#NativeVote16 – Republicans aren’t getting much attention or votes from Indian Country

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Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, tells C-SPAN that a Paul Ryan candidacy remains a possibility even if unlikely.

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Who’s winning Indian Country this presidential election season?

On social media it is an intense debate. Sen. Bernie Sanders supporters point to Iowa, Oklahoma, Michigan, Nevada, and, after this weekend, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska, as evidence that Natives are “feeling the Bern.” But Hillary Clinton backers can look at results from Nevada and Arizona and make a case for the former Secretary of State. (Yes, you can argue Nevada either way. There is just not enough evidence for a definitive answer.)

But one thing is certain: Indian Country is voting for Democrats. In Arizona’s Apache County, for example, which is mostly Navajo, Clinton had more votes than the entire GOP field; and Sanders nearly doubled the vote tally of first-place Donald Trump.

And that makes sense for two reasons. First, it fits historical patterns where tribal communities favor Democrats by large margins.

And, second, there are distinct policy differences between the two parties at the presidential level.

Sanders has incorporated Native American issues into his stump speech, including full-funding of the Indian Health Service. Unprecedented. Clinton has a track record in Indian Country that goes back a long ways, even before she was a political figure, and her administration would build on the successes of the Obama years.

And the Republican alternative? Chaos. Imagine a government as crazy as the primaries.

We don’t know much about any of the Republican plans for Indian Country. Except these shared themes: Government is bad, Keystone XL pipeline is good, and there would be a new military emphasis on defeating Daeish in Syria and Iraq.

But what if the Republican nominee is not Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or even John Kasich?

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (House photo)

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole raised the possibility of a Paul Ryan candidacy last week. He said it’s far more likely that one of the three remaining presidential candidates will be nominated, but if there is no consensus, then Ryan would be the logical choice.

“He’s already been vetted, he’s been on a national ticket, millions of people have already voted for him,” Cole said in an interview on C-SPAN. “Frankly, he does represent the kind of vision and values that as a Republican you would want to put forward.”

Ryan is Speaker of the House, and as such, chair of the Republican Convention. The only way he could win the nomination would be in Cleveland after the delegates failed to nominate one of the current candidates. (After the first ballot, delegates are free to wheel-and-deal.) Cole put it this way” “If you can’t win it outright before you get there, I don’t think anybody’s got it in the bag once you arrive. It’ll be very tumultuous. There will be multiple ballots unless somebody’s just literally inches away.”

Cole is a member of Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Tribe and a senior House Republican. (Previous: How a third-party candidate can win one state and the presidency.)

Ryan has proposed a radical rethinking of federal programs, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives. He supports the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and has suggested it would be better to send money to states for Medicaid as a block grant. In 2014 as House Budget Chairman, Ryan published a  full review of federal programs that address poverty. “We need to take a hard look at what the federal government is doing and ask, ‘Is this working?’ This report will help start the conversation. It shows that some programs work; others don’t. And for many of them, we just don’t know.” His idea was to reshape the way government delivers programs and roll them together to save money.

So Ryan’s War on Poverty review lumped Indian Health Service funding in with other social programs. “The IHS was officially established within the Department of Health and Human Services in 1955 (then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare) as part of the Transfer Act. But the federal initiatives designed to increase access to health services for tribal members existed as far back as 1830.” As I wrote at the time, what Ryan calls a “federal initiative,” I call a treaty obligation.

In general, a Ryan presidency would mean substantially less money for federal programs, including those that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

However Cole has in the past disputed that grim assessment. He told Indian Country Today Media Network: “This idea that a Ryan budget means cuts in Indian programs is simply not true. We have evidence that while it lowers overall government spending, it also allows us to reprioritize where the money goes. And on the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Interior and Environment, where I sit, there’s a bipartisan commitment to increasing funding in Indian country well beyond what the White House has asked for. We have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who recognize the Indian country has been historically underfunded.”

Ryan also has a track record for reaching across the aisle and making a deal. The 2013 budget agreement with Washington Sen. Patty Murray provided at least some relief to the harsh budget measures found in the sequester.

Some relief? That’s hardly a winning campaign slogan.

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

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

#NativeVote16 – Nevada congressional bid ends; Cole is challenged; Begay joins Arizona race

  
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Will the 2016 election be Indian Country’s best ever? The answer to that question doesn’t depend on who wins the White House, but on how many American Indians and Alaska Natives are elected to Congress, state legislatures, county commissions, and city halls. Real representation starts at the local level and rises to the national level.

There have been a lot of developments this week in the story of Native candidates running for Congress: A Democrat-turned-Republican is running in Arizona; Tom Cole has a challenger from the right; and a Nevada congressional bid ends.

John Oceguera ended his candidacy this week for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. A post on his campaign web site said: “While our polling indicates that there is a path to victory for me in this race, I am also realistic about the amount of funding needed to make that happen in a competitive congressional race. Unfortunately, we have discovered that there simply is not the capacity to reach a threshold of funding to adequately get our message out to voters. I’ve decided to end my campaign for Congress.”

Oceguera is a former fire fighter, Speaker of the Nevada Assembly, and is a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe. He said this was not an easy decision to make. “But you should know that I’ll be fully engaged in the upcoming election. I’ll work hard to help Hillary Clinton win Nevada in November, send Catherine Cortez Masto to the US Senate, and give the people of Nevada’s fourth congressional district the new, progressive leadership they deserve.”

Tom Cole’s primary challenge

Two Republicans are challenging Rep. Tom Cole in Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District. 

James Taylor and Shawn Roberts said they are running because Cole has been in office too long.

Cole is a member of the Chickasaw Nation and is a member of Republican leadership. He often plays a substantial role on American Indian and Alaska Native issues. He was a leader in the House for the passage of the Violence Against Women Act. 

New candidate in Arizona’s First

Arizona Sen. Carlyle Begay has joined the crowded race for the first congressional district. Begay left the Democratic Party in November saying that Republicans better reflect the value of “self-determination.”

In a video announcing his party switch, Begay cited many of the social problems facing the Navajo Nation and said “change must happen now.”

Seven Republicans are seeking the Republican nomination. There are more Native American voters — 23.2 percent — in Arizona’s first congressional district than any other in the U.S. Two other Navajos say they are running in that district, Shawn Redd, a Republican, and Kayto Sullivan, a Democrat.

#NativeVote16 – Montana Democrats say ‘margin of victory’ is Indian Country

 

Jason Smith, chair of Montana Indian Democrats. Council, and Gov. Steve Bullock, talk about the importance of Native voters. (Photo by Mark Trahant)

 

Doubts about voting?  Just think, Montana
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

HELENA — When someone tells you that your vote doesn’t matter, quietly say, “Montana.” Or if someone says that politicians don’t listen and that nothing will change, smile, and then say “Montana.” And, when you want proof that the Native vote works, evidence can be found in Montana.

American Indian voters are registered to vote in Montana at a higher rate than any other ethnic group. And, more important, especially during presidential years, Native American voters are more likely to turnout and vote.

Montana Democrats have figured this out and acknowledge that the Native vote is the key to their success as a party, in recent elections winning five of the six statewide offices.

At a meeting Saturday of the Montana Indian Democrats Council, candidates ranging from governor to state auditor showed up to make their pitch. And it was not just about winning  the election ahead, but it’s about making certain that the state’s policies align to serve Native communities.

Gov. Steve Bullock pointed out that the expansion of Medicaid in Montana never would have happened without the Native vote. Seventy-thousand people are now eligible for Medicaid insurance, including some 15,000 Native Americans. That’s important because Native patients with insurance have access to medical care that would not be immediately available through Indian Health Service funding alone. He also cited the success of a new water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. He said he has appointed more Native Americans to state jobs, boards and commissions, and praised the idea of regular, government-to-government communications between tribes and the state of Montana.

But while policy remains the end goal, Saturday’s meeting was about politics. Bullock recalled a Native community that voted for him something like 213 to zero. “I might have made up that number,” he joked. “But it was was an awful lot to none.”

“It’s really critical that we have a proactive Native vote,” said Sen. Jon Tester, who is not up for election this year. “We know you are on our side, but we need tribal council endorsements because when it comes to national fundraising it helps a lot.”

Interview with Denise Juneau for upcoming TrahantReports profile. (Photo by Jaynie Parrish)

Denise Juneau is running for Montana’s only congressional seat. “We get one voice for one million Montanans. And that voice ought to be someone who really reflects our population,” she said. “I am going to be heavily committed to making sure the Native vote program happens. I know that when Indian Country votes, Democrats win. I need them to vote in humongous numbers.”

If she wins, Juneau would be the first American Indian woman to serve in Congress. Ever.

Juneau is a Mandan Hidatsa member and of Blackfeet descent. She grew up in Browning. She currently is the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and has won two statewide offices. In that post, her initiative, Graduation Matters, has helped raise the state’s high school graduation rate from 80 percent to 86 percent.

She said she will visit each of the state’s reservation communities next month making sure that people are registered to vote. “It’s winnable and the margin of victory can be Indian Country.”

Of course it’s one thing for politicians to make a pitch on Indian issues to a group as the Montana Indian Democrats Council. That sort of thing happens in virtually every state. But what makes Montana unique is that same message is carried to every forum, whether or not Indians are present.

I heard Gov. Bullock speak to a group of academics on Friday in Missoula and some of the first words out of his mouth were about the importance of government-to-government relations with tribes and why Native voices are so important to the state. Same message at a meeting of Young Democrats in Helena.

And Saturday night at the Democratic Party’s Mansfield-Metcalf dinner, several state officials, legislators, and party activists referenced the importance of Native people to the state’s future. The Democrat’s message in Montana is clear: Native votes matter.

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 – Campaigns are about ideas, not candidates

  
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

Last night I was driving across Montana trying to listen to election returns. The radio faded in and out. My cell phone apps worked until I lost a signal. Then silence. And a memory.

A dozen years ago I was editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s editorial page and Howard Dean, another insurgent candidate, was fading fast. It was February 2004. We had a meeting set with Dean to consider endorsing him. But the math was already impossible; there was no way Dean could win enough delegates to secure the Democratic nomination. 

Still the governor showed up to meet with us. He came alone, no entourage, no security, just Howard. 

It was one of the best candidate editorial boards ever. Dean was frank. He talked about what worked in his campaign and where he fell short. He talked about ideas and what it would take to make the country a better place.

A few days later Dean formally suspended his campaign. We wrote: “Dean’s movement makes politics fun. Early on, Howard Dean invigorated the presidential campaign. He did it again Wednesday, stepping aside gracefully and rallying his supporters to keep working for change.”

And it’s that change that is so important. 

Over the past couple of weeks Bernie Sanders has raised Indian Country issues to a higher level. His most recent campaign document for example calls for fully funding the Indian Health Service. That is unprecedented. Fully funded. To me that means investing as much money as the federal government spends on its own employees, a budget that’s two or three times larger than the one now. Fully funded. That is stunning. Inspiring. And, ultimately, it’s a demand to have the United States finally live up to its treaty obligations.

The American-style of politics is all too often focused on people, not policies. But it’s the policy goals — yes, even full funding for Indian health — that we need to keep working to make so.  No matter who carries that message forward.

Republicans are having their own policy debate. As I have said before there are really two, possibly three, distinct policy agendas for what used to be the Republican Party. Donald Trump represents a populism that is more about his personality and anger than traditional conservative thinking. But it might be too late to stop Trump from winning the party nomination.  So a number of conservatives are seeking counsel from House Speaker Paul Ryan about a convention bid or a third-party run. The new development is that Ryan is not saying “no.” Only, “we’ll see.”  As I pointed out in this piece, Ryan has a path to the presidency by winning a single state.  

That could happen if Congress, not the people, elect the next president. And that makes Montana’s election all that more important. Montana has a single seat and if the 12th Amendment goes into effect that one vote could make a huge difference.

Back to the road: More reporting from Montana this week.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? One time use is free for web, publication or broadcast.

Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

#NativeVote16 – A community’s call to fix democracy

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Community forum on the LacCourte Oreilles Reservation in Wisconsin. People testified to politicians, campaign representatives, tribal officials, and a blogger, who were under instructions to listen rather than speak. Event billed as: “You Talk, We Listen.” (Photo by Jaynie Parrish)

 The people have a voice when politicians listen

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

There is so much about this presidential election that appeals to voters’ base instincts: Ugly threats involving immigrants or Muslims; the school-yard shouting matches that replaced Republican debates and, especially concerning, the threats and violence found at Donald Trump’s campaign rallies.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The alternative presented itself on a beautiful pre-Spring day in the northern woods of Wisconsin. Instead of enjoying that first sunny break from winter, citizens, activists and politicians, spent the day inside the Lac Courte Oreilles Bingo Hall for “You Talk, We Listen!” This was a classic exchange of ideas, democracy in action, except for one important twist. Politicians, campaign representatives, and this blogger were on a panel charged with listening. We could ask questions, but we were not there to comment or counter. Sit. Be quiet. Absorb.

So what did I learn?

The first thing lesson was about the extraordinary mix that makes up a larger community. The event was on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Reservation and the tribe was clearly the host. A welcome by Tribal Chairman Mic Isham, and a drum and a flag song, made it clear that that this event was in Indian Country. The event was organized by Paul DeMain, chief executive of Indian Country Communications.

But the discussion was about the whole neighborhood: Rural Wisconsin, the health of the lakes, the water, schools, state government, and even the presidency. The day was long and punctuated by respect. Some 40-plus people signed up to speak for a few minutes each. A few brought supporting documents. Others  presented slide shows. Even more people came just to hear ideas.  On any other day the “listeners” would be huge draws: tribal leaders, elected representatives, and Tara Houska, an adviser to Bernie Sanders. Perhaps another time.

As the Rev. John Stanley put it when he had his chance to talk: “Where ever there is a venom, there is a serum. People are the remedy for the sickness. We can work together and take back the state.” Or as Rita Pachal said, “We need to fix our democracy first.”

Fixing democracy is a call to action. A call to organize. And a repeated call to vote.

Several themes that emerged through the day, and “taking back the state” was high on the agenda. Two common complaints Saturday: The way campaigns are financed by unlimited corporate spending and mean-spirited attacks on voting rights.

Most of the people who showed up were Democrats, as were those who came to listen. Republicans were invited, but either declined or ignored the invitation. Since the election of Gov. Scott Walker in 2010 folks described an atmosphere of antagonism toward citizen involvement.

“Our defense of democracy hinges on our engagement,” said Nate Timm from the Wisconsin Grassroots Network. He said more effort needs to focus on re-building the structure of community. “We can go out and talk to our friends in our community. The most impact you can have is talking to the people.”

Several speakers said they were concerned about the increasing child poverty in Sawyer Country and the state. Susan Bower said the rural county reports the second highest rates of poverty in the state, 30 percent, compared to 18 percent for Wisconsin.

And the state is going backwards, spending about a third of the national average on public health programs. One person cited the example of the increasing number of children showing up in emergency rooms with asthma. Of course, she said, all children have asthma. But they are unable to afford a visit to a primary care physician, so it’s the emergency room (and the most expensive form of treatment).

Pamela Goodman directs a communication action agency and is a public health nurse. “I feel like a hypocrite,” she said, because of government rules and programs limits what she’s allowed to pay people for home health care. The end result is that “too many workers have to rely on the food pantry to get by.”

Another theme was support for public education. “Education is strong in Wisconsin,” said Mary Jarvis, “but it is being transferred to private, parochial schools.” She said if the goal is to empower our children, “the way to make that happen is to support public schools.”

Tribal education systems should be included as well. Chris Munson, Oneida, said “educational opportunity” must include tribal colleges, tribal charters, and language revitalization.

Several people also testified that they were worried about their water, lakes, and their land.

Wisconsin is the new battleground over piping Canada’s Tar Sands oil to markets. “We fought the Keystone (XL pipeline) and we won,” said Carl Whiting, co-founder of Wisconsin Safe Energy Alliance. But now Enbridge is set to build a pipeline across Wisconsin that will carry the millions of barrels of the “dirtiest oil.” He said the pipeline company plans on expanding a current line and is looking for the least costly way to do that. He described a farmer whose house is near the current line and his foundation rumbles from the a pipeline only a few hundred feet away. He’d like to sell out, but the company doesn’t want to spend that much money.

That is the common ground in the pipeline issue, the idea that private property rights are being trampled as fast as the environment. Wisconsin recently changed its laws to limit oversight by cities and counties along the pipeline route, including insurance requirements. The company can also use eminent domain laws that require landowners to sell a strip of their land for the pipeline.

Korey Northrup said these pipelines will have an impact on traditional activists such as tapping trees for syrup. “We shouldn’t have to worry that a pipeline will ‘rain’ oil,” she said.

Any community forum, of course, is just the beginning of a conversation. Here in Wisconsin, there were many voices missing. We need to hear from people who did not or could not make the event. We need to hear more from young people. And there needs to be a conversation with conservatives.
One of the great stories from American history is the feud between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. These two men did not like each other or their politics. They were as far apart as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Yet late in life, Adams wrote to Jefferson, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

There remains a lot of explaining required in this country.

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 – Storyboard update

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A bit behind. (A busy week on campus).
I still need to write AZ 1 piece.
Reporting this weekend about listening sessions with Native voters in Wisconsin.

Then off to Montana. I hope to do two pieces there, a profile, possible interview with @JuneauDenise plus a look at Native candidates for legislature in Montana.

Also working on reflection, transparency piece for TrahantReports and my plans for the summer. I’d like to figure out how to pay for coverage of every congressional candidate in their districts as well as being at both conventions.

 

 

#NativeVote16 – Hello June, July, it’s going to be a long campaign season

 

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Sen. Bernie Sanders celebrates his Michigan win. (Campaign photo)

First the Democrats.

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

Sen. Bernie Sanders stunning win Tuesday in Michigan means that the Democratic Presidential Contest will likely continue through June and perhaps the convention itself. As I wrote earlier this week: “He needs to start winning big states, such as Michigan, and he needs more Democrats to vote.” Both happened in Michigan.

This also means more of Indian Country will have a say determining the Democratic nominee. The states ahead include: Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska. And that’s just in March. The Wisconsin primary is the first week of April.

Perhaps the best news of the night, however, was Michigan’s turnout. More than 2.4 million people voted, breaking the record of 1.9 million set in 1972. More people picked up Republican ballots, 1,318,297 to 1,183,840 for the Democrats. But Sanders and Hillary Clinton both had more than a half million votes, 590,386 for Sanders, and 570,949 for Clinton. The Republican winner, Donald Trump, earned 481,296. Up until Michigan, Democratic turnout had been mediocre.

A couple of other notes: The Michigan primary exposed a weakness in polling. Every poll was off by huge margins. Why? Were people lying? Did some Clinton supporters vote in the Republican primary? The irony here is that those answers will be found by, you guessed it, more polling. I would like to know more about how the role of the millennial generation in Michigan. Millennials may sleep with their cell phones, but do they answer calls from pollsters? If not, will that change the very nature of polling?

It’s also worth noting that the Clinton campaign scored more delegates Tuesday. She won  Mississippi by a large margin, and essentially split Michigan (as Sanders himself said.) That means the math has only changed slightly. Clinton is adding delegates methodically. The delegate count used by FiveThirtyeight.com is a good one to watch because it does not include Super Delegates. Harry Entin wrote: “Sanders must rack up big wins and fast. Thanks to an 83 percent to 16 percent win in Mississippi, Clinton gained in the overall delegate count on Tuesday and leads Sanders by more than 200 pledged delegates. Her strong performance in Mississippi also put Sanders further behind his FiveThirtyEight delegate targets. That may not be as sexy as the tremendous upset in Michigan, but math is rarely sexy.”

A long primary is going to be fun to watch. It will be fascinating to hear the candidates explain their differences on policy, ranging from trade to issues to banking rules. And, more important, looking at the calendar and the states ahead, it’s certain that Indian Country and our issues will be on the agenda.

Now the Republicans.

If the Democrats are building toward a June finale, the Republican Party’s collapse is on schedule. Donald Trump was again winning states and delegates and narrowing his competition. We’re a week away from Florida and Ohio where two home state politician, Sen. Marcio Rubio and Gov. John Kasich, have to put up or shut up. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz remains the alternative, but he is hardly the credible alternative to Trump.

And the independents?

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided not to run for president. Bloomberg wrote: “In a three-way race, it’s unlikely any candidate would win a majority of electoral votes, and then the power to choose the president would be taken out of the hands of the American people and thrown to Congress. The fact is, even if I were to receive the most popular votes and the most electoral votes, victory would be highly unlikely, because most members of Congress would vote for their party’s nominee. Party loyalists in Congress – not the American people or the Electoral College – would determine the next president.”

That remains a serious concern (as I wrote recently). A well-funded third-party candidate would only have to win one or two large states to split the electoral college.  Then Congress would elect the next president. And we would all would lose.

 

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 – Bernie Sanders is paying attention to Indian Country

  

Mark Trahant

TrahantReports.com

 Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is paying attention to Indian Country. That does not often happen in national elections.

Last week he met with Native Americans in Kansas, Minnesota, and Michigan. Sanders won caucuses in Kansas and Minnesota and Michigan voters will weigh in on Tuesday. A story by Levi Rickert in Native News Online said that Sanders’ stump speech had a portion “devoted to the mistreatment of Native Americans, who Sanders referred to as this country’s “first peoples.” The post quoted Belinda Bardwell, a former tribal councilor of the Little Bay Bands of the Odawa Indians and current Masters of Public Administration student at Grand Valley State University saying:  “He brought tears to my eyes. No candidate ever mention us in their campaign speeches.”

Indeed. This is inspiring politics. Think about the history of the United States and all that’s gone wrong. And yet in 2016 a presidential candidate is making the case that the country can do better. That message also reflects the difference in style between the Sanders campaign and that of Hillary Clinton. Sanders is drawing crowds and stirring pride; Clinton is methodically building a delegate lead. On Saturday Sanders won Kansas and Nebraska, but Clinton netted more delegates by winning Louisiana.

I think we journalists over emphasize the horse race – who’s winning? – and I don’t want to spend much time on that point. But just know that Sanders has to do two things to ace his nomination test: He needs to start winning big states, such as Michigan, and he needs more Democrats to vote.  Voter turnout so far this season has been mediocre. That could be a troubling sign for either Democrat this fall.

There is another win for Indian Country that comes from the Sanders candidacy. My bet is that he will be a better advocate going forward. If you look at all 100 members of the Senate, Sanders would not have been the go-to-member for any tribal issues. Indian Country was not his passion. But that was also true for then-Sen. Barack Obama. Until he ran for the White House.

That’s also what happened with George McGovern. He had a reason to be a voice for Native Americans. He represented South Daktoa. And he won his Senate seat in 1962 by 597 votes; a victory he credited to the Indian electorate.

McGovern was one of the first in the Senate to reject termination, the failed policy that set out to pretend that treaties did not matter and to eliminate federal programs on reservations McGovern even proposed a new federal Indian policy in 1966. “The foremost characteristic of our Indian policy should be self-determination for the people it serves,” McGovern said. “Too often in the past the federal government has done what it has thought best for Indians, with minor regard for the hopes and aspirations of the Indians.” As I have written before, and in my book, The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, McGovern was making an early pitch for tribal self-determination. But he also said any new policy ought to focus on self-help, be consistent, have enough resources to be successful and allow for innovation in Indian country. The Senate passed McGovern’s resolution, but it failed in the House.

McGovern was also part of the liberal-Nixon coalition in the Senate that outmaneuvered Democratic Party leaders over the return of Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblo. 

But there remained many questions about McGovern on Indian issues. “McGovern’s Indian critics discuss his absenteeism from regular Senate subcommittee working sessions on pivotal reform Indian legislation, and his frequent absences during critical floor votes in the Senate,” Richard LaCourse wrote for the American Indian Press Association. “They question whether he has used his chairmanship on the Indian affairs subcommittee to its fullest in serving the legislative needs of Indians.” LaCourse said that even in South Dakota there was “some disenchantment” with McGovern. “Indians who believe that once he won his Senate seat he lost his working concern for Indian needs and, instead devoted himself to ‘national issues.’ Consequently,” LaCourse wrote, “he has a credibility problem with the Indians at home.”

On the 1972 campaign trail, however, McGovern was a reformer and called for a new answer to the role of American Indians in society. He promised that the Bureau of Indian Affairs would be restructured either as a White House operation or as a cabinet-level agency.  “It is still shamefully true that the Indians of the United States are not free. The first  order of business is to clear the way, fully, quickly, and without equivocation, for them to secure for themselves every freedom enjoyed by other Americans,” McGovern said. (More on the McGovern campaign from a piece I wrote for Indian Country Today Media Network).

The point here is that campaigns change people. McGovern was a much better Senator after his failed campaign. Win or lose I expect Sanders will be someone who champions Indian Country issues in a new way from now on.

It’s also worth mentioning that so much of the modern ideas about Indian Country and presidential elections stem from that campaign. Detailed position papers from each side (in this case, McGovern and Nixon) outline their priorities for Indian Country. That’s true today for both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. (Somehow I don’t expect one from Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.)

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
Reposting or reprinting this column? One time use is free for web, publication or broadcast.

Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com

#NativeVote16 – Planning ahead.

I am catching up on grading papers … and working on these stories. I really want to explain why polling is so ineffective for Indian Country. (More evidence that Indian Country ought to have our own primary.)

** Folks say Clinton, or Sanders, will easily defeat Trump. Problem is we have no idea what a general election will look like because Trump is not a Republican. He’s a populist. (I think I’ll go back and look at elections with other populists running.) But one area that Trump could be a factor is Congress. There are some seats that will be in play with Trump heading the Republican ticket. Enough for 30 seats? Time to do some math. — Mark