#NativeVote16 – Libertarians as the ‘normal’ alternative to the Democrats

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the nominee of the Libertarian Party. (Creative Commons photo provided by Nick del Castillo.)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Let’s explore two questions: First, will a third party candidacy matter in the 2016 presidential election? And, if so, what does that mean for the Native American vote?

The first question ought to be easy to answer because the arc of history says no. Democrats and Republicans have owned the presidential field since the mid-19th century when the Whig Party collapsed.

The Whigs were an unlikely coalition that included citizens opposed to Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policies. Yet in order to win, or so they said, the Whigs nominated generals who were famous as Indian fighters, General Zachary Taylor or “Old Rough and Ready,” and finally, General Winfield Scott, whose earned nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” wasn’t  exactly the warrior image a politician is eager to project. The Whig era reflects the irony of U.S. politics. On one hand there was the Democratic Party that championed Jackson’s criminal treatment of Native people and, on the other, a party that rejected Jackson’s removal policy, but nominated as its standard-bearers, soldiers who made their name killing Indians.

Gen. Winfield Scott. 1861. Image. Library of Congress

George Wallace and the Dixiecrats

There is a consistent theme that emerges when you look back at the history of third-party movements. The movements are most successful when the two major parties are realigning. That’s exactly what’s occurring with the Republican Party today.

The other consistent theme: The third party rise is often associated in a time when hate is also on the rise.

After the Whig Party ceased as a national political force most of its southern members created the Native American Party. Of course not that Native American Party. American Indians and Alaska Natives were not citizens. Indeed, the party later became the American Party and was often referred to as the “Know Nothings.” The party platform included provisions that “Americans must rule America … and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all State, Federal, and municipal offices of government.”

After the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, many Southerners again went the third party route in 1968 supporting former Alabama Gov. George Wallace and his American Independent Party. That party championed racism and segregation. Wallace was the last third party presidential candidate to win states, five of them, and 45 electoral votes.

Wallace’s strategy is what’s important to think about in a 2016 context: The primary objective of a third-party run is to deny the other two candidates 270 electoral votes. If that happens, the House of Representatives decides the election, not the voters. (Previous: America and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Election.)

One more point of context: That 1968 election was one where the Republican Party realigned. Richard Nixon recognized the importance of Southern white voters and made them a key GOP voting bloc. (Before Wallace the South was the base of Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party.) As Kevin Phillips wrote in his book, The Emerging Republican Majority, Nixon played the “Southern strategy” with “wedge” issues such as affirmative action that would pit the white working class against African American voters.

It’s the fallout of this strategy that’s one reason why the Republican Party is splitting today because its southern base has evolved to become even more intolerant on a host of issues such as civil rights and voting. And that’s what makes 2016 so extraordinary: It’s now the Republicans with Donald Trump as their party nominee that’s almost the platform of the Know Nothings or George Wallace. “Make America Great Again!” would have been a familiar theme.

Candidates with practical experience governing

This weekend the Libertarian Party nominated two former governors to champion their cause in this election. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (who was the party’s candidate four years ago is running with former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.

These two candidates are different from the Libertarian routine (I know, this is Johnson’s second run) because their message will be about experience. In a way they will be asking voters to ignore Libertarian purists and move their party to the center. That’s a tall order. Because they have to convince their own party members about the value of the center and they have to recruit disaffected Republicans as well as a few Democrats. 

Johnson’s reputation as a governor was frugal. He brags about the number of bills he vetoed as governor. In his first race for governor, he was supportive of New Mexico’s tribal gaming industry and received nearly $250,000 in campaign donations from tribes. He signed gambling compacts with the tribes shortly after taking office.

The Libertarian Party is a mix of conservative and liberal issues. Like the Republicans, the party advocates a significantly smaller government. But it’s also to the left of Democrats on the legalization of marijuana and other drugs. Johnson has also dismissed Donald Trump’s immigration policy as racist and says his call for a wall on the Mexican border only leads to taller ladders.

Johnson said he wanted to run this time around with Gov. Weld because he thinks the pair can win or at least participate in the coming presidential debates. (Candidates must poll at 15 percent or better to be included.)

The two can call on traditional Republican sources of funds, ranging from Mitt Romney supporters to the Koch Brothers. They basically will make the case that they are not crazy like Trump. And they can point to their records as former governors.

Johnson is polling at around 10 percent and the Libertarian ticket will be on all 50 ballots (compared to about 20 states for the Green Party.)

So will Johnson-Weld matter? Can they win any states? That’s a good point to explore the role of Native American voters.

Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican and his very presence changes the electoral map. He could, for example, be a contender in Rust Belt states where there are a lot of white, working class voters. As The New York Times put it: “Mr. Trump’s best play for the White House is to cut a swath through the Rust Belt, flipping states traditionally won by Democrats that harbor large numbers of the white working-class voters who have welcomed his hard line on immigration and trade.”

But travel into the West and it might be a different story. Montana Sen. Jon Tester won re-election with only 48.56 percent of the vote. The Libertarian candidate for Senate, Dan Cox, earned 6.56 percent of the vote. And that percentage represents a smaller number than Native American voters.

So a state normally not be in play for Democrats, Montana, could be up for grabs. And Montana is one of the best states for Libertarians. Several other Western states where the Libertarian message could win votes include Arizona, Nevada, and even Alaska

But Libertarians are hoping to do better than that. Many see 2016 as the year when it becomes the alternative party to Democrats. And, if history is a guide, the Libertarians could have a remarkable year. There is a major party realignment occurring and one campaign spews messages of hate rather than optimism (just compare the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump if you want proof.) That’s a theme from the past.

No one could have predicted the Libertarian presidential candidate to be a representative of normal. Especially a party campaigning with a ticket comprised of former governors who have  practical experience actually running governments. It will be interesting to see if there message gets out and connects with voters.

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 / TrahantReport





#NativeVote16 – Campaign shorts from Native Congressional candidates

Chase Iron Eyes getting ready for a meet and greet in Fargo, N.D. (Photo via Facebook)

North Dakota Congressional candidate Chase Iron Eyes will be the star at a Washington, D.C., fundraiser on Thursday. It’s hosted by Senator Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, and former Senators Kent Conrad, Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy. The event is at the Heitkamp home beginning at 6 pm.

Iron Eyes reports on Facebook that “our campaign is moving along and building each week.” He said he has been calling voters across the state “to hear their concerns and plan visits.”

SPEAKING OF FUND RAISING, Victoria Steele, running in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, reports that her donor match program went so well that “a group of donors stepped up at the same time to. double-match your donation until midnight May 27.”

“That’s right,” Steele writes, “your support will have double the impact on issues we both believe in — an economy that works for everyone, clean water and air for our children, and the protection of our Social Security and Medicare programs.”

IN MONTANA, Congressional candidate Denise Juneau said she wants six debates with her Republican opponent, incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke. Her proposal includes a debate in Pablo, Montana, the headquarters for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, as well as in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Butte, and Glen Dive. Zinke’s staff said there would be “several” debates but did not commit to any specifics.

 Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, endorsed Donald Trump for president on Wednesday. According to the conservative web site, Breitbart, Zinke said he was open to being Vice President or in any cabinet position. “I know my name has been thrown around,” he told Breitbart. “I would be honored to do my duty. You know why? It’s about making America great again.” Late Wednesday, Juneau’s campaign team issued a news release dismissing Zinke’s new aspiration. “Montanans are beginning to wonder if Ryan Zinke ever plans to focus on being our Congressman. Clearly, the answer is no,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction and U.S. House candidate Denise Juneau. “Congressman Zinke has become a Washington insider who is more focused on helping special interests and boosting his own image, than representing our state.”

OKLAHOMA Republican Markwayne Mullin, a member of the Cherokee Nation, has a new primary challenge. Jarrin Jackson, a combat veteran with service in Afghanistan, announced his candidacy for the state’s 2nd Congressional District. “In Washington, politicians like Mr. Mullin … make decisions through the political lens of how it affects them personally, with complete disregard that their vote and back room dealings have devastating effects on our economy and national security.”

EVERY MONDAY Washington Congressional candidate Joe Pakootas will “spotlight” legislation that he disagrees about with his opponent, Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The first posts was about Rep. McMorris Rodgers’ opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act. Pakootas wrote: “Among the many things the bill would have done is add protections against retaliation for employees who discuss their pay at work.” He said McMorris Rodegers voted against the bill twice even though she has said current laws do not go far enough in terms of protecting workers from retaliation if they discuss pay.  The series is hash staged: #McMorrisMonday

(Previous: Seven Native candidates for Congress.)

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – California here we come; Pechanga candidate for Legislature

Andrew Masiel, Sr.
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

California is the land of superlatives. “The biggest” as in state economy. “The most” when it comes to population. And the largest number of Native Americans of any state in the country (because California has more of everything, right?).

But when it comes to electing Native Americans to state offices: Well, it’s slightly better than none.

There are a few tribal members at the city and county level: Los Angeles Council member Mitch O’Farell is a member of the Wyandotte Tribe; San Diego City Council member  (and former mayor) Todd Gloria who is Tlingit and Haida; and San Bernadino County Supervisor James Ramos who is the former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.

There may be a few other names (let me know, please) but my point is that the list is awfully short. Call it the California Paradox: The Census says there nearly 700,000 Native Americans in the state, probably an inflated number, but that also includes 109 federally-recognized tribes. So then there is that superlative thing: California also has 37 million people making it difficult for any small group of people to win office. Even in a state that is now majority-minority.

So the California Legislature has zero Native American representation.

Andrew Masiel, Sr., a former member of the Pechanga Tribal Council, and chair of the California Democrat’s Native American Caucus, is trying to change that. He is running for the Assembly in District 75 that includes the Pechanga Reservation and Temecula.  The California primary is June 7, but Masiel has already been endorsed by the San Diego Country Democrats and will likely face an incumbent, Republican Marie Waldron, in the general election.

“Andrew Masiel has devoted more than 25 years of his life to serving California tribal governments, accumulating extensive experience in tribal economic development and financing for tribal government projects,”  according to the California Native American Caucus page. 

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 – Deborah Parker named to Democrat’s platform committee

  Deborah Parker speaking at a Senate press conference about the Violence Against Women Act. (YouTube photo)


First the news. Then the context. 

The news is that Deborah Parker has been named to the Democratic National Convention’s Platform Committee. That’s both remarkable and important. She was  appointed by Bernie Sanders. 

As Nicole Willis posted on Facebook: “I am beyond pleased that American Indian and Alaska Native issues are such a high priority for this campaign– so much that one of our platform spots has gone to Deborah Parker!” (Willis is the National Tribal Outreach Director for the Sanders’ campaign.)

Now the context. 

Every four years political parties craft carefully worded statements.  They outline exactly what the party hopes to achieve over the next four years should they win the White House and Congress. These are aspirational documents, not a governing document or political legislation. 

So the way it works is that usually the party’s nominee selects the platform committee. That’s exactly what will happen on the Republican side as Donald Trump will start to put his stamp on the Republicans campaign.

But the Democrats are not there yet. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a sizable lead, but not quite enough delegates to win. And Bernie Sanders is in that tough spot of trying to catch up to Clinton with fewer and fewer delegates up for grabs. When there is no nominee, usually, the party appoints the convention committee posts. 

On Monday the party picked another route. Clinton was awarded 6 seats; Sanders 5; and the remaining 4 will be appointed by the party itself. 

Politico call this a “concession” to Sanders because his supporters will be able to influence the party to be more progressive on a range of issues, such as a higher minimum wage. 

Parker, a former vice chairman of the Tulalip Tribes in Washington, was an early supporter of Sanders. Parker has much to offer any platform committee. First, she understands and can communicate the relationship between tribes and the federal government and what might be possible in terms of improvement. Second, Parker was a critical voice in the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act. She adds expertise and credibility.

Four years ago, the Democratic Party Platform included this section on Tribal Sovereignty:

American Indian and Alaska Native tribes are sovereign self-governing communities, with a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States. President Obama and Democrats in Congress, working with tribes, have taken unprecedented steps to resolve long-standing conflicts, finally coming to a resolution on litigation—some dating back nearly 100 years—related to management of Indian trust resources, administration of loan programs, and water rights. 

The President worked with Democrats to pass the HEARTH Act to promote greater tribal self- determination and create jobs in Indian Country. The Affordable Care Act permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act to improve care for Native Americans. Democrats enacted the Tribal Law and Order Act, support expansion of the Violence Against Women Act to include greater protection for women on tribal lands, and oppose versions of the Violence Against Women Act that do not include these critical provisions. We will continue to honor our treaty and trust obligations and respect cultural rights, including greater support for American Indian and Alaska Native languages. Democrats support maximizing tribal self-governance, including efforts for self-determination and sovereignty of Native Hawaiians.

In addition to Parker, other members of the Democratic Platform Commitee:

Bernie Sanders’ appointments:

* Dr. Cornell West;

* Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota);

*Bill McKibben (Author, expert on climate change);

* James Zogby (Arab American Institute)

Hillary Clinton’s appointments:

*Ambassador Wendy Sherman;

*Neera Tanden (Center for American Progress);

*Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Ohio State);

*Carol Browner (Former EPA head);

*Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois);

*Paul Booth (union leader);

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, who has endorsed Clinton, will head the committee. The DNC also named Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California; Former Rep. Howard Berman, and a former CEO, Bonnie Schaefer.
— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – Paulette Jordan takes a step toward re-election in Idaho

Rep. Jordan meets with a constituent at an Idaho event. (Photo via Facebook)

Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan quietly won her primary election this week, the next step in her re-election bid.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their vote of confidence in the primary election,” Jordan posted on Facebook.  “It is a privilege to represent you and continue the good work on behalf of our legislative district and state. Now onto the general election in November!”

Jordan’s track record is impressive. She first ran for the House seat in 2012, lost, and then came right back and won two years later. She did this in an “off cycle” election (a non-presidential year) when Democrats usually fall short because turn out is so much lighter. 

This November Northern Idaho voters will have clear choice. Idaho is one of the most Republican states in the country and that creates an odd dynamic where Republicans battle with each other to show who is more conservative. Already this year two Republicans were eager to challenge Jordan ( Carl Berglund won the contested primary) running on a platform of the Republican Liberty Caucus. That same group gave Jordan an “F” rating. One example of Berglund’s views is on public lands. He recently posted on Facebook that the US Forest Service mismanages it’s timber costing Idaho jobs. 

That’s a sharp contrast with Jordan. 

In an interview with The Boise Weekly she said:

 “You want to see things grow and get better. You want to see improvements amongst your people. When you’re connected to my land, you’re connected to my belief that I want to see your life get better. Tribes all across the board have that general understanding and mentality.”

Jordan presents Latah and Benewah counties in the legislature. Latah County is home to the Univerisity of Idaho and the Couer d’Alene Reservation is situated in Benewah.

We should be clear about it means when Paulette Jordan wins in Idaho: The right candidate can win anywhere. Even in a deep, deep red state. 

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – Denise Juneau’s video tour of Montana’s tribes


Denise Juneau has been on the road in her bid for Congress. And her video log captures the beauty and the spirit of Montana’s tribal communities.

“I recently visited Montana’s seven Indian reservations and spoke with members of all 12 tribes,” Juneau posted on her Facebook page. “When I’m in Congress, you can count on me to fight to protect treaty rights, improve health care, housing and basic services. When I’m in Congress, all Montanans will have a voice.”

Juneau is Mandan, Hidatsa and of Blackfeet descent. She is running for Montana’s sole House seat. (Previous: “Denise Juneau: It’s really great to be here.”) Juneau has already won statewide office as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

This video represents what is so cool about our political discourse today. During the era of big media, think television, no candidate could have afforded a “commercial” directed at Native American audiences. But now you can. And it’s media that’s propelled forward when thousands of people share that message on Facebook or via other social media networks.

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – A win in Oregon; ‘We did it’


On Thursday night Tawna Sanchez posted on Facebook: “We did it, we won!” She won the primary election (and most likely the general) to represent Northeast Portland in the Legislature.

There are 90 members of the Oregon Legislature; 60 in the House and 30 in the Senate. (So if you are counting: That means Sanchez’ one seat equals 1.1111 percent or roughly equal to the Native American population in the state.)

“Over the past two decades, the Oregon Legislature has one to look less and less like the people it represents,” wrote Ian Kullgren in The Oregonian. ” State lawmakers are “overwhelmingly white — 19 percentage points whiter than the state  overall.” Exactly why this seat is so important, not just to Indian Country, but to Oregon and its future. (Previous: A record year for Native candidates?

To me it’s cool that Sanchez will represent Portland neighborhoods in the Legislature. This has long been an important urban Indian city in the Northwest. (I have fond memories of visiting the late George P. Lavatta would tell me all about why Portlandwas so important to Indian Country.)

Sanchez will be at least the second Native American to serve in the Legislature. Sanchez is Shoshone-Bannock, Ute, and Carrizo descent.  The first Natie American woman in the Oregon Legislature was Jacqueline Taylor who represented Clatsop County during the 1990s.  Taylor was a member of the Citizens Band of Potawatomi. 

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – Tawna Sanchez pulls ahead in Oregon House race

Tawna Sanchez pulls into the lead to represent Oregon’s 43rd Legislative district in Portland. (Campaign photo)

Every vote counts. Count every vote.


Tawna Sanchez is now in the lead, by a little more than one-half of one percent, in her bid for a seat in the Oregon Legislature.

The Secretary of State reported a shift in the lead after 4 pm on Wednesday after more mail-in ballots were counted; then at 7:57 pm, when a new batch was counted, that lead was confirmed.

On Facebook, Sanchez posted:  “Sorry to all of my peeps that I haven’t been giving you the play by play updates of the day. But the short version is that we are still in the middle of the closest race in Oregon – and we are winning!”

She said the county reports a batch of at least 25,000 ballots that still need to be counted and that could result in another 2,000 votes in the 43rd district. — Mark Trahant

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#NativeVote16 – Making little dollars count; roundup of Native Democratic congressional candidates

Victoria Steele on The Sam Kelley Show about her prospects for winning Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. (Facebook photo)


This week a small contribution to a political campaign is worth a lot more.

Arizona’s Victoria Steele has two donors who are matching small contributions made until Friday before midnight. “One donor will match all $25.00 donations and the other will match all $10.00 donations,” a Steele campaign news release said. “Of course, you can always donate more if you like!”

Steele is one of at least eight Native Americans who are running for Congress. She is Seneca.

I think Little Dollars — donations under $25 — ought to be one of the most important metrics for a political campaign. To me it shows support from ordinary people who are giving up a dinner out to support a candidate. (Previous: Little Dollars could turn the world of politics upside down.)

Steele opens her campaign office in Tucson this week, Thursday at 5:30 pm.


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In Montana, Denise Juneau’s campaign said it has been officially added to the “Red  to Blue” program “signaling Montana’s House seat is truly up for grabs in November.”

“Denise Juneau has a powerful personal story, impressive record serving the people and students of Montana, and experience winning statewide,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D–NM) said. “Denise is building an impressive grassroots organization and has proven that she will have the resources needed to execute a winning campaign. Denise is ready to fight on behalf of all the people of Montana in Washington, keep them safe, and ensure the economy works for everyone.”

Juneau is Mandan and Hidatsa as well as Blackfeet. Hashtag: #TeamJuneau

“The excitement and momentum for our campaign can be found in every corner of Montana,” Campaign Manager Lauren Caldwell said. “For far too long Montana’s only seat in the U.S. House has been occupied by someone working on behalf of giant corporations and special interests instead of Montana families. That will change this November when Montanans send Denise to Washington.”


Joe Pakootas (Campaign photo via Facebook) with his candidate filing papers.

In Washington, Joe Pakootas filed his candidate paperwork. He posted on Facebook this week: “It’s official. I am now a registered candidate for the 5th Congressional District in Washington State. Look for my name on your primary ballot in August!” Look for the hashtag #GoJoe

Pakootas is Colville and a former chairman of the confederated tribes. He recently wrote: “I’m running for Congress to unify our party, district, and cities. I’m humbly asking for your support this year, but it’s not just about me. It’s about you. Speak up, make your opinions known, and get involved. There’s simply too much at stake in this election to sit on the sidelines. Turnout will make the difference.”


Chase Iron Eyes

Chase Iron Eyes is out and about in North Dakota introducing himself to voters. On May 24 in Fargo he will host a meet and greet at the Dem-NPL Headquarters. Iron Eyes is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

“We’re building this campaign from the ground up. It’s going to be a tough race. But like the buffalo that stands facing an oncoming storm, North Dakota Democrats are strong and ready for a tough fight,” according to a campaign Facebook post. Follow the hashtag, #TeamIronEyes

That’s what the Democratic candidates are doing right now. My next report will look at the Republicans. — Mark Trahant

For regular #NativeVote16 updates follow trahantreports.com On Facebook.com/TrahantReports On Twitter: @TrahantReports







#NativeVote16 – Sanchez falls short in Oregon House race

** There is an update to this story. See new post. ***

Election night gathering for supporters of Tawna Sanchez. (Campaign photo via Facebook).


Tanwa Sanchez is a couple hundred votes short in her bid to win office as an Oregon state legislator. According to the Secretary of State’s unofficial returns, Sanchez trails Roberta Phillip-Robbins in Northeast Portland’s House District 43.

Sanchez, Shoshone-Bannock, received 6,460 votes to Phillip-Robbins’ 6,643 votes. Two other challengers picked up 358 votes. (Previous: A record year for native candidates.)

House District 43: Source: Oregon Secretary of State; 100 percent of ballots counted.

Tawna Sanchez 6,460 47.99%
Roberta Phillip-Robbins 6,643 49.35%
Robert E Andrews Jr 309 2.30%
Write-in Votes 49 0.36%


This race had a few twists in its final weeks. The apparent winner, Phillips-Robbins, was working as a county employee who was funded by a federal contract when she first ran for the post (and, more important, raised money for her campaign).

According to a piece in Willamette Week: “Phillip-Robbins’ resignation from her county job might have satisfied the federal Office of Special Counsel, which prosecutes Hatch Act violations and in similar cases has pushed candidates to choose between their jobs and their political aspirations. But Sean Cruz, a Portland writer and former legislative staffer, is not placated. On May 9, Cruz, who has endorsed Tawna Sanchez, Phillip-Robbins’ opponent, filed a complaint with the secretary of state’s elections division.”

Phillips-Robbins said once she was informed about the violation, she resigned her job, ending the Hatch Act violation.

Oregon election officials have yet to weigh in on the complaint by Cruz.

I will post updates as they become available. — Mark Trahant