#NativeVote16 – Graphic look at Native candidates for state legislatures

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What does the election landscape look like? This. I am also updating the spreedsheet that lists all of these candidates. I will post as soon as I have confirmed a couple of races. — Mark Trahant



#NativeVote16 – Paul Ryan’s call for Indian health ‘choices’ would be a disaster

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Every once in a while an idea is floated that’s so bad, you wonder, “what were they thinking?”  Or smoking? 

Today is such a day.

A little background: Elections are supposed to be how a democracy resolves a contentious issue. The United States was — and is — divided over health care policy. So eight years ago Barack Obama ran on a platform calling for major health care reform. He won. Six years ago he was able to get the Affordable Care Act through the Congress, barely, and that became the law of the land.

The Indian Health Care Improvement Act is a full chapter of the Affordable Care Act.

But Republicans never bought into the premise (even though it was an idea similar to one from a conservative think tank) and have promised over and over to repeal and replace the law with their own plan. That really never happened either because there was no consensus among Republicans about what health care reform ought to look like.

Wednesday House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled the Republican health care alternative as part of his “a better way” agenda. The plan ends the mandidate requiring individuals to buy insurance as well as many of the penalties. But the plan is not a specific piece of legislation, more of a general notion of what Republicans would like to do to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Ryan said his goal is “to show the country a better way on the big issues of the day that can get into law in 2017 with a Republican president.”

So I was eager to see what ideas this proposal has for the Indian health system. If elected, what would Republicans do to improve the delivery of health care on reservations and in urban areas? After all in recent weeks the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, chaired by a physician, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, has held hearings on the Indian Health Service. The first proposal, Senate bill 2953, is supposed to improve accountability. “As a doctor, I know that real quality healthcare is about putting the patient first,” Barrasso said. “This is the mentality we need to see at every level of the Indian Health Service.”

Uh. Ok. But what about Congress? The mentality of Congress is that it has never considered a single proposal to fully-fund Indian health. What does full-funding look like? To me it would at least equal the per person cost for federal employees. But whatever the number we know that the Indian health system needs more dollars.

So that’s where the Affordable Care Act fits in. The law was not perfect but it opened up new channels of funding by expanding Medicaid for eligible patients. It also funded individual patients’ insurance plans through private markets. And, on top of that, required tribes to purchase insurance as employers. Ideally, over time, the Afforable Care Act makes it possible for the IHS to earn significantly more from third-party pay. (And, if patients don’t like their service, they could take their insurance elsewhere.)

Ryan’s alternative does not really mention the Indian health provisions in the Affordable Care Act. But a repeal of the law, which Ryan says is necessary, would also get rid of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. 

However Ryan’s proposal does mention Indian health. The headline is “Giving Choice to American Indians.”

Instead of promising adequate funding Ryan’s plan gives the IHS “the ability to set up a system for eligible American Indians to access to care outside of the Indian Health Service facilities. Not only will this give American Indians more choice in where they receive care, it will challenge Indian health facilities to provide the best care possible to American Indians.”

Less money. That’s sure to result in better care for those who remain, right? There is also a provision to create individual Native Americans to have Health Savings Accounts. Come again. What about treaty rights? Not. So. Much.

 Damn. This is a play right out of the 1940s. The Republican complaints then were that the Bureau of Indian Affairs was responsible for poverty, horrible living conditions, and general mismanagement. The solution over the next decade was the idea of “freeing the Indians”by terminating the federal responsibility. A hundred and nine tribes were terminated, representing some 12,500 tribal members, and the end result was conditions that were far worse.

That’s exactly what will happen if the Ryan’s “choice” approach to Indian health becomes law. The word “termination” used to be toxic in Indian Country. But legislation that would destroy the Indian health system is beyond appalling.

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 – The power of ‘what if?’ Paying tribes to leave coal in the ground

A Montana coal train headed west.
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

What if? Two words that ought to be the every day language in politics. What if we tried this? What if we did that? What if we imagined?
I have been thinking a lot of “what ifs?” when it comes to coal. Coal is a paradox for several Native American communities. The United Nations says that nearly 90 percent of proven coal reserves are “unburnable” and should be left in the ground. 
Historically the industry has created good paying jobs, but now it’s in sharp decline (Mostly because of market forces, the availability of inexpensive natural gas). Yet stakeholders — workers and even a few tribes — blame the government for too many regulations. And, on the flip side, many of those working to change the energy paradigm demand that coal be left in the ground without thinking through the consequences to families who earn their living digging or shipping coal or even to the governments who rely on the revenue. Previous: The politics of leaving coal in the ground;  Investing in coal (or better a transition away from coal). 

That’s where we begin the “what if?” thinking.

What if we could leave coal in the ground? What if we could still pay tribes for that resource and workers could benefit from the inevitable transition?
Turns out there is a solution that does both. Stephen Kass, a New York attorney who works on climate issues, suggested in the Washington Post last week that the United States buy the entire coal industry and shut it down. “Although it is not possible to estimate accurately the total cost of acquiring all of the several hundred currently operating coal-fired power plants, the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the net benefits of the greenhouse-gas reductions under the Clean Power Plan at between $26 billion and $45 billion by 2030, not counting the substantial public-health savings from reducing coal plants’ toxic emissions unrelated to climate change,” Kass wrote. “Such savings should go a long way toward making it feasible for the government to purchase or condemn the plants, which are typically almost 40 years old, fully depreciated and only marginally profitable under current and foreseeable market conditions and environmental requirements. Moreover, because Plan A would compensate private owners for the market value of their plants, it would avoid conservatives’ claims of excessive regulation without compensation.”

This is the perfect time to buy the entire coal industry. Many coal companies are in bankruptcy; and across the board, prices are low.

And I would take this idea one step further. Some thirty tribes have coal resources, totaling  at least one third of Western coal, on lands from Arizona to Alaska. So the United States should pay the tribes with coal assets a significant sum to not mine their resource. 

Montana’s Crow Tribe has a reserve of at least 9 billion tons of coal. In making the case for coal, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote told InsideEnergy: “I don’t want to be dependent on the U.S. government. We have the resources, we have the manpower, we have the capability of being self-sufficient. There’s no reason why we should be this poor.”

What if that resources were purchased? True, the cost of any buy-out would be enormous. Unless the accounting included the even more massive costs associated with climate change. Then the purchase of coal to not mine should be considered as an investment not a cost.There is precedent for paying to take coal out of production. Farmers and ranchers are paid to not farm and ranch in order for the land to recover through several programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program. This would be the same. Tribes (and individual landowners) would be compensated for their resource and the coal would stay in the ground.

The international goal of reducing greenhouse gasses requires significant changes in energy policy. We need to rethink the energy paradigm across the board from oil and gas production to what it will take to jump start more green energy sources. And all of the changes ahead will be tough politically. So what if we start that effort with a win-win-win? A win for coal owners, including tribes. A win for workers. And, a win for the environment. This is how we leave coal in the ground.

So what if? 

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 – North Dakota ‘experiencing a movement’

Scott Davis is executive director of North Dakota’s Indian Affairs Commission. (State photo)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

North Dakota’s primary Tuesday was supposed to be routine: After all the Native American candidates were running unopposed in their primary races. Then last night a surprise text: “Scott Davis, Standing Rock Sioux, North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner, was elected to the city of Mandan.”

Davis led a field of four candidates with nearly 31 percent of the vote. According to The Bismarck Tribune, Davis “places a high priority on affordable housing and said there is a network of resources he is familiar with to achieve that and create a unique brand for Mandan.”

Mandan is a city of nearly 20,000 people next door to North Dakota’s capital city of Bismarck. 

Longtime educator David Gipp, who is also Standing Rock Sioux, is running for the North Dakota Senate from Mandan. Gipp is one of the founders of the United Tribes Technical College. He ran unopposed Tuesday in the primary.

(Previous: Native North Dakota.)

I have written before that the 2016 election seems like an “outsiders” election and you cannot get any more outsider than Native American candidates. That’s certainly the story in North Dakota. And across the state Native candidates were running as if they had vigorous primary opposition. Chase Iron Eyes, who’s running for the state’s only congressional seat,  posted on Facebook: “North Dakota primaries got my energy levels on max! People want new blood, new talent, new ideas. We’ve got to turn out new voters ND!” Iron Eyes is also a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. 

Ruth Buffalo, a member of Mandan Hidatsa and Arikara Tribes, is running for Insurance Commissioner. She thanked voters. “Now we move in to the general election in November!” Buffalo posted on Facebook. “I’m excited to hit the campaign trail to hear more from voters and to carry our message forward.”

A third statewide candidate, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, is running for the state’s Public Services Commission. That body, among other duties, regulates the oil and gas industry and makes decisions about such things as pipeline permits. She is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

There are at least four Native American candidates for the North Dakota legislature and one senator who is not up for election this cycle. Candidates for ND House: Cesar Alvaraz, (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Tribes) and Cheryl Ann Kary (Standing Rock Sioux). ND Senate: Steve Allard (Turtle Mountain Chippewa); Sen. Richard Marcellais (Turtle Mountain Chippewa) who is not up for election this year; and David Gipp.

Cara Currie Hall (Maskwacis Cree) a political strategist who’s in North Dakota said it all in a text last night: “We are experiencing a movement in North Dakota and bringing change to all levels of government.”

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 – Trump to speak with Navajo Nation Council? Plus more candidate bits



On Thursday Alton Joe Shepherd, Speaker pro tem of the Navajo Nation Council, announced that representatives of the Donald Trump campaign were open to a meeting with the tribe’s legislature on June 18 in Phoenix. 

Jolene Holgate, a spokesperson for the Council, said that no decision had been made about the meeting but that it would be consistent with conversations with the other presidential candidates. 

** A statement released by the Speaker Lorenzo Bates said an invitation has now been extended to the Clinton campaign. The release said the meetings were to gather information and no presidential candidate had been endorsed.

It would be a chance for Navajo leaders to learn more about the presumptive Republican nominee and what sort of policy he would put in place regarding the nation’s largest tribal nation.

I will update this story when there are more details available.

A New Mexico miss

I thought I chronicled all of the competitive races in New Mexico involving Native American legislative candidates, but I missed a big one. Former Navajo President Ben Shelly fell short in his bid to be a state representative. He was fourth out of four candidates. According to The Navajo Times: Shelly said he plans now to focus on his business. “As for future offices,” he told the Times, “I will consider them.”

Senate bid in Wisconsin

Bryan Van Stippen, an attorney who works for the HoChunk Nation, and a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, is a candidate for the Wisconsin state Senate. He is running as a Democrat in district 12, now represented by Sen. Tom Tiffany, a Republican. He had been planning a run for the lower house, but said he changed his mind because of “simple math.” If Democrats can win two Senate seats and pick up support from one more Republican they will have the power to “prevent … particularly obnoxious bills from getting out of the Legislature.”

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – Three lessons Clinton could learn from Sanders

Clinton’s big night: Winning New Jersey, South Dakota, New Mexico, California, and most likely, the nomination. (Campaign photo by Elizabeth Chen.)

And one important lesson for Indian Country

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports
There are three lessons that the Hillary Clinton campaign could learn from team Bernie Sanders. And there is one critical lesson from Clinton that could help Indian Country win more elections. 

A little background first.

I have been writing about political campaigns for forty-plus years. I’ve seen an evolution in how presidential candidates reach out to Indian Country.

Early on the connection with Indian Country was mostly seen as a constituent service. Candidates visited. Showed their face. Even said vote for me. Many even published nifty policy papers written by folks who work every day on Native issues. But there was no real connection.

My first experience with that was in 1976 at a press conference with the new President-elect Jimmy Carter. At a press conference I asked him how reserved tribal water rights would fit into a Carter water policy? He looked at me and then said that was a question for the Interior Secretary. Next.

That started to change when Jesse Jackson ran for president. I remember him walking into the Navajo Nation Council and he wasn’t just there. He was present. The response from the tribal delegates was just as real and emotional. There was a connection.

Barack Obama did Jackson one better when he campaigned on the Crow Nation in May of 2008. And that connection paid off: Obama has had one of the most successful presidencies in history and that’s especially true when it measure what has occurred in the area of Native American policy. 

Has it been a perfect eight years? Of course not. But compared to other administrations — even good ones — this has been a remarkable ride. Obama delivered on his promises. Period.

So with that history fresh in my mind I think Bernie Sanders raised the level of expectation to an even higher standard.

What made the Sanders’ campaign so remarkable is that it took what had been a special event — a visit to Crow, for example — and it made it a routine part of the campaign. When a Sanders event was near Indian Country (or better within a tribal nation) everyone from the candidate to his staff knew what to do. 

This is how campaigns should be run. It conveys a level of respect to the first people of this continent in a way that defies history.

How would this have translated into policy? That we will never know. Unless. Unless Secretary Clinton picks up the best elements of the Sanders campaign and adds something more. This is entirely possible. She does have a history in Indian Country that goes back a long time, at least as far back as her legal services work, and with the right people to help her, she could find that next level.

So here are three things I’d like to see the Clinton campaign do.

First: When campaigning in or near Indian Country make sure the protocol is public. The fact is that Clinton met with tribal leaders in Nevada and Iowa long before this election became contested. But the meetings were private. I understand that it was a nod to tribal sovereignty — and that’s important — but it does not generate a broader base of support in Indian Country. In the general election it would be smart for Clinton to not only campaign in Indian Country but to make sure that tribal leadership is part of the dialogue. (To be fair: There was some of that, but it was not communicated well.)

Second: Hire Nicole Willis. Now. The great thing about her role with the Sanders’ campaign is that she had access and authority. It may not seem like Indian Country is a big enough constituent group for such a high level post, but it’s a powerful metaphor that goes beyond politics. 

Third: Identify Native American surrogates and let them talk. At various points the Sanders campaign did this with Deborah Parker and Tara Houska. This is important because there ought to be a face from Indian Country. This has started unofficially, especially on Facebook and within tribal communities, but it ought to be a larger part of the campaign apparatus. I’d love to see Native voices arguing with a Trump surrogate on MSNBC or even Fox. Clinton has a fabulous team of advisers, but they are not public. They should be.

And finally the Clinton campaign did something last night that Indian Country should make our election cornerstone, early voting. As Harry Enten wrote for fivethirtyeight.com: “Clinton built a tremendous lead in the state from early mail-in votes, and she never relinquished it. Just after midnight, Clinton was up by 26 percentage points with over a million votes counted. By the time all the early vote was in, she was able to take that advantage up to about 400,000. That margin stayed remarkably consistent as more and more of the in-person vote was tabulated. In other words, Sanders fought Clinton to a draw among voters who cast their ballot at the polls yesterday, but the damage had been done by early voters …”

Imagine if Indian Country voters did that. No forgetting to get the polls. No last minute snags. Just votes that are banked in advance. (This can’t be done everywhere, but where it can, it’s a powerful tool.) We can do damage.

We’re going to hear a lot in the next few days about the “lesser of two evils.” I don’t like that phrase. It reminds me of a truth about writing: perfect is the enemy of good. I have disagreements with every candidate, even some passionate splits, but I also look for areas where we agree. 

It’s true that politics is about choices, but it’s also about the team of people that come together to make a candidate successful. Look at those who are hired by Clinton from Indian Country and you’ll see a wealth of talented people who are ready to govern. Especially if given the chance.

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 – One primary season ends … but most continue until September

New Mexico state Sen. Benny Shendo won his primary for re-election. He will run unopposed in November. (Photo via Facebook.)


It’s tempting to write that the primary season is over. That’s what we want, right? But the process has a long way to go. Between next week and September voters will continue to winnow down the number of candidates for the U.S. Senate, House as well as state and county offices. Even the presidential primary isn’t exactly over. DC votes next week (So I’d even like to call Tuesday’s election night the Penultimate Primary.)

That means a lot of the attention should shift from the top of the ticket to the candidates “down ballot.” (Data set: Native American congressional candidates.)

And now the news:

Denise Juneau is Montana’s Democratic nominee for Congress. The primary hints at the challenge ahead. It’s impossible to read trends from a primary, but Juneau had some 30,000 fewer votes than her opponent Rep. Ryan Zinke. What’s interesting here is not just the raw numbers, but the turnout, 44.41 percent. It’s more than a routine presidential primary, and slightly less than the exciting Democratic race in 2008. Juneau is Mandan and Hidatsa.

She posted on Facebook: “For the next 153 days, I’ll be making sure Montana voters know I’m the candidate who will fight to protect access to our cherished public lands, ensure the next generation graduates from high school prepared for success, and that all Montanans have the opportunity to build a brighter future.”

Former Rep. Frank Smith, a member of the Assiniboine-Sioux Tribes from Fort Peck, defeated Leann Montes and Bobbi Jo Favel, both Chippewa-Cree from Rocky Boy. I am fond of U.S. Highway 2 because it travels through so much of Indian Country — and this Senate district does that too (and a little more). It stretches from Rocky Boy, through Fort Belknap, on to Fort Peck. The seat had been held by Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, who reached term limits, and is now a candidate for a House seat. Smith will face Republican G. Bruce Meyers, who is Chippewa-Cree, in the general election.

Shane Morigeau won the primary to represent Missoula in the Legislature. “Many thanks to the voters of HD 95 and to everyone who has given so generously of their time and resources for yesterday’s success,” Morigeau posted on Facebook. Morigeau is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.

However former Rep. Joey Jayne lost her bid for the Montana in Arlee. She lost to Tom France. Jayne is Navajo.

In New Mexico, incumbent state Sen. Benny Shendo Jr. defeated former Rep. Sandra Jeff. Shendo is Jemez Pueblo and Jeff is Navajo. Shendo will run unopposed on the November ballot.

I will update my spreadsheet soon listing all of the Native American candidates for state legislatures. Because the primary season is not over yet.

— Mark Trahant

#NativeVote16 – It’s back to the polls in six states

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Voters will be going to the polls today in California, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and New Jersey.

Most of the attention remains focused on the presidential nomination.

Last night I was struck by the intensity of comments on my Twitter feed. #FeelTheBern is hot. Folks are mad at Hillary Clinton. The Associated Press. NBC. And, any other news organization that posts “Presumptive Nominee” in a story or video slide.

Fact is “presumptive” nominee does not mean a thing. It’s just a count of the pledged delegates and the promises made by super delegates. And, yes, it disses the people voting today but that’s pretty much true every four years in June.

We need to keep in mind that the primary process raises legitimate questions about what works — and what does not work. The process is not fair and not particularly Democratic. (I have written several pieces about election reform, latest is the screwy primary process is almost over.) The answer is to make election reform your passion. Not just the primary. But the election systems itself. There are many interesting experiments that are worth pushing forward to the next step. Politics is not just about candidates; it’s about ideas. The idea that every citizen should have a say in how we are governed is a universal and fundamental right that needs to be refreshed.

Enough soapbox. Let’s look at today’s #NativeVote16 races.

Montana. I posted this yesterday. The Montana Dozen.

North Dakota. Presidential caucuses are being held across the state. On June 14 there will be a primary election for other offices. There are three Native American candidates running for statewide office and at least three more running for legislative seats.  I’ll post next week more about that. Previous: Native North Dakota.

South Dakota. Voters today will choose legislative candidates, county commissions, and other offices. There are at least four Native American candidates on the ballot.

California. The U.S. Senate race is particularly interesting. Remember, California uses a top-two primary system, so the candidates who win first and second move on to the November ballot. Andrew Maisiel Sr. is running for state Assembly.

New Mexico. TV station KRQE made the point that the state’s primary is usually too late to matter for the presidential nomination. “But, recent visits from Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton indicate that New Mexicans’ votes could really matter.” Two Native candidates are competing for the District 22 seat, New Mexico state Sen. Benny Shendo and former Rep. Sandra Jeff. Shendo is Jemez Pueblo and Jeff is Navajo. There is no Republican on the ballot in November, so the winner of the primary will likely win the seat as well.

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 – The Montana Dozen; an idea that’s on the ballot Tuesday

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The Montana Dozen — A dozen Native Americans are on Tuesday’s ballot.  Spreadsheet here
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Let’s visualize Montana and do some math. Look at the map. Notice eleven icons each representing a Native American candidate running for the legislature. Then add to that the yellow icon for Sen. Lea Whitford (who was re-elected in 2014). And one more green pin for Denise Juneau’s congressional bid.

We’ll call them: The Montana Dozen.

Tuesday’s primary ballot is better than a map because each pin says so much about Montana. Each icon represents thousands of Native voices from reservations and urban areas. Each pin is a testimony to the value and power of the Native vote. Montana currently has eight Native Americans in the legislature; 5 in the House and 3 in the Senate.

Plus Juneau already has a statewide constituency and her campaign for Congress has “historic” anchored to any sentence. She would be the first Native American woman in Congress. She would be the second woman to ever represent Montana (after Montana sent the very first woman to Congress, Jeannette Rankin).  And she has already won statewide office as the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. Twice.

The Nation magazine profiled Juneau and her team’’s education efforts last week with a program called Schools of Promise. “Montana leads the country in innovations to help reservation high schools turn around, but is it enough?” The Nation asked.

Then, later, it answered. “Yet, even with all the caveats, the Schools of Promise program is likely the best program the country currently has for turning around native schools.”

The Nation also pointed out that the Montana Legislature failed to get enough votes to continue investing in these innovations.

And much of the legislative support for the Schools of Promise program was from the Native American Caucus in the legislature. The bill passed the House, but died in the House Appropriations Committee.

So that’s exactly why more Native American legislators are needed. A couple of more votes could have made a difference.

Then again not every American Indian politician thinks or votes the same.

Two state Senate candidates from Indian Country are running as Republicans. G. Bruce Meyers, who is Chippewa-Cree, said after his House victory two years ago that Native Americans are more conservative than people think. He told The Missoulian newspaper that many things Republicans represent, “strong family values, respect for life, responsibly developing natural resources and the economy – are things most Indians value as well.”

And a Northern Cheyenne candidate, Jason Small, is running to revive coal mining. Small was the guest of Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, at January’s State of the Union where he said: “Coal supports good-paying jobs for union workers and tribal members in eastern Montana and is a critical driver of our state’s economy. But Washington, D.C.’s out of touch regulations are hurting Montana families. It’s important that we send a strong message to President Obama that these job-killing regulations need to be stopped.”

(Previous: Investing in coal or, better, a transition away from coal)

Most of the Native American candidates are running unopposed in Tuesday’s primary election.

However in a Missoula House race, Shane Morigeau faces Curtis Bridges.

Morigeau, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, is a former prosecutor and tribal attorney. He says he is running because “I know that our great state can and should be a place of opportunity for all Montanans. We have accomplished a great deal, but there is much more work to be done. It is time for us to fully achieve equality for women, minorities, and low-income families. It is time for us to candidly face our issues in addiction, mental health, homelessness, and student debt. As an attorney who has assisted in passing legislation in 2013 and 2015, I have the skills and working relationships to hit the ground running as your state legislator in 2017.”

In Arlee, Joey Jayne, an attorney and tribal judge for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, is a former legislator, and a member of the Navajo Nation. She faces Tom France in the Democratic primary.

Montana’s Senate District 16 crosses the northern part of the state stretches across the northern part of the state, including the Powwow Highway, U.S. 12. Reservations: Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap, and Fort Peck.
And in Senate District 16 — one of the more unusual looking districts — there are four Native American candidates, Republican Myers, as well as three Democrats, Bobbi Favel, LeAnn Montes and Frank Smith. (The current senator Jonathan Windy Boy who because of term limits is running for the House.) The district stretches across much of northern Montana and will represent tribal communities from Rocky Boy to Fort Peck.

Favel is Chippewa Cree Tribe from Rocky Boy and has a background in economic development. Smith is from the other side of the district (and state) and is a member of the Assiniboine-Sioux Tribes at Fort Peck. And Montes is a tribal member and the attorney general for the Chippewa Cree.

After this election, Montana’s Native people could actually have representation equal to, or even greater, than the population. As I have written before: Indian Country has much better representation in state legislatures than Congress, about one percent compared to one-third of one percent in Congress.  And in Montana, depending on the outcome of the election Tuesday (and again in November) that percentage could top the seven percent that is the Native population of the state. Add to that the potential for Juneau to represent the entire state of Montana in Congress. That’s representation. (Previous: Say Montana .)

The math is inspiring because The Montana Dozen is not an actual number, but a powerful idea.

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 – The screwy presidential primary season is almost over

Hillary Clinton won the Virgin Island primary on Saturday. How screwy are US elections? Islanders have a vote in the primary, but not one in the general election. (Campaign photo)

Votes that count & those that don’t

Mark Trahant /TrahantReports.com

Hillary Clinton won the Virgin Island primary on Saturday. According to The Washington Post, Clinton may pick up as many as six of the seven delegates from the Virgin Island (plus the five super delegates). Sunday a similar election occurs in Puerto Rico.

But here’s the thing. Neither the Virgin Islands nor Puerto Rico get a vote for president in November. The parties open voting for the primary, but the Constitution gives neither of the two territories any electoral college votes. So this weekend is it, the people’s only chance to have a say.

Does the United States have a screwy presidential election process or what?

Puerto Rico has a slightly smaller population than Indian Country. The Virgin Islands has about 105,000 people and is significantly smaller than the Navajo or Cherokee nations. As I have pointed out: Indian Country ought to have a voice in the primary election. And the parties could make that happen now.

Then, the modern primary system makes no sense.  Especially when you add in the nonsense of a caucus (a neighborhood meeting that limits participation to those who can spend the time) or even worse a “beauty contest” where voters go to the polls and cast ballots that don’t mean anything such as in Washington state. (Previous: Another election day: Who does Indian Country back?)

Part of the problem is that today most voters are independent. Forty percent of us don’t register as a Republican or Democrat. And at the state level there are alternatives that recognize that trend and actually give independent voters more sway.

That will happen Tuesday in California. Sort of.

California’s presidential primary is old school. Voters had to pick a party and register last month in order for their votes to count. It will be too late to make that party preference choice on election day.

So many people will go to the polls expecting to vote for Bernie Sanders. Only some will find out that they are registered as “unaffiliated” or independent and cannot vote in the Democratic Party Primary unless they specifically ask for a Democratic ballot. (Then this might not be a problem because the state reports registration is breaking records. Perhaps voters understand that yes, there is paperwork required in order to vote.) For his part Sanders has raised many of the problems within the Democratic primary, such as the use of elected officials, or super delegates, in the primary process. But the problem, the breakdown, is much larger than just with the Democrats.

But in California’s Senate primary voters are allowed to pick any candidate from any party. It’s called the top-two or a jungle primary. So there are 35 candidates, including 12 Republicans, and yet it’s likely that the top two finishers in that will both be Democrats, Attorney General Kamala Harris and U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange.

The problem with the jungle primary is that Republicans will essentially be shut out from now until November, losing a voice. And any democratic system ought to be about making sure that citizens, all citizens, have a say.

One proposed reform gets rid of primaries all together and replaces them with ranked voting or Instant Runoff Voting. This system lets every candidate run during the general election, but allows voters a mechanism for second, third, and additional choices. Critics say the problem with ranked voting is that it’s confusing. Voters must make multiple decisions. But that’s not been the result after actual elections. The city of San Francisco’s instant runoff system increased both voter participation and representation from ethnic groups. (Imagine an IRV system for this presidential year: All of the Republicans who started the campaign would probably still be on the ballot. Same for the Democrats. And, for that matter, the smaller Libertarian and Green parties.)

Perhaps instant runoff is not the solution. But something must change. The United States needs experiments with election methods. There needs to be a transition away from the screwy to something else. No system will be perfect. But any reform ought to at least be fair.

Soon we will also be able to observe what happens in Canada as it begins it reform. Canada’s Liberal Party promised improving election mechanics and Parliament is supposed to consider changes as soon as this December.

The election, more than any other in recent memory, exposed the weakness about how we vote. Some ballots count. Others don’t. It’s not democratic.

And speaking of that: This Tuesday’s election is not the last primary. The District of Columbia will vote next week. And unlike the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico residents of the District do get to vote for president now and again in November. But vote for a member of Congress? Nope. It’s just one more example about how the machinery of democracy is broken.





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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