#NativeVote16 – August is a make or break month for three candidates

Joe Pakootas on the campaign trail in Washington state. (Campaign photo)

Pakootas: “Winning requires a big effort”

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

August begins with eight Native American candidates for the U.S. House and Senate. But that number is likely to shrink when the month comes to a close. Three candidates are on the ballot: Democrats Joe Pakootas (Colville) in Washington’s 5th Congressional District, Victoria Steele (Seneca) in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District; and, Republican Shawn Redd (Navajo) in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District.

The first of these primary elections is in Washington. Votes will be counted on Tuesday, Aug. 2. It’s mostly a state that votes by mail. And, it’s a state with a blanket, or a top-two primary. That means the first two candidates will go on the November ballot regardless of party. There are five candidates, two who “prefers Republicans,” two who “prefers Democrats,” including Pakootas, and a candidate who “prefers Libertarian.” (The use of “prefers” is because the parties have no way to nominate candidates in this system; so anyone can claim any label they want. This language was a compromise.)

Pakootas asked for help from his supporters by email last week: “Winning this election will require a BIG effort! I need your vote. But I also need the votes of your friends, family members, and neighbors. Statistics show that a person will be more likely to vote if they know their friend has already voted. Let’s get all our neighbors engaged in the civic process, it’s just too important to be complacent. Please don’t let someone else make this decision for you! Voting is incredibly important and worth a short conversation. All you have to do is ask one simple question: ‘Have you voted for Joe?'”

Pakootas is the former chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes and later chief executive of the tribes’ enterprises. In that job, he revived 13 money-losing tribal businesses. The University of Washington awarded him the Bradford Award, given annually to a minority businessman, for his leadership. (Previous: Six Seats Native Candidates Can Win to Flip Congress.)

Pakootas main primary opponent is Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She’s a member of the Republican House leadership team. Two years ago Pakootas unsuccessfully challenged McMorris Rodgers for the seat. In that race he was outspent by a 12:1 margin. This time around Pakootas has more resources, but not nearly enough. As of a July 13 report, McMorris Rodgers has raised more than $2.4 million to Pakootas’ $166,729. (That’s more than a 16:1 difference.) Northwest Tribes are a significant source of Pakootas’ fundraising, including his own tribe, Colville, plus Quinault, Puyallup, Spokane, Tulalip, Yakama, Jamestown S’Kallam, Swinomish, and Chehalis.

Should he win Tuesday, Pakootas will need more money for the fall campaign to be competitive with McMorris Rodgers.

And one of the issues for any Republican is how they stand on Donald Trump (so odd, I know, usually a party’s nominee already matches the philosophy of its members). McMorris Rodgers, like many elected Republicans, did not attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. However in May she endorsed Trump saying it’s essential to respect the will of Republican primary voters.

From ABC News: “Mr. Trump won millions of supporters by speaking his mind honestly; calling out the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.; and talking outside the politically correct box,” McMorris Rodgers said. “In the months ahead, he will have to earn the presidency by demonstrating that he has the temperament for the job and plans to empower every American to pursue a future of opportunity and freedom.”

Every Monday Pakootas posts about his policy differences with McMorris Rodgers with the hashtag, #McMorrisMonday. Recently he wrote: “We must not forget that OUR Representative has endorsed Donald Trump. We’ve all heard the racist, misogynistic, prejudice, hateful, uneducated, and fear-mongering comments that Donald Trump has made. My opponent must now navigate within a culture that perpetuates and even promotes this behavior. She says that Donald Trump “Owes it to our country to treat everyone respectfully and to build an inclusive coalition.” How is it possible for my opponent to maintain her stated values while also supporting Mr. Trump’s toxic ideology? In light of the serious issues that our country is currently facing, do these hateful values and destructive policies really represent our District?”

Tuesday’s primary will be the first chance to see what the impact of Trump might be on races other than the presidential contest.

Democrat Victoria Steele makes a pitch to a voter in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.  The primary is Aug. 30 and absentee ballots will go out in the mail this week. (Photo via campaign’s Facebook page.)

Trump Effect could propel Steele to Congress (if she has money)

The Trump Effect might be even more important to Arizona’s Victoria Steele.

Her opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, is a Republican who will not endorse Trump. She told The Tucson Weekly: “I have never endorsed a politician in my life and I’m not going to start now, so you can ask me for the next three and a half months, but it’s not happening. “Who we each vote for is our responsibility as a citizen and a voter and, in that role, have a vote just like you have a vote and I personally believe that is between me, God and the ballot box.”

Steele said that it took McSally half a year to reach that conclusion. “When he mocked and mimicked a disabled man – she looked the other way,” Steele said in a news release. “When he accused Mexican people of being rapists and murders – she looked the other way. When he made fun of prominent women for having menstrual period or being disgusted for using the restroom – she looked the other way.”

Steele said the incumbent could not “summon the courage to stand up for people that Trump attacks.”

However when it comes to money McSally is close to the top of the list. She’s raised $5.6 million so far compared to Steele’s $195,708. Even more important, at least this month, Steele trails Democrat Matt Heinz in the money race. He’s raised $815,974.

Unlike Pakootas, Steele has not had significant support from tribes or tribal enterprises. Sixty percent of her fundraising is from individual donors, often in small amounts of $25 or $50.

So why are tribes not investing in a Steele candidacy? Unfortunately too many tribes and tribal enterprises do politics the same way as other “special interest groups.” That means investing in candidates who are already elected or likely to win. Investing in our own is not good politics. Or so they tell me. The only way Steele can get the money to be competitive especially in the next 30 days is for individual tribal members to step up and contribute or better a few tribes. (Previous: The Hidden History of Why Native Americans Lose Elections.)

The case for Steele is clear. What we need in Congress is a “caucus” that is made up of Native people, similar to the Congressional Black Caucus. (There is a Native American caucus now, but it’s more of an interest group rather than an indigenous network.) The only way that’s going to happen is for people to rally around Native candidates when they run. Perhaps it’s not good business, at least in the way that modern campaigns operate, but it is the right thing to do when you believe that Indian Country needs more voices in Congress.

There is another reason to back Steele in this election: Donald Trump. Her district may be only about 2 percent Native American, but the fastest growing group are Latinos. The group, One Arizona is hoping that Latino registration will top one million in the state before election day. Pew Research says the Arizona 2nd Congressional District says eligible Latino voters are nearly 22 percent of the population. That alone is enough to change the outcome of a race that was won by less than a thousand votes out of 220,000 cast.

Republican Shawn Redd campaigning in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. (Campaign photo via Facebook)

Demographics challenge for a Navajo Republican

Navajo candidate Shawn Redd has raised only $23,549 and is running in a crowded Republican primary. State Sen. Carlyle Begay dropped out of that race in late June.

Redd’s biggest challenge is running as a a self-described conservative Republican when most Navajos are Democrats. In order to vote in the Arizona primary, voters either have to register as Republicans or be unaffiliated.

Arizona’s first congressional seat has the most Native American voters of any district in the country.

Redd, for his part, is not running away from Trump. He recently posted on Facebook support of his party’s nominee. “Elizabeth Warren is a Fraud and Trump has every right to say it! The NY Times didn’t like me telling them that and cut the interview short. I feel strongly about this issue and was glad to voice my opinion to the liberal media even if they didn’t print much of it! Real Native American Women deserve the opportunities given to Sen. Warren that she felt her high cheek bones entitled her to! ‪#‎VoteRedd‬ ‪#‎Trump‬.”

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 – What’s at stake for Indian Country in this election (graphic)

#NativeVote16 – The sky’s the limit for daughters everywhere

“Hillary Clinton you accepted and my Granddaughter said take a pic and post it,” a Tweet from Margo Gray. Kori Eagleman later sat down and wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton. (Photo via Twitter)


Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of the Democratic Party’s nomination for president sent a message that traveled far beyond the convention hall in Philadelphia. It was  a story told in hundreds of tweets from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and those who make up a larger American family. So many beautiful tweets that showed a daughter watching television at the moment Clinton walked on stage.

One second, one idea, one moment, that said so much about what’s possible.

A tweet from Margo Gray (Osage): “@HillaryClinton you accepted and my Granddaughter said take a pic and post it to her.” That she did. The world knows. Indian Country knows.

It was like that across my twitter feed. Many fathers in tears, crying about what their daughters might do. It meant so much, so many said, to see their daughter’s face and excitement for the first female presidential nominee. Emotional retweets.

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Clinton said. A line we all knew to be true.

A family story that started with an introduction from her daughter, Chelsea. “I’m here as a proud American, a proud Democrat, a proud mother and, tonight in particular, a very, very proud daughter.” Later, Clinton paid a tribute to her mother. “My mother, Dorothy, was abandoned by her parents as a young girl. She ended up on her own at 14, working as a house maid. She was saved by the kindness of others.”

As the tweets rolled past: I thought about Wilma Mankiller. She was fond about telling a story about the first treaty negotiations between the Cherokee Tribe and the United States. One of the first questions: “Where are your women?”

Mankiller said it was common for Cherokee women to be included in ceremonies and negotiations and it was inconceivable that the United States would come to a negotiation alone. How can you negotiate anything with only half your people or half a way of thinking?

“Where are your women?” That question has a new meaning when 14 United States senators told their stories at the convention. One of those women, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, was the first woman elected to the Senate. Then she went on to be the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. She was elected in 1986. The story of women in Congress parallels that of Native Americans running for and winning office across the country. First one person wins, then another, then another, and so on. “Where are your women?” is a question with a different answer every election. In state legislatures, Congress, and soon, possibly, the White House. Where are your women? Running governments.

A young man once asked Mankiller what he should call her. She was then principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and twice elected as the leader of some 200,000 people. But this young man was uncomfortable with what he called a “male” term. “Should we address you as chieftainess?” he asked. Mankiller didn’t say a word. Then, after hearing the suggestion “chief ette,” she responded. “I told him to call me `Ms.-Chief’ or `misChief.’ ”

And so it goes for a would-be Madame President. Her acceptance speech included plenty of policy — and that will be the subject of many posts going forward. But first, we need to think about the barrier that was lifted. Indeed, one of the subtexts from the Democratic Convention was about protestors who dismissed Clinton as the status quo. Perhaps in some ways. But in other ways, no. Because there is so much mischief possible in a world without ceilings.

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 – A letter to the first Native American president

Minn. Rep. Peggy Flanagan. (Ojibwe) speaking ar the Democratic Convention. (C-SPAN)


For those not near C-SPAN, Rep Peggy Flanagan (Ojibwe) speaking at DNC this afternoon. #NativeVote16 Video is here.

Short but eloquent. She read a letter to her future president daughter about the challenges and the promises found in politics & organizing.

“I am a proud citizen of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe,” she said. “Politics is not always fun. Sometimes you run into some pretty mean people who don’t like you for simply being you. Like that naughty guy Donald Trump on TV. The one who says all those nasty things about women. And about Native Americans like us. I’m so sorry you have to hear that, my girl, your name is not Pocahontas. .. Despite everything that’s happened to our people, and no matter what Donald Trump said, we are still here.”

She said she wanted her daughter to grow up “our people’s values, honoring our elders, showing gratitude to our warriors, cherishing our children as gifts from the creator.”

That means having a president who shares those same values and “that’s why we have a Hillary sign on our front lawn. We can trust her to keep our women safe, our veterans well cared for, and keep the promises that the UNited States has made to our tribes.”

Flanagan told her daughter that Clinton, “like your mommy,” worked at the Children’s’ Defense Fund and then later ran for office. “And the bullies did not like that at all, but Hillary did not let them stop her. She never lets bullies stop her and neither should you.”

“You can’t run to be the first Native American president until you are 35,” Flanagan said. “But you can come knock on doors for Hillary with me this fall. I’ll be so so proud to bring you with me to vote for her on Nov. 8. And someday, I’ll vote for you.”

#NativeVote16 – The story is far from over: What’s next for Bernie Sanders?

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Vermont casts 22 votes for its senator, Bernie Sanders. A minute later, Sanders asks the rules be suspended and that Hillary Clinton be nominated by acclamation. And so the Bernie Sanders’ chapter comes to an end. The question is, “what’s next?”

Let’s explore this from a couple of different points of view.

What’s Sanders’ story going to be? What’s he going to do to advance causes that are progressive? And, more important for my readers, what will he do to improve life in Indian Country?

It’s interesting to explore what happens to senators after they run for president. Most disappear. Some fifty senators have run and lost (only Obama has won the office in recent times) so the “what’s next?” question is actually the norm.

One candidate who came up short was George McGovern from South Dakota. His landslide loss to Richard Nixon did not define his legacy because he recruited so many young people to his cause. Bill Clinton is a beneficiary of the McGovern campaign. McGovern, like Sanders, was not particularly interested in Native American issues before his presidential campaign. But in 1972 campaign McGovern called for the complete restructuring of the Bureau of Indian Affairs either as a White House program or as a cabinet-level agency.

Ted Kennedy is a another example of how someone can build a progressive legacy after his failed White House bid. “Freed at last of the expectation that he should and would seek the White House, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself fully to his day job in the Senate, where he had already led the fight for the 18-year-old vote, the abolition of the draft, deregulation of the airline and trucking industries, and the post-Watergate campaign finance legislation,” The New York Times wrote in his obituary. “In the years after his failed White House bid, Mr. Kennedy also established himself as someone who made “lawmaker” mean more than a word used in headlines to describe any member of Congress.”

Imagine what Sanders the “lawmaker” could do. He could be the architect for many new initiatives, better Indian health or education funding, or, basically taking the best of the Democratic Party Platform and making is so. This is what he told Deborah Parker on a live Facebook feed this afternoon: “We are very proud of the work that Deborah as done (writing the platform) … and we will make sure that the language is implemented.”

It’s clear that Sanders travels to Indian Country changed him. His observations and experiences are bound to stir reform. As Jane Sanders also told Parker today: “He didn’t win the presidency, but he’s a senator.” And now, perhaps, a lawmaker. A lawmaker that will be most effective if he has an ally in the White House.

There is one more thing I would like to see Sanders do: Invest his time and considerable fundraising ability in helping elect five Native American Democrats to Congress. He could especially make a difference in the next few days by raising money for Victoria Steele in Arizona and Joe Pakootas in Washington state. These two candidates have primary elections in August. Both would make great members of Congress (and allies for any Sanders’ legislative agenda).

Ideally Congress is only the start. What about a Sanders’ grassroots movement that supports Native progressive candidates for legislatures, county commissions, and city governments.

What about Sanders’ supporters? (Some of whom continue to maintain they will never support Hillary Clinton. Several are even posting how disgusted they are with Sanders for giving up too easily.) So the options are: Don’t vote in November; vote for Donald J. Trump; vote for a third party candidate; or vote for Clinton.

Staying home and voting for Trump are essentially the same option. A Trump presidency is not the same as Clinton.

Three stark differences:

* Clinton would tip the scales toward climate action; Trump would favor oil, gas and coal.
* Clinton would boost Indian health programs and Medicaid expansion; Trump promises repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
* She would build on the legacy of President Obama; Trump promises a rollback of the past eight years which he calls a failure.

On top of all that: There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and conservatives would be eager to reshape abortion law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and tribal jurisdiction.

What about voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party or the Gary Johnson-Bill Weld Libertarian Ticket?

Philosophically that makes a lot of sense. I’d really like to see third parties be included in the presidential debates and the national conversation. This country ought to have more than two governing parties. But how do you get there and how does it impact the prospect of a Trump presidency? The fact is only two parties are at present competitive. It’s a wild card vote. In some states, say, Montana, or Utah, it could help Clinton pull off a surprise win. But in Florida or other swing states it’s really an unknown about where the votes would come from (Trump or Clinton). Down the road this is one of those structural electoral problems we need to fix. Our vote should count if we go Green. But not in 2016.

Sanders said as much today. He’s quoted in The Washington Post saying, “If we were in Europe right now, in Germany or elsewhere, the idea of coalition politics of different parties coming together — you’ve got a left party, you’ve got a center-left party, coming together against the center-right party. That’s not unusual. That happens every day. We don’t have that. We have and have had [two parties] for a very long period of time — and I know a little bit about this, as the longest serving independent member of Congress.”

Will  the people who followed Sanders do that once again. Most will. Some won’t. (My first question to those who say, #neverhillary is where do you live? In some states you really do have a free vote. But in a swing state? No.)

So there the Democrats have a nominee — and it’s not Bernie Sanders. Yet he has chapters to add to his story.

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 – Trump’s metaphor: I will break treaties

The Republican National Convention in Cleveland. (Photo via C-Span)
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Donald J. Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president Thursday. “Here, at our convention, there will be no lies,” he said. “We will honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else.”

And one of those truths: An extrordinary promise to break treaties. That’s the haunting metaphor from Trump’s speech.

“I have made billions of dollars in business making deals – now I’m going to make our country rich again. I am going to turn our bad trade agreements into great ones,” Trump said. “America has lost nearly-one third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, following the enactment of disastrous trade deals supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton.”

The merits of the North America Free Trade Agreement are worth debating. But it is an international agreement signed by three nations. Trump says Bill Clinton signed one of the “worst economic deals ever made by our country.” So if that’s true, why would Mexico and Canada renegotiate? Or would Trump just walk away and break the word of the United States?

That’s exactly what he said he would do.

“Our horrible trade agreements with China and many others, will be totally renegotiated,” Trump said. “That includes renegotiating NAFTA to get a much better deal for America – and we’ll walk away if we don’t get the deal that we want.”

This was one of Trump’s themes: A promise to break the word of the United States. 

He said he would nix the international pact with Iran, signed by six nations. In the past he’s promised to cancel the Paris climate accords. 

Ah, but these are just “agreements” not treaties. Yet on Thursday Trump promised that, too. Regarding the North Atlantic Treaty Organiztion, Trump said: “Recently I have said that NATO was obsolete, because it did not properly cover terror, and also, that many of the member countries were not paying their fair share. As usual, the United States has been picking up the cost.”

Every Constitution-loving American should be offended; Treaties are the Supreme Law of the Land. They cannot be tossed aside because terrorism is scary or because the United States borrows more money than it should. 

One irony from Trump’s speech is that he promised to be the law and order candidate. Yet law and order is impossible without the rule of law, even international law.

Across the country tribes celebrate Treaty Days. It’s a community recognition of the deal made between First Nations and the United States. While it’s true that the United States has failed in so many ways, these documents remain viable because it’s still possible that the United States will step up. But if the president of the United States views treaties, indeed, any agreement, as an ongoing, permanent negotiation, then that entire premise makes no sense.

There will be no treaties. Only the Art of the Steal.

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 – Three words that exposed the Republican divide 

Ted Cruz (photo by Gage Skidmire, Creative Commons)
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports
Three explosive words: Vote your conscience.
And in one phrase Ted Cruz ended any pretense of Republican Party unity. He gave permission to his supporters to vote for someone other than GOP nominee Donald J. Trump.

“Don’t stay home in November,” he said. “Stand and speak and vote your conscience.

Cruz exposed a deep divide in the Republican Party, one that’s been festering for decades.

The last time something like this happened was in 1976 when Republican delegates tried to replace a sitting president, Gerald Ford, with a conservative, Ronald Reagan. The split was deep enough that many at the time predicted the Republican Party would disappear like the Whig Party. 

Only there was no place to go. So conservative Republicans and the more establishment Republicans stuck together and figured out how to cooperate. What complicates this story now is that Donald Trump is from neither camp. He’s not an ideological conservative. And he’s certainly not establishment. He’s Donald Trump. Period. He gives voice to people who think politics and governance has failed them. If you need a label, the Tea Party works as well as anything.

This uneasy, three-way Republican coalition survived for so long because there was no where else to go. The Tea Party didn’t want to create a new entity. They took over the party. Establishment Republicans figured they had better go along because, well, the most important thing is winning elections (and a nod to party unity). But Ted Cruz represents a conservative bloc that rejects working in a coalition. 

This three-way Republican division is now exposed and it has all sorts of election ramifications. (Hillary Clinton’s team was quick to spot its meaning. Her official tweet said: Vote your conscience.”)

Cruz would like to see his Trump rebuke as a Reagan-like moment. Reagan lost at the convention to Ford in 1976 but that was the beginning of his 1980 campaign that did win the White House. But what was when voters had only two choices.

But I think “vote your conscience” gave Cruz supporters (and other true believers) permission to abandon the Republican Party and vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson. This is what’s different in 2016. Voters have an alternative. The Libertarians are on every ballot (the Green Party so far is only on 22 state ballots.) And unlike the craziness that surrounds the Trump Republican Party, Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld, both have experience actually governing in New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Johnson addressed the Republican split in a recent essay in Politico. “We provide an honest, principled and sane alternative to the madness that we see in two so-called mainstream political parties … Americans are tired of games. They want and deserve simple, straightforward and good government — not overwrought theatrics and demagoguery.”

Three things to think about going forward: First, The magic number for Johnson and Weld is 15 percent. If the Libertarian candidates reach that number in polls they will participate in the presidential debates (Ross Perot was the last third-party candidate to reach that threshold.) Second, will any major Republican leaders defect to the Libertarians. The most likely prospects are former candidates Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush. Third, will Libertarian down-ballot candidates pick up steam and be competitive? That will determine if the party is ready to absorb former Republicans and be more than a protest vote. (I would also like to know if the Libertarians have support from any tribal leaders. Is there a committee, any familiar names? Johnson does have a track record and had support from tribes.)
Trump’s Republican Convention is a failure. Instead of talking about issues (or even the ticket) people are talking about speech missteps and a prime time rebuke. At least we know there was no script. No one could make this stuff up.

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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