an alternative. “When people ask me what’s wrong with the law, I usually say to them, how much time do you have? But if I had to point out one thing, it would be the mandates, the restrictions, all the red tape. How do I know they have failed? You notice we don’t talk about lowering premiums anymore. We’re supposed to be happy if they don’t go up by double digits,” Ryan said Thursday in a speech at the Library of Congress. “There are a lot of other ideas out there, but what all conservatives can agree on is this: We think government should encourage personal responsibility, not replace it. We think prices are going up because people have too few choices, not because they have too many. And we think this problem is so urgent that, next year, we are going to unveil a plan to replace every word of Obamacare.”

Ryan and the Republicans would repeal every word of the law. Even though parts of the law are working really well. Look at the numbers. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Affordable Care Act has resulted in “significant coverage gains. The number of uninsured nonelderly Americans in 2014 was 32 million, a decrease of nearly 9 million since 2013. ”

So any repeal discussion ought to start with that: Would you take away insurance coverage from 9 million people?

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Indian health funding is at risk

Now let’s zoom in on the Indian health system. Senators who are running for re-election in states with large Native American populations should be pressed to present an alternative to fund Indian health.

Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski voted for the repeal (even though she had expressed concerns about the provisions in the bill to strip funding from Planned Parenthood). Yet in her statements on the Senate floor, and in a recent op-ed, the senator explains why she is against the law without so much as a single line about its impact on healthcare for Alaska Natives.

Alaska does have a special problem with the Affordable Care Act because of high premiums. And that’s worth fixing. But Alaska also has much to gain from the law, especially the expansion of Medicaid and new funding streams for the Alaska Native health care system. So the logic must be: In order to fix one problem we should make things worse?

Here are Senators who voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act and are up for re-election in states with a significant numbers of Native Americans: Murkowski, Sen. John McCain, Arizona; Ron Johnson, Wisconsin; John Hoeven, North Dakota; James Lankford, Oklahoma; and, John Thune of South Dakota.

The vote Thursday night was absent any discussion of Indian health. It’s as if Republicans hope no one will notice that a million American Indians and Alaska Natives are funded via Medicaid. Or that the Affordable Care Act includes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. (To be fair: Not everyone would lose Medicaid insurance under the Republican’s repeal but it would result in millions of dollars less for the Indian Health Service budget. Perhaps more important, third-party insurance including Medicaid is funding that remains with the local service unit, clinics and hospitals.)

In an ideal world, Republicans would offer this alternative to Obamacare. They could say the United States will directly fund treaty obligations as an entitlement without requiring insurance or other bureaucratic steps. That would be a real answer.


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

#NativeVote16 – Senate debates stripping funding for Indian health


Congress would strip millions of dollars from the Indian health system


The U.S. Senate is debating a measure this week that would repeal much of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). Senate leaders are using a budget process called reconciliation which is important because only 51 “yeas” are required for the bill to pass.

On October 23 the House passed H.R.3762, Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015 that would end the Affordable Care Act budget provisions and “terminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides for investment in prevention and public health programs to improve health and help restrain the rate of growth in health care costs. Unobligated funds are rescinded.” The bill also says no federal funds can be used to fund Planned Parenthood.

It’s really not news when the House repeals the Affordable Care Act. That body has voted for at least fifty repeals. The Senate has been a different story. A full repeal of the bill would need a supermajority of 60 votes. That’s why Republican leaders are using the reconciliation process (the same process that was used to originally pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010.)

Senator Mitch McConnel (R-KY) photographed at the Capitol on December 2, 2008. Photograph by Karen Ballard (McConnell Senate Photo)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “Obamacare’s structural failures are … baked into the law, and they only seem to get worse as time moves on. Just as we’ve seen costs rise, choices narrow, and failures mount, we’ve seen congressional Democrats block attempts to start over with real health reform. This week, we finally have a chance to vote to end Obamacare’s cycle of broken promises and failures with just 51 votes.”

The Senate repeal bill will make health care an election issue. Again. The president is certain to veto any bill and then Republicans can say they  delivered on their promise to repeal Obamacare.

The final language of the Senate bill has not been released yet. And once debate begins, the language may change again, as senators will vote on additional amendments. But one provision that will be considered has a direct impact on the Indian health system, the expansion of Medicaid. According to Politico, McConnell’s plan would phase out the expansion of Medicaid over the next two years.

To my way of thinking: Medicaid expansion has been the most successful provision of the Affordable Care Act. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control found that “the number of uninsured persons continued to decline from 2013. In the first 6 months of 2015, 28.5 million persons of all ages (9.0%) were uninsured at the time of interview—7.5 million fewer persons than in 2014 and 16.3 million fewer than in 2013.” The law is working.

The Indian health system has a lot of money at stake in this debate.

First, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is a chapter in the Affordable Care Act. So a repeal, depending on the language, could end many initiatives funded through that law. Second, the House language (and therefore likely the Senate language) is broad in its scope. It says it would “terminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides for investment in prevention and public health programs to improve health and help restrain the rate of growth in health care costs. Unobligated funds are rescinded.”  That would include insurance subsidies that make some insurance plans available to Native Americans at no cost. And, third, a rollback of Medicaid expansion would be a huge hit to Indian health funding. More than a million American Indians and Alaska Natives currently receive Medicaid funding.

The Senate bill, like the many House repeal efforts, has no chance of becoming law while President Obama is in the White House. The bill will likely be vetoed minutes after it reaches the president’s desk.

But this repeal effort will be an issue for voters in 2016.

In Alaska, for example, Gov. Bill Walker agreed to agreed to the Medicaid expansion in July. Its early in the program, but some 20,000 Alaskans are in the process of signing up  for the insurance plan and 42,000 are eligible.     Those are potential voters who would lose their health insurance plan should the Republicans repeal the Affordable Care Act. Not to mention the money: The state of Alaska is expected to receive more than a billion dollars (creating some 4,000 jobs) from the program.

The state’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, would be on the ballot defending her vote for a repeal.

It’s a similar story in Montana. The state Legislature recently agreed to expand Medicaid and 10,000 people have signed up before the program begins next month. Medicaid expansion will be an issue in the House race between Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke and the Democratic challenger Denise Juneau.

Ten Republicans are up for re-election in the Senate representing states where tens of thousands of people have insurance through the Medicaid program.

The extraordinary thing about this new chapter in the debate over health care reform is that opponents of the law are sticking with themes that do not stand up against the data. It’s a fact that fewer Americans are uninsured. It’s a fact that the cost of Medicaid has slowed and that states are spending less under the law. And it’s a fact that the Affordable Care Act has opened new revenue streams to fund the Indian health system.

And the alternative? Republicans say they’ll come up with a new plan in a couple of years. That’s a notion that really ought to be on the ballot.


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



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#NativeVote16 – Haskell student produced video on Native voting



Produced by Haskell Indian Nations University students.

Robert Hicks Jr. 

Chelsea Jenkins 

Rachel Whiteside 

Rhonda LeValdo – @rhondalevaldo on Twitter

Faculty, Media Communications,Haskell Indian Nations University