#NativeVote16 – Headline of the day? ‘Native vote tips the Electoral College’

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Interactive version of this graphic is here.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Over the years I have joked about Indian Country being included in the Electoral College. Each tribal nation should have a vote and a say about the next president of the United States. (Of course it would have to be a much larger college. But in a country of 323 million that would make a lot of sense). Plus it would be so cool to hear the reading of votes from tribal nations.

While that’s fun to think about, the way the 2016 election map is starting to take shape, and Native American voters could actually help deliver as many as 50 electoral votes out of the  538 total. That’s because six states with a significant Native population are also close enough where every vote could be the difference.

Those states on my list: Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Let’s look at the numbers.

A look at the polls shows a tight race (again). The Real Clear Politics average of polls has a Hillary Clinton lead of 1.7 percent, 47.2 percent to 45.5 percent for Donald Trump. That shows that more Republicans sticking with Trump despite what would be disqualifications in any other election year. Paul Ryan’s statement captured that discomfort perfectly on Tuesday when he said, “I already voted for our nominee.” There is no name is needed in that sentence.

But in any election what matters is who votes.

According to the U.S. Election Project more than 28 million people have already done so. And, as I have written before, one number that I am interested in comes from the three states that break down returned ballots by gender. Women, so far, have cast 56 percent of the ballots in those states, up from 53 percent from four years ago. (African Americans, on the other hand, have turned in fewer ballots than when Barack Obama was a candidate.)

North Carolina has 15 electoral votes. The Census Bureau reports that 122,000 people consider themselves American Indian and 184,000 alone and in combination with other races.

The Elon University Poll shows North Carolina in a statistical tie. “Among likely voters, Clinton has 42 percent of the vote while Trump has 41.2 percent, with 8.7 percent saying they are still undecided in the race,” the poll showed.

The poll also showed that the gender gap is shrinking, with 55 percent of women voters planning to vote for Clinton, compared to 61 percent during the second Elon Poll nearly a month ago. Men continue to prefer Trump by a 56-44 split.

“North Carolina is still very much in play for both Trump and Clinton,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and assistant professor of political science. “The Old North State is continuing its tradition as a source of true toss-up electoral votes.”

One thing I like about the Elon Poll is that it publishes cross tabs. Most of the demographic breakdown was limited to white and black. But thirty-nine people in the poll identified themselves as “other,” at about 5.5 percent of those surveyed, but it wasn’t a big enough pool to get a sense of what the “other” is thinking.

Wisconsin polls have consistently showed a Clinton lead in the state. A recent one by Remington Research Group pegs Clinton at 46 percent, Trump at 42 percent, Gary Johnson at 4 percent, someone else at 3 percent, and 5 percent undecided. The Remington poll includes whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and the “other” in that poll is 4 percent.

Trump campaigned in Wisconsin this week and has plans to return again.

The Native vote program has been growing in the state. The Native Vote program, a partnership with Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Institute and tribes in the state, saw turnout increase by one percent in 2012 from 2008. “But on the reservations we saw 2 percent, 6 percent, and even 14 percent increases,” the Native Vote program reported. “The Menominee reservation even reached an astounding 90 percent voter turnout, and the Lac du Flambeau and Menominee newspapers announced that they had record turnout levels.”

Polls in Nevada also reflect a dead-heat. (The average of polls show Trump with a one-half point lead.) Two Nevada tribes were successful in getting a federal court order for early voting locations and Friday nine more tribes asked for additional polling locations, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. The filing said some tribal members in remote communities had to drive 275 miles roundtrip to cast a ballot. Native Americans are about 1.6 percent of the state. But even a small percentage is important in a state that’s tied.

Arizona and New Mexico are on different paths. Both have a long tradition where the Native Vote has impacted elections.

The Secretary of State in New Mexico publishes a list of Native American precincts, detailing where the Native vote has the most numbers. But there remains a significant gap between registered voters and those who actually turnout. In 2014, some 66,000 people were registered to vote while only 26,000 cast ballots.

New Mexico, like Wisconsin, is a state where Clinton has lead for a long time, but that Trump is trying to make competitive. One challenge for the Republican is that the state’s former governor, Gary Johnson, is polling around 7 percent. Johnson was a Republican and is now the Libertarian Party nominee.

Even in New Mexico there are no polls that include Native American voters.

Arizona is a state that Democrats would like to flip, turning a reliable Republican state into a Democratic one. If that happens the coalition will include voters from tribal nations. Clinton already has a track record here. During the primary, Navajo voters picked Clinton and challenged the narrative of Indian Country’s support for Bernie Sanders by more than 17 points. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye recently endorsed Clinton and the campaign recently said there are some 25 field organizers working to bring out Native voters.

“Tribal communities have swung a lot of elections in Arizona,” Charlie Galbraith, a member of Navajo Nation and a political adviser to both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee said in Buzz Feed last week. “In an election that will be razor thin, getting out the vote in Navajo Nation could turn the state blue.”

And now, Alaska, the wild card.

A poll by Craciun Research showed a Clinton lead of four points, 47 to 43 percent, over Trump. That’s just one poll. And it defies the state’s recent history. Still. It makes you wonder.

Two key points: The Alaska Native vote and gender.

The poll identifies Alaska Native voters by geography. It cites “the unprecedented endorsement of Clinton by the Alaska Federation of Natives board. In the rural North and Northwest regions of the State, the poll shows Clinton is beating Trump by a margin of almost 5:1, 74 percent to 15 percent.

Second: “The gender gap is at levels not experienced in the recent past with women supporting Clinton by a margin of 17 percent.”

A shout out to Craciun Research. I love that the Alaska Native vote is measured. Would it be so across the land.

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 – Younger voters don’t trust candidates or the system (and thus too willing give up their own power)

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Politics as unusual. A car parked at the big camp at Standing Rock. Voters, especially younger voters, are not happy with their presidential options in 2016. But if young voters don’t turnout, that could be as important as actually casting a ballot. (Trahant photo)

Will Standing Rock stir younger Native voters?

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Will young people vote in 2016? And, more important, at least for our purposes, how about the younger generation of American Indians and Alaska Natives?

Let’s explore the first question.

Younger voters are perplexing. They are, or should be, the largest group voters, some 75 million. And the data shows they are far more likely to vote for Democrats than other generations. Except there is an “except.” Young voters are less likely to vote.

In 2008 they were a key constituent bloc helping to elect Barack Obama as President of the United States. In fact, in 2004, 2006, and 2008 young voters were the majority of Democratic party votes; the most supportive group. And, according to Pew Research, in 2008 some two-thirds of those under 30 voted for Barack Obama “making the disparity between young voters and other age groups larger than in any presidential election since exit polling began in 1972.”

But after 2008, well, not so much.

A report by the Census Bureau on voting patterns said: “In 2012, the voting population 45 years of age and over increased, while the number of voters 18 through 44 years old decreased. Between 1996 and 2008, there was only a single example of an age group showing a decrease in net voting from one presidential election to the next, yet in 2012 significant decreases occurred for two age groups. Younger voters 18 through 29 years of age reported a net voting decrease of about 1.8 million, while voters between the ages of 30 through 44 reported a decrease of about 1.7 million.” The bottom line: A decrease of 1.9 million voters between the ages of 30- through 44-year-olds in 2012.

votingratesThe data backs up the idea that young people were excited by Obama’s first presidential campaign. He changed the conversation. But then the hard slog of politics, the fights with Congress, the slow pace of change, and so many compromises by Obama turned off younger voters. That’s a problem that goes beyond any single candidate. How do you convince younger voters that politics and policy are more complicated than an election slogan?

Hillary Clinton has been trying to figure out younger voters. But as The New York Times pointed out this week that’s not so easy. As a group they do not watch television and “they tend not to be motivated by any single, unifying issue, making the job of messaging harder. They are declaring themselves unaffiliated with either party at a rate faster than any other generation. They say the political process and the two-party system are unresponsive to their concerns.”

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This is true in Indian Country, too. It’s reflected on Facebook where younger American Indian and Alaska Native voters equate Clinton with the establishment and do not understand why Bernie Sanders is no longer an option. For his part, Sanders has campaigned with Clinton. He wrote in The Los Angeles Times: “My supporters and I began a political revolution to transform America. That revolution continues as Hillary Clinton seeks the White House. It will continue after the election. It will continue until we create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent – a government based on the principle of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

There are even some younger Native American voters who see Donald Trump as an agent of change and worth the risk (all the while proclaiming support for Standing Rock or calling for more federal action on climate change.)

Part of the problem is that Clinton does not understand the priorities of younger voters. Recent hacked audio conversations between Clinton and high-value donors back in February explain that gap. “There’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel,” she said according to Politico.

That’s where the Standing Rock story comes into play.

Clinton has been silent about Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute. The narrative from the camps is that she doesn’t care. I suspect the real issue is that her staff sees this as another pipeline dispute similar to Keystone XL pipeline. She was not eager to weigh in on that issue either. They don’t see this as unique moment in history when all of North America’s indigenous people are speaking with one voice.

The Clinton generation, and that includes the Obama administration, cling to the idea that we can continue to drill and transport oil the same way we have been doing it for decades. They say climate change is real, but back away from the hard decisions required to limit consumption of fossil fuels. In a lot of ways they play the same “either, or” game as the extractive industry equating oil and gas production with a strong economy (and votes). But I think younger voters would understand a call to sacrifice. A Harvard study last year found that three-out-of-four see climate change as real and caused by humans.

To my way of thinking: The single best thing Clinton could do to connect with younger voters would be to visit the camps at Standing Rock, learn from what’s going on, and take a stand. The evidence for why such an approach would work with younger voters is found across social media. When there is a report of an event, a prayer, or direct action, it spreads via social media by the hundreds of thousands. Imagine what it would mean to any campaign to collect the data from likes and reactions from that potential pool of voters.

So what about younger American Indian and Alaska Native voters? As the NativeVote.Org web site reports: “The Native youth population is growing at a rate higher than the rest of the country. Native Vote in partnerships with other youth non‐profit organizations will be working to reach out to these new and future voters. Part of this effort will include the development of a youth curriculum to encourage civic engagement and get them involved and be part of making a difference in their communities.”

But those numbers remain a promise and a concern. How many will take the steps necessary to vote?

I recently wrote this about the potential voters from the camps at Standing Rock: “Many of the water protectors arrived about a month ago and say they were willing to stay as long as it takes. That means (or it could mean) that they are residents under North Dakota law and could vote in the next election. How would that work? There would have to be some mechanism in place to certify the “new residents” either by identification or more likely by affirmation. If that is done now, then people at the camps can vote in the November election because North Dakota does not require voter registration. Imagine adding 2,000, 3,000 people or more to the voter rolls in Morton County, ND. There could even be a write-in campaign for county offices (members of the county commission are currently running unopposed). This would send a message to those in office that the people at the camps are constituents, too.”

Beyond the Standing Rock camps another potential pool of voters could come from tribal colleges.

In North Dakota there are some 3,500 tribal college students enrolled across the state, including 1,500 at United Tribes Technical College.  Residential college students can vote using a campus address (or by absentee with their home address). Either way imagine a turnout goal of 90 percent.

Across the country that’s nearly 30,000 students or 27,000 voters at 90 percent.

Then a goal of 90 percent Native youth turnout, lofty as it is, could be set for colleges and universities, tribal communities, and in urban areas. This election has a loud call to action that transcends normal politics and that’s a resolution to the Standing Rock issues as well as the next White House getting more serious about climate change action.

Will younger voters show? We don’t know. But we do know this: Older voters will be there. “Presidential elections have been dominated by voters of the Baby Boom and previous generations, who are estimated to have cast a majority of the votes,” notes Pew Research Center. And that “election reign” may come to an end this November … that is only if younger voters are present.

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 – 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 – Sanders at NCAI: Real dollars to Indian Country won’t cost a lot

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President Nixon and John Ehrlichman at the Western White House in California.

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

A couple of decades ago I had a chance to interview John Ehrlichman.  He had been recently released from prison for perjury and other Watergate-related crimes. We were talking about President Nixon’s American Indian and Alaska Native policies. He talked about some of the successes, some of the challenges, and then I asked him “why?”

Why was Richard Nixon interested in Indian affairs? Ehrlichman said the usual story was because of Nixon’s coach, Wallace Newman. Then he smiled. He said another reason was the number of Native Americans was so small. He said the federal government ought to be able to use its resources to bring about real change. (He added that he also liked the idea that it would drive Democrats crazy.)

I was thinking of this moment after listening to Bernie Sanders speak to the National Congress of American Indians via YouTube. The politics of the Nixon administration and Sanders could not be more different. Yet both hit on what ought to be an absolute truth in Washington: You can spend a lot of money on Indian Country and it’s still a tiny slice of the federal pie.

“We need to commit to fully funding the Indian Health Service,” Sanders said. “As I have said in every one of our tribal meetings, the tribal population is not massive. It does not take an incredible amount of resources to meet this obligation. It only takes a president who is prepared to make it a priority.”

This might be one of the  most important statements made during the 2016 campaign. And it’s not only presidents that could benefit Sanders’ thinking.

Republicans in the House and Senate have discovered the Indian Health Service crisis in the Great Plains region. Yet not one solution has called for spending more money  (although there are proposals to reform third-party billing which could add resources). The Indian Health Service budget looks huge on paper, next year’s request is for $5.7 billion. But when you break it down per person it’s less than $2,500 (a little more for those with insurance or Medicaid). And the national average for health care spending is $8,402 per person.

In other words: If the United States “fully funded” Indian health the cost would be roughly $8.8 billion. That’s a big number, unless you consider, the federal government spends about $1 trillion a year on health care.

Bernie Sanders is right. The country should redefine its relationship with its first people. And fully-funding the promise of health care is an excellent place to start.

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 – Only three vote margin and too few signatures to run

 

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Glacier County Commissioner Michael DesRosier (Photo via Facebook)

Counting every vote (again)

TrahantReports

Every election there is new evidence that, yes, your vote does count. (This week, for example, there has been stories from voters who voted for the United Kingdom to leave Europe only because they thought their vote did not count. Whoops.)

Now a race in  Blackfeet Country is being contested over three votes.

On the night of Montana’s primary election, Glacier County Commissioner Michael DeRosier appeared to have been defeated in the primary by challenger Jamie Evans by 42 votes.

But about a week later, after 131 provisional ballots were counted, the lead changed and DeRosier appeared to have won. On Wednesday the County Commission (absent DeRosier) will witness a recount tally to see if DeRosier’s three-vote lead continues to hold. Stay tuned. — Mark Trahant

Candace Begody-Begay fails to reach ballot

Former Navajo Times editor Candace Begody-Begay failed to quality for the November ballot for the Arizona state Senate. According to The Arizona Republic: “Not only were 59 percent of her signatures invalid, she failed to appear at a Friday court hearing despite assurances to state officials that she would be there.” The newspaper said under Arizona law she cannot run as a write-in because of a “sore loser” law.

Her husband, Carlyle Begay, remains a candidate for Congress in the Republican primary. Two other Navajo candidates, Shawn Redd, also a Republican, and Kayto Sullivan, a Democrat, are seeking that congressional seat.

Begody-Begay’s problem collecting signatures highlights the very problem for any Navajo running in a Republican primary. Even with support from Navajo voters, few of those voters are registered as Republicans or as unaffiliated voters. (Previous: Can one family build a Navajo Republican party?) Begody-Begay told the Navajo Times that she could not attend the court hearing because of a family emergency. “It’s safe to say there will be very little change in our district,” she told the Times. “The voters are the ones who are going to have to live with the consequences.”

Then again it’s hard to blame someone else for the requirements of actually running a campaign, such as gathering signatures, raising money, and doing what’s necessary to be a competitive candidate. — 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.)

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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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#NativeVote16 – The screwy presidential primary season is almost over

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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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Please credit: Mark Trahant / Trahantreports.com

 

#NativeVote16 – The deep political divide on energy and climate issues

Donald Trump on the campaign trail. His “American First” energy policy promises more coal, gas, and oil production. (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

There is probably no greater divide between Republicans and Democrats than on energy and climate issues. And right in the middle: Tribal governments, Native people who work because of resource extraction, and, well, everyone who has a stake in a healthy planet.

Last week in North Dakota the Republican Party’s presumptive nominee Donald Trump outlined his “America First” energy policy, a state he said was “at the forefront of a new energy revolution.” And the evidence? “Oil and natural gas production is up significantly in the last decade. Our oil imports have been cut in half. But all this occurred in spite of massive new bureaucratic and political barriers. President Obama has done everything he can to get in the way of American energy. He’s made life much more difficult for North Dakota, as costly regulation makes it harder and harder to turn a profit.”

But it’s not just costly regulations making profits harder to come by. It’s also market forces. And that’s the part of the story that doesn’t fit neatly into a political debate. Drive across North Dakota, as I have done recently, and you will be stuck by the huge “man camps” that were built to temporarily house oil and gas workers. Many of these camps now sit empty or near empty because the jobs have dropped as fast as the price of oil. (It’s now about $50 a barrel, up from its lows, but significantly less than what oil producers predicted.) On CNBC Wednesday Bob McNally, an industry analyst, said the energy sector will rev up again “if we see crude go back to $55-$60 level we’re going to see rigs going back to work.” And even then, he added, “the real question is how quickly they can get labor back.”

As if. 

Republicans love market forces and capitalism, except when they don’t. And the production of energy is when Republicans want government power used to force land owners to allow pipelines or major projects.

Trump, for example, called for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline because it would create 42,000 jobs and be the safest pipeline every built and “would have no significant impact on the environment.”

Even if the pipeline had approval from the United States its construction is not a sure thing. The Alberta oil fields are expensive (and dirty) and capital for the project becomes more of a problem every day. That’s markets, not over regulation. Yet another pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, is sailing through most of its regulatory reviews. As soon as today Iowa could grant construction permits across that state’s farm and pasture land.

And it’s a similar story with coal. It’s not over regulation that’s wiped out coal, it’s cheaper natural gas. The only hope for that industry was to export more coal to China and that’s not going to happen because the most likely port locations are against expansion, including Northwest Treaty tribes who fear what coal dust will do to salmon. But even then: Coal consumption in China is dropping anyway and the competition from closer mines makes coal from the United States a tough bet. Again, markets, not regulation.

Yet as Trump put it: “We’re going to save the coal industry and other industries threatened by Hillary Clinton’s extremist agenda.”

Then that “extremist agenda” is climate change. Trump would cancel the Paris climate agreement that calls for countries to reduce carbon emissions. As one of the negotiators, Todd Stern, wrote in The Washington Post: “Climate change is happening now, intensively, all over the world. It’s getting worse. We can’t hope to contain it without joint global action. The Paris Agreement is our vehicle for doing that. Trump would have us walk away? Really?”

Hillary Clinton has called climate change “an urgent threat and the defining challenge of our time.” Her notion is to make energy “the world’s clean energy superpower, and ensuring no Americans are left out or behind as we rapidly build a clean energy economy.”

That’s a challenge. How do you transition energy field workers to the economy when the old jobs pay so well? 

Even beyond that challenge there is a split within Democrats about how fast to move restructuring the energy economy. Clinton’s plan calls for a decade of change, ranging from cutting energy waste to phasing out dirty fuels. And reduce oil consumption by 300 million barrels per year.

Bernie Sanders calls for an acceleration of that transition. “That means we must leave the vast majority of global reserves, coal, natural gas, oil in the ground.” He, too, says there must be investment in a transition because it’s “fair to those currently working in the energy sector, which means those workers and their families must be able to depend on safe, living wage jobs.”

It’s that transition that puts energy producing tribes in the middle. Montana’s Crow Nation says it has a treaty right to sell coal and that means a Northwest port from where that coal can ship to China.

And that’s where the divide makes no sense. Republicans, including Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, defend the Crow’s coal push. While those opposed to the port, including many Democrats and tribes, say the port should not even be considered. But no candidate, Democrat or Republican, has proposed a major federal investment to pay for the Crows (as well as other tribes and communities) to transition away from coal. Or oil. Or any other extractive resource. (Brookings suggests a carbon tax to pay for that investment.)

It’s not enough to say no more coal. There also has to be a what’s next? 

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