#NativeVote16 – America and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Election


The way politics ought to be

Mark Trahant


Barry Goldwater told me one of my favorite political stories. We were in Phoenix and I was interviewing him for a story I was working on about John F. Kennedy for The Arizona Republic. Goldwater loved Kennedy. They were buddies. They had this idea that the two friends would campaign in 1964 by traveling around the country and debating the issues. Their ideas, conservative or liberal, would get a hearing on their merits instead of silly debates about who is the liar or the choke artist.

At a California press conference President Barack Obama seemed to disqualify Donald Trump (and the remaining Republican field) as not being serious enough for the presidency. “I continue to believe Mr. Trump will not be president, and the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people,” the president said. “It’s not hosting a talk show, or a reality show. It’s not promotion, it’s not marketing … It’s hard and a lot of people count on us getting it right.”

There is a flaw in the president’s logic. It’s not a problem with the American people, but a Constitution that is not democratic. (Previous: Indigenous voices are needed to make U.S. a stronger democracy.) This year may be the test of that constitutional structure in a way that has not been seen since presidential elections in the 1800s.

First a little context: The House of Representatives reflects a breakdown in two-party politics. There are really at least three parties trying to govern: Republicans, true-believing conservatives and Democrats. The conservative faction made it impossible for Republican leaders to pass budgets or do much business of any kind. So the leadership often had to turn to Democrats for help to enact legislation. The resignation of House Speaker John Boehner bought a little time, and some good will to his replacement Paul Ryan, but the basic tension remains.

Will traditional Republicans vote for a Democrat?

This same dynamic is present in the Republican presidential primary. Ted Cruz represent this angry slice of the conservative electorate that wants to blow up Washington’s establishment and start over (all the while paying homage to genius of the Constitution).  Ohio Gov. John Kaisch is a traditional Republican, but has little support. Mario Rubio is sort of a bridge between the two factions. He is both establishment and true believer. He said on Face the Nation Sunday that if Trump is the party’s nominee it could mean the end of the Republican party.

Trump is a populist running as a Republican. His ideas are all over the map, appealing to many Republicans in a primary, but lacking the logical framework to execute those ideas to a conclusion.

So the three parties in Congress are now four: Democrats, Republicans, true-believing conservatives and Trump.

But if Trump is the Republican nominee where do Republicans and true-believing conservatives go? Who will they vote for, a Democrat?

At this point in the election the best hope of Republicans and conservatives is to stop Trump at the convention. The hope is that Trump will not have enough delegates for a first ballot nomination, so the convention will pick someone else. That scenario is growing less likely because conventional Republicans are starting to endorse Trump.

It’s quite possible there will be an independent conservative candidate, someone who could appeal to the true believers (even better, someone who could unite traditional Republicans and true-believing conservatives).

If that’s not confusing enough then add one more name to the mix.

Former New York City Michael Bloomberg may also run as an independent. Like Trump he’s hard to box. He’s liberal on some issues, conservatives on others, but would likely be a voice for the establishment. He also has deeper pockets than Trump, a net worth that tops $41 billion.

So here is the possible lineup: Democrat, Trump, Bloomberg, and a conservative independent. Four candidates for president.

A full buffet for voters. Only imagine it’s a restaurant buffet that’s just been picked clean by a couple of tour buses. There’s food everywhere. The trays are empty. And it looks like a complete mess.

Two-party rule was predictable

Presidential elections in this century have been fairly predictable. The two parties debate, the people vote, and one candidate moves into the White House. The 2000 election broke that pattern when one candidate, Al Gore, won the popular vote but lost to George W. Bush in the Electoral College. (Thanks, in part, to the recently past Justice Antonin Scalia and Bush v. Gore.) Nonetheless the system largely worked.

But 2000 also exposed a constitutional flaw: The majority of American voters did not elect their president.

So in 2000 we learned that the Electoral College trumps the will of the people and picks a president based on the results from fifty separate state elections. Who ever gets the majority of the electoral college wins. Period.

But what happens when no candidate gets a majority? That’s where the Constitution is nutty. The 12th Amendment requires the House of Representatives to elect a president. Yep, that House. The same body that cannot pass a budget or govern. The Senate would elect the vice president. (Only in the House each state gets one vote. So, presumably, states with split delegations would not get a vote.)

The last time this happened was the election of 1824. Then, like now, the political parties were fractured (the Federalist party was gone) and four viable candidates ran for president. Andrew Jackson had the most votes and the most electoral college votes. But he did not have an outright majority. After much debate, the House picked his opponent, John Quincy Adams, who came in second. (One of the candidates, Henry Clay, was Speaker of the House. But he took fourth and only the top three finishers can be considered.)

The best case scenario in 2016 is that in a crowded field a presidential candidate unites the country and sweeps the electoral college. Cue the music.

Or one candidate gets 270 electoral votes or more along the lines of 2012. This could work because the Democrats have a demographic advantage in the Electoral College.

But these are not normal times. Election 2016 is already defined by chaos and not predictability. The same dysfunction that plagues the People’s House infects the entire body politic.

It’s impossible to predict the who will win what states if there are more than two viable candidates. Can a third party or forth party candidate win any states? Can they deny the Democrat or Republican nominee an Electoral College majority? Who knows.

Screenshot 2016-02-28 08.41.16
One state presidency? Speaker Paul Ryan wins Wisconsin while the Democrats and Republicans tie. The House elects its own speaker as president. (Graphic via 270toWin.Com)

Why winning a single state could be enough to win the White House

A few scenarios (and try a few of your own, at 270towin.com)

Let’s start with Donald Trump wining the Republican nomination. He faces either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. Then Bloomberg. Then a conservative To-Be-Named. Someone who cannot stand Trump. (To see that thinking, peek at the Twitter hashtag #nevertrump ).

Assume that Trump  holds most of the states that Romney carried in 2012 (minus Texas). Then he adds New York, Nevada, and Michigan. These are states where Trump already has support. That is a total of 246 electoral votes. If Trump wins Texas it’s game over, he is the next president. But if a conservative wins one state, Texas, then no one wins. The election goes to the House and the third place winner could become the next president.

If history rhymes then we should consider the possibility of Speaker Ryan running for president (as did Speaker Henry Clay in 1824). If Republicans and Democrats  are held to about 260 electoral votes each, and Ryan wins his own state, Wisconsin. The election goes to the House and the third place winner could become the next president.

One more scenario. Hillary Clinton and her running mate, Julian Castro, fall short of the magic 270 electoral votes. The election is thrown to the House but there is no consensus. She leads in ballot after ballot but a core group of conservatives, say, “never.” Meanwhile the Senate meets and elects Castro the Vice President. And on January 20, Castro becomes acting president and begins his administration. That is the 12th amendment’s solution to dysfunction.

Enough. It’s time for the Constitution to be a campaign issue. It’s not just the election of the president that needs debate, but the Senate, and the way the country elects a Congress. It’s time to rethink governance based on the needs of this century. Every candidate ought to promise electoral reform (as did Justin Trudeau in Canada’s recent election). America must get rid of the constitutional maze that undermines democracy itself.


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 – On social media people #FeelTheBern but do they vote?

Screenshot 2016-02-27 19.33.57
Hillary Clinton giving her victory speech in South Carolina (campaign photo)


Sen. Bernie Sanders seems to own social media. Write anything with a #feelthebern hashtag and those tweets have a ready audience ready to affirm (or challenge) what is said. It’s similar on Facebook. There are active Sanders supporters who show Sanders love in pictures, reposting favorable articles and polls, and use social media to send a clear message of support.

But I have been wondering: Do they vote?

I watched and listened to a couple of Native millennials in Nevada make a compelling case for Sanders. I later learned that neither of them made it to the caucus. And that, it seems to me, is a huge problem for the Sanders campaign. It’s not enough to post on Facebook. You gotta show up at a local caucus or on election day.

South Carolina is a great example. As ABC News reported: Clinton won black voters younger than 45. Clinton won that group by 3 to 1. Clinton won whites who were 45 and older by a narrow margin. Feel the Bern? Likely. But did those voices go to the polls?

The flip side of this phenomena is older voters. Older voters tend to “over perform” that is they show up in a higher percentage than other age groups. And in South Carolina black older voters were virtually unanimous for Clinton. And the turnout of black voters was significant, higher than even what Obama.

These trends ought to worry both Clinton supporters and Sanders’ supporters. A high turnout of black voters is helpful, but not enough to win in November.

Exit polls from The New York Times.

(I have been looking to see if I can  come up with numbers for the South Carolina’s only tribal nation. Once precinct reports are posted I’ll check the geography and then post.)

— Mark

Screenshot 2016-02-27 19.33.57
Hillary Clinton giving her victory speech in South Carolina (campaign photo)

#NativeVote16 – Juneau’s jobs tour

Denise Juneau (campaign photo)

Juneau earns endorsement from unions

Denise Juneau earned an endorsement this week from Montana’s largest labor unions. Juneau is running as a Democrat for the state’s only congressional seat. The campaign made the announcement as it launched a statewide tour for Juneau to meet with workers and business owners.

“As I hit the road to listen to the needs of Montana’s employers and workers, I’m pleased to know I have the support of the groups that represent thousands of Montana workers and their families,” Juneau said in the news release. The unions represent some 55,000 workers, educators, city, state, and municipal workers, fire fighters, police officers, construction workers, engineers, artists, postal workers, bus drivers, highway patrol officers, and road crews.

Juneau is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe. She is the first American Indian woman in Montana to ever be elected to a statewide office – serving as the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction since 2009 and winning re-election in 2012.

Juneau told The Billings Gazette that the union endorsements are an expression of confidence in her winning the House seat. “When I look at this race for this year, what I see is a person who has won statewide elections twice already, and we haven’t had somebody in this position to challenge this seat that has actually done that,” Juneau told the Gazette.


#NativeVote16 – Planning for a constitutional crisis




I learned something interesting yesterday about how stories travel via social media. I measure every story and look how it’s used on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, as well as Indianz, Indian Country Today Media Network, News from Indian Country, and Native News Online.  (I Really like the flattering display in Daily Yonder this week. Thank you!)

On Facebook my traffic lately has been picking up since the Iowa caucus. I have had a couple of posts that have topped 30,000 views and I regularly reach a couple of thousand. But not yesterday. My story about presidential aspirations fell way flat, only reaching 454 readers (let alone viewed). What gives? I was thinking about this all night and then this morning it hit me: I teach social media, I should know this. Facebook uses an algorithm that favors native video over YouTube. I used a YouTube video in my piece as an illustration. Something as simple as that loses you readership. Fascinating.


CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS – As I have written a lot, I believe there are at least four “parties” in the U.S. For most of US history that’s been masked by including various wings under Democratic or Republican flags. We will know before March 15 if former NYC Mayor Micheal Bloomberg is running. He has money (much more than Trump) so he could be a serious contender. But don’t forget that conservatives are not happy with the prospect of a Trump nomination. I think it’s likely that a conservative will run as a third-party candidate. Study the 12th amendment. The US once had a lot of chaos in presidential elections and I think we’re headed that way again. If there are four candidates and all four win states (all it would take is Bloomberg in NY and a conservative in Texas) then the House of Representatives decides the election. It’s required to pick from the top 3. But that would mean a candidate could win one state, Texas, and then move into the White House.

TUESDAY – Watch turnout. The real story so far about the “Feel the Bern” movement is how few voters are showing up. If you want just one example, look at Elko County were participation was down by some 30 percent since the Obama-Clinton race in 2008. Are millennials just posting love on Facebook? Or are they voting? Tuesday should give us a clearer picture.


Next Monday Speaking at Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Energy Summit. Will use this to wrap up series on energy, climate and the 2016 election.

— Mark



#NativeVote16 – Indian Country’s big ideas; the aspirations of a president

Broken promises? Systemic failure? Or aspirations?





Mark Trahant



There is a simple question that voters consider: What will a candidate do once in office? The system is geared for candidates to make all sorts of wild promises while running for office only to find out those promises are impossible to implement once in office.

A good example of that is President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to close a prison at Guantanamo Bay.  The president is trying yet again to do this with less than a year remaining in office and yet Congress isn’t likely to agree.

So is it a broken promise or a systemic failure? A case of a candidate promising far more than he could deliver? Or an aspiration?

There are certainly a lot of promises flying around in the 2016 presidential campaign, promises that have absolutely no chance unless voters elect a new House of Representatives and a new Senate (which is impossible when only a third of that body is up for election). Like it or not the American system of government is designed to change slowly. (Unlike most of the democracies in the world where a parliament has near absolute authority.)

So the campaigns repeat broad themes knowing that they will not come to be. The promises are aspirations, not contracts.

Sen. Bernie Sanders is correct to call for universal health insurance, Medicare for All. It’s a plan that makes sense. Compare us to any other industrial country and we spend far too much on health care, leaving too many people without access, and with results that ought to be unacceptable. It is a measurable, statistical fact that the United States does not have the best health care system in the world.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama discovered the difficult challenge of health care reform in the body politic. Clinton’s 1992 plan, dismissed as “HillaryCare,” didn’t win enough support in Congress. And Obama’s health care reform effort, which focused more on insurance than health care delivery, barely survived the congressional process. That’s why Obama’s Affordable Care Act is modest. It was the best plan he could get enough votes to pass.

So when Sanders calls for universal care there ought to be a hallelujah! But without Congress it’s an empty promise. (If a candidate really wants to implement aspirational goals the only way to make that so would be a legislative slate like those in Canada and other parliamentary systems). A president cannot make it so.

And Sanders is not the only one. This election is ironic because so many Republicans are campaigning on the idea that Republicans win elections and then don’t follow through on those promises (such as repealing the Affordable Care Act or defunding Planned Parenthood). Yet. And this is huge. The promises they are making are impossible to deliver. It’s the ultimate comic strip with Lucy and the football. This time, Charlie Brown, this time.

But that’s not a bad thing. We need Lucy. We need aspiration.

Most candidates say they support treaty rights

Campaign  promises fall into two categories. Some are aspirational; some practical.

Consider the messaging to American Indians and Alaska Natives. Nearly every candidate for national office promises to uphold treaty rights. Yet that sweeping statement never translates into full funding for Indian health. Or even a proposed budget for full funding. So while dozens of federal programs are funded via automatic spending, programs designed to implement treaties with tribes must go through the appropriations process. Then it becomes ok to spend less on American Indian and Alaska Native patients than, say, a federal employee.

The aspiration is stated, support for the treaties, but the practical application is never found in a legislative proposal.

Never is the wrong word. Once in a while politicians do at least propose the aspirational.

New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley pushed legislation throughout his career to return the Black Hills to the Lakota. The bill never had a chance but Bradley kept at it, reminding his colleagues about the injustice of the Indian Claims Commission. Damn. Injustice is not the right word either. Theft is more accurate.

Bradley’s message was aspirational. This is necessary in politics because it reminds people what what we can be. (Even if it takes a while.)


A promise to Indian Country

Since the Nixon era it’s common for presidential campaigns to make policy promises to Indian Country.

In 1976, for example, Suzan Shown Harjo, Muscogee, was working with Jimmy Carter. The candidate was in Albuquerque and was asked if he would sign the American Indian Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. Harjo said Carter answered, yes, and “I will sign it because my Bible tells me so.” When he became president that promise became law.

In his campaign, Obama was both aspirational and practical. In May 2008 he told people at Crow Agency, Montana, “So let me be clear: I believe that treaty commitments are paramount law, I’ll fulfill those commitments as president of the United States.”

That big promise, the aspiration, was impossible and so the president like every other politician in the White House never proposed budgets that would implement treaty obligations.

But on the practical side of the promises, the day-to-day governing, the stuff that can get done, Obama set a new presidential standard. He included tribes in a government-to-government discourse, included Indian health in his health care reform ideas, supported tribal criminal jurisdiction, including the Violence Against Women Act. Indeed, the list of practical promises fulfilled could fill an entire column. A perfect record? No. But an extraordinary, practical list of successes that ought to be a basis for what comes next.

And that’s where the discussion about the 2016 campaign begins.

So far the Republicans running are focused on their base and are unlikely to propose any aspirational or practical policies for Indian Country. (Except for Ben Carson’s YouTube video  to NCAI and Ted Cruz whose land policies would be a disaster for tribes.) This is telling. You would think that this week, with the Oklahoma primary ahead, there would at least be an aspirational message from the campaigns.

On the Democratic side both Clinton and Sanders are detailing what they would do in office.

Sanders is interesting because his campaign is largely aspirational. It’s one of the reasons he is so successful with the millennial generation. These are aspirations that make sense. But, as I have already written, universal health care is not going to happen without democratic reform. It’s the same with his free college proposal. Aspirational.

But at the National Congress of American Indians meeting in DC this week, Sanders’ National Political Director Nick Carter was practical. He basically offered a platform that built on the success of the Obama years. Specifics ranged from senior tribal appointees at each cabinet agency (a proposal that’s carbon-dated from the Nixon administration), improved tribal consultation before decisions are made, making sure that all grants open to states and local governments include tribes, and requiring an OMB position that exclusively focuses on tribal concerns.

“Senator Sanders is committed to the notion that tribes know what is best about how to make positive decisions on behalf of their own people,” Carter said. “He acknowledges the disastrous consequences of federal micromanagement of tribal nations and is committed to empowering tribes to continue to strengthen their infrastructure and to direct their own economies and above all to protect their people and people living on reservations.”

Carter said that Sanders campaign would continue to put together a comprehensive policy platform.

The Clinton campaign also added more details advisor Ann O’Leary spoke at NCAI. The campaign also released a briefing that is more practical than aspirational. It did call for “the United States should fulfill its treaty obligations and trust responsibilities to Tribal Nations.”

But that was followed by a to-do list that included: Better consultation with tribes, strengthening public safety on reservations, and increased opportunity for youth. All good stuff. Clinton’s health care message is particularly pragmatic. “Hillary will continue to build upon the success of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act and work to reduce health disparities. She will defend the ACA, which gives Native Americans more health care choices if they choose to participate with improved insurance protections, such as no-cost preventative services, and prohibitions on denial of insurance coverage to children with pre-existing conditions,” the briefing says.

That’s practical. Legal. Doable. Sigh. It would be nice to hear aspirations, too. Beyond treaty rights.

We need big ideas for Indian Country. There are so many proposals that could change the future.

How about a voting system that makes certain that Native Americans have a voice in Congress, state legislatures, the courts, and in government?

How about a plan to make tribal nations whole, adding lands and resources, an idea that would honor Bill Bradley’s memory?

Or, I like this idea, how about a candidate who says, “I will fight to have Indian Health funded at the same level that the government spends on health care for its own employees.”

It’s during the campaign when aspirations matter. The practical can wait.

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 – And just like that. The math now favors Trump and Clinton

Hillary Clinton takes a selfie with a supporter after her win in the Nevada Democratic caucus (source: Clinton campaign photo).

Mark Trahant


It’s clear that Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton now own the inside lanes to their party’s nominations.

We are at the point where the campaign is all about collecting delegates and both Trump and Clinton are starting to rack up leads. Of course either could still be beat, but for that to happen, there would have to be a sudden and dramatic shift in the primary elections ahead.

Let’s dig into the numbers.

On the Democratic side, according to The Associated Press, Hillary Clinton has 502 pledged delegates to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 70. That’s a little more than about 10 percent of the total.

She’s also positioned to win in South Carolina and again in the Super Tuesday primary on March 1. On that day eleven states will vote and some 880 delegates will be split.

And split is the right word. The growing math problem for Sanders is the way Democrats award delegates, proportionally. So even if Sanders were to win a big state, and win more delegates than Clinton, it’s not enough to make up the gap.

As the Cook Political Report put it (after Iowa and New Hampshire, but before Nevada): “Early primary results can be misleading, but presidential primaries tend to follow clear patterns. In 2008, Super Tuesday produced a virtual tie for Democrats; Barack Obama edged Clinton 847 to 834 in delegates that day. But thanks to Obama’s heavy backing from African-Americans and liberal whites, savvy number crunchers could discern that he was “on track” to build an insurmountable delegate lead in upcoming primaries like Maryland and Virginia. In other words, the race was already over. This time around, close finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire would be good news for Clinton.”

Can Sanders still win the nomination? Yes, but he would have to win a number of one-sided victories, not just winning states, but rolling up significant margins. He would also have to convince the so-called Super Delegates, or elected officials, to back him at the convention.

Republicans have different math. Several GOP primaries are winner-take-all. So Trump’s challengers hope they can win in those states and quickly catch up. But that would have to happen really quickly. The so-called SEC Primary, Super Tuesday, has 422 delegates at stake and Trump could sweep.

The best shot for Trump’s challengers — Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and nominally, at least, Ben Carson — is for Trump to fall short of winning an outright nomination.

As a recent blog post from John Hudak at Brookings put it this way: “So long as that many candidates remain in the race, it becomes difficult for Trump to amass a majority of delegates heading into Cleveland. Cruz and Rubio may not be able to beat Trump in many of the states to come, but they can be enough of a nuisance to keep him from the type of “clinch” we have seen in previous years after a handful of primaries and caucuses. That moment usually comes early (or early-ish) when it becomes clear someone will march to the convention and the race effectively ends. This year is not one of those years.”

So yes, it’s possible that Trump (or Clinton) will not win their party’s nomination. But after March 1 the math does not favor any of the challengers.

So where does Indian Country stand on this primary election? So far the story is mixed. In Iowa, Bernie Sanders won the only reservation community by a whopping margin. But in Nevada it appears several reservation communities were split. Sanders won the Duck Valley Reservation, but lost on the delegate-rich Walker River Paiute Reservation. As we go forward I’ll try to add up all the numbers and create a tally of some sorts. We’ll call it the #NativeVote16 Primary.

** Update ** I looked at Nevada’s precinct reports and they are clear as mud. Too many of the boundaries just don’t match reservation lines. I’ll have to come up with another method.

It’s worth saying that elections are as much about policy as they are candidates. So watch both sides and ask: Who are the candidates running for Congress and how are they aligning with presidential candidates? This is important because winning the White House will not be enough. There also has to be a legislative program. And any outsider — even Donald Trump — will have trouble without building a regular coalition. Remember he’s running as a Republican, but he’s also running against the establishment Republicans. That creates a tough line to walk for the Republican in Congress who’s running for another term.

It also opens up lots of opportunity for “outsiders” running for Congress form either political party. And, as I have said before, who’s more outside than an American Indian or Alaska Native? No one.

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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Please credit: Mark Trahant / Trahantreports.com

#NativeVote16 – Story ideas range from climate issues to “the Native primary.”

Housekeeping. Planning day.

I am still researching and writing the energy and climate (part 3) post. I am giving a speech next week on this topic, so it’s a good time to finish the piece. There is a lot going on and it has election ramifications, especially because more federal spending will be required to keep up with damage and infrastructure needs associated with climate change.


Another piece I’d like to write soon is about how a third-place finisher could win the White House. As the presidential field narrows, we could be returning to the historical problem of a split electoral college. If there are three candidates and one of those candidates *cough * Ted Cruz * cough * can win a large state such as Texas that would be enough to prevent the other two candidates from winning 270 electoral votes. IF that happens, the House gets to pick the next president. The only constitutional criteria is that the next president will be chosen from top 3 finishers.


I have a cool idea. If I can find the time. So what if I pulled the precinct votes from Iowa, Nevada, and So Carolina, and created a “NativeVote16” primary election? I could add to a spreadsheet after every new primary. This would be a look at how Indian Country wants to be the next president using actual votes instead of polling.  (Any data wonks want to help?)


I am still working on a story/data/chart for state legislative candidates. I talked to a couple of candidates last week who told me they would be filing soon and I should hold off. I think I might wait until late March to get as many names as possible. (Previous story here.)


Finally I am pitching a couple of video stories to networks. Two purposes: Broader audience for #NativeVote16 stories. And, it will help me finance more stories. I’d especially like to have enough resources to cover party conventions this year. (Either that or I need to find a summer job.) (Previous video here. )

I posted a book outline and I have had talks with several book publishers and editors. There is not a lot of interest; mostly because of the time factor. I could produce the book myself (like I did with The Last Great Battle) but I would need to find outside money to make that happen. I am reviewing foundations that are interested in democracy & voting to see if that might be possible.

Feel free to weigh in with comments, suggestions and ideas.

That’s enough reflection. Back to work.

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – Battle over federal land surfaces in presidential debate

Rightful owners of Nevada’s land?




Mark Trahant


Ted Cruz just joined the Sage Brush Rebellion.

A new 30-second spot, “Nevada Land,” says the land belongs to the people of Nevada, “not Washington bureaucrats.”  To make his point Cruz features a picture of cattle grazing, presumably on federal lands.”If you trust me with your vote, I will return full control of Nevada’s lands to its rightful owners, its citizens. Count on it.”

Count on it? Rightful owners? The whole Sagebrush Rebel narrative misses the point that tribes in the region have called the area home for more than 10,000 years and if there’s any claim to rightful ownership then it’s the first owners who have the rightful claim.

Indeed at the MSNBC Town Hall on Thursday night, former Moapa Tribal Chairman William Anderson asked Sen. Bernie Sanders about more land that ought to have stronger federal protection.


“My people, the Nuwuvi, the Southern Paiutes here, we’re trying to go ahead work towards Gold Butte as a national monument too. There is a lot of recent issues that came up here, and what I want to really ask is is that there are those who oppose the American people’s ownership of public lands, and would see those lands sold to private interest. As president, how would you ensure that our public lands remain in public hands, and preserve our heritage and lives by stopping corporations from destroying Mother Earth? ”

Sanders answered the question broadly.

“I don’t have to explain to you, or I hope anybody in this room, or anybody watching the outrageous way, unfair way, that governments have treated Native Americans from day one. It is a disgrace.

“Number two, I will — you know, you’re raising issues in terms of extraction of fossil fuels, for example. I believe that climate change is one of the great challenges facing this planet, and what I have introduced legislation to do, by the way, it to say that we will not extract fossil fuels in the future from any public lands.

“Number three, I understand that it is absolutely important that the federal government do much more than it is now doing to work with the native american community in preserving their heritage, and their way of life. And, I will do everything I can to bring that about.

What is the Gold Butte issue about? It’s already federally-controlled land but a number of tribes, environmentalists, and Nevada cities have called for either presidential or congressional action to give permanent protection to the area’s wildlife, including desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, the banded Gila monster, great horned owls and a great variety of reptiles, birds and mammals, as well as protecting archaeological resources, including rock art, caves, agave roasting pits and camp sites that date back some 3,000 years.

Generally Republicans say the land should not have additional protection from the federal government and Democrats want legislation to make the monument status permanent. Nevada Sen. Dean Heller said last year that any federal action would be an escalation “in a region of our state where tensions are already presently high.”

But that’s also the point of Cruz’ new ad. He says Donald Trump is not sufficiently a rebel. Trump told Field and Stream magazine that he didn’t like the idea of the federal government turning over land to the states. “I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”

Stewards? Magnificent land? For sage brush rebels those are fighting words. And Gold Butte just happens to be where one Cliven Bundy and his militia supporters forced the Bureau of Land Management to back off last year after threats of violence. Except the federal government was patient. Now it’s Bundy who’s awaiting trial. Perhaps that’s why Cruz tried to capture the spirit of the movement without mentioning any names.

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 – Connecting to tribal voters in Nevada

Fascinating profile of young Native American voters in Nevada by Tristan Ahtone (On Twitter: @Tahtone ). This video is worth watching; story raises the kinds of questions that candidates and journalism organizations should be asking.



So should candidates for president really campaign on reservations in such a close contest? As reported in the piece, Nevada is only about 2 percent Native. So this near the caucus a visit to a tribal community doesn’t make a lot of sense (except, perhaps, where the delegate rewards are rich, such as Walker River Paiute.)

But. And this is huge. This is something both candidates could have done before Iowa, before their world got crazy, when they actually had time to listen. (Sanders is in Elko today, so some tribal issues may surface.) Still, an early visit to Schurz or Owyhee would helped the candidates see Indian Country in a new light.

— Mark Trahant






#NativeVote16 – Raúl Grijalva endorses Victoria Steele

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva endorsed Victoria Steele at a campaign event Tuesday. He said he is confident she will win her primary contest. (Photo via Facebook.)


Campaign Notes: Steele wins pre-primary endorsement

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva endorsed Victoria Steele Tuesday saying he is confident that she will win the primary. He said Steele would champion the rights of women, promote climate change legislation, and support “rational” comprehensive immigration reform.

“From raising the minimum wage, creating a pathway to citizenship, and combating climate change, Victoria will have a willing partner in Congress to take on some of the most important issues facing Americans and our planet today,” Grijalva said. “I’m proud to endorse her, and we will do what we can to help her. I’m very confident that she will win the primary and I think she will do very well in the general.”

Steele, who is Seneca, is campaigning for the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Martha McSally in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. She must first win a primary against Matt Heinz, a former state legislator.


“Defeating Martha McSally, and delivering strong leadership that benefits the families of Southern Arizona begins with unifying Democrats, so I’m humbled and honored to receive the endorsement of Rep. Raul Grijalva,” Steele said.


The Steele campaign also announced the endorsement of The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 933. “The 1,300 plus members of IAMAW Local 933 and I believe in an America where everybody who works hard, plays by the rules, dreams big, and believes in a better tomorrow has a chance to succeed,” Steele said in an email. 


“Many in Congress demonize collective bargaining and want to dismantle pension plans, cut wages, lengthen hours, and cut back health benefits and vacation hours. This does not help families get ahead in today’s economy.”