It’s time to look at the money. How much money are #NativeVote18 candidates raising?
Yes, I know, this is a silly metric. After all there is no relationship to governing and calling up people you don’t know and asking them for money. Yet this is the system in place. A candidate is more likely to be successful if she or he can raise a lot of money.
So it’s no surprise that the big money collectors — even in Indian Country — are the ones who already hold office or who have held office recently. And it’s probably no surprise that the big money is headed down Republican alley.
The top money raiser is Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma. The latest Federal Election Commission reports were posted at the end of January and reflect fundraising for 2017. His net: $1.7 million, cash on hand.
Several tribes donated the maximum amount to Cole’s campaign. Oklahoma tribes, such as his own, the Chickasaw, and the Cherokee Nation, backed Cole as well as tribes from across the country ranging from Penobscot to Stillaguamish.
Some of the contributors have different agendas. Tribes, for example, support Cole because of his strong stands on tribal sovereignty. Yet the American Dental Association, another contributor, has worked against that very issue by challenging the tribes right to regulate mid-level dental practices. (Previous: Tribal sovereignty and the call for better oral health.)
Washington congressional candidate Dino Rossi comes in second for fundraising last year, netting a little more than a million dollars. This is remarkable when you consider he was not even a candidate until September. Rossi is Tlingit and Italian.
As I wrote in September: “One of his first jobs was working for Bernie Whitebear at Seattle’s United Indians of All Tribes. It’s interesting how some candidates make their tribal affiliation prominent and weigh in on issues that impact Indian Country. That would not be Rossi. But he doesn’t shy away (as many politicians do) from the conversation. It’s just not his focus.”
His campaign finance report bears that out. You won’t find a lot of tribal money.
The top Democrat for fundraising this cycle is Debra Haaland running in Albuquerque. She ended the year just shy of $200,000 in cash. Haaland, of course, and I can’t write it often enough, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress. She’s running in a district that favors Democrats but she must win the primary first against seven other candidates. So far Sedillo Lopez, a former associate dean at the University of New Mexico Law School, has raised some $456,000 and reports $348,000 in cash on hand. Haaland has raised a total of $386,000 in contributions.
There is a huge difference between Haaland’s fundraising and Cole’s money. Most of her contributions come in $10 and $25 chunks. Small money. But that’s important because it could reflect interest by real voters instead of tribes and Political Action Committees and business interests. She does get some money from tribes, including her own, Laguna Pueblo, but not nearly as much as is found in Cole’s treasury.
The race for Oklahoma’s second congressional district could become the first election between two tribal members, the incumbent, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, and his challenger Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols. Both men are Cherokee.
But so far on the money side it’s not much of a contest. Mullin raised about $725,000 last year, netting $434,333.37. Nichols raised $17,575.52 and ended with $8,287.30 cash on hand.
The trick in any campaign is to raise as much money as needed to be competitive. That doesn’t always mean first. But it does mean having the resources to compete in media advertising, including social media, hiring staff, and organizing.
Several #NativeVote18 candidates showed no fundraising in the FEC reports. It could be because there fundraising is scant, or ramping up later, or because reports have not been filed yet.
Not all the elected Native American Republicans make tribal issues any sort of priority. Minnesota Rep. Steve Green, for example, does not include tribal membership in his biography or in his campaign literature. Yet his district includes the White Earth Nation.
However most of the Native American Republicans who are elected to office also engage in Native policy issues before state legislatures, including support for enhancing tribal languages, teaching Native history, expanding or limiting tribal jurisdiction, voting rights, and, soon, state measures to shape the next version of health care reform.
One shared trait of the Native Americans who are elected as Republicans is support for fossil fuel energy development. “As a local elected official, I am outraged that Indian Country is prevented from harnessing our own energy resources by ever-increasing regulations,” New Mexico State Representative Sharon Clachischillage said in a Native Americans for Trump promotion. “The Trump Administration will ease restrictions on American energy reserves worth trillions of dollars. Together we will block the bureaucrats holding Native American businesses back and bring new jobs into our communities.”
But even the idea of energy development gets more complicated in Indian Country.As Sen. Hoffman reports on his biography page: “Every Alaskan deserves affordable energy. As a resource rich state (oil, gas, wind, and tidal), our state should and could, harness all of this energy to benefit all of its citizens. I pledge to continue to work towards reducing the high cost of energy in rural Alaska.” Anyone who’s purchased gas in a village — topping $6 a gallon in Hoffman’s home in Bethel — gets that.
But many of these same communities, especially in rural Alaska, are at the global warming frontline and more money will soon be required to build sea walls, fight more fires, or even relocate entire villages. In his biography, Hoffman only cites the opportunity. “Our backyard is changing opening new ventures, with the thawing of the tundra and the melting of the Arctic ice,” he writes. “It is my intent and my responsibility as your state Senator, to ensure our region participates …”
Then not every Republican even goes that far. Montana Sen. Jason Small, Northern Cheyenne, ran for office against Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, a Crow, to spur reinvestment in coal. Small recently wrote in The Billings Gazette: “Thirty million dollars a year in lost royalties, hundreds of direct jobs lost, thousands of families out of work and out of options, entire towns destroyed, statewide economic ripples, and over $1 trillion dollars in stranded assets, not necessarily because of market forces, but directly attributable to a political agenda. That is what we face in the current and unprecedented assault on reason and Montana’s economy in what has been dubbed ‘the War on Coal.’”
Then market forces will be a test of this notion. Can pro-coal Republicans legislate the revival of the coal industry? Small argued in the piece that “carbon capture and combined cycle technology can solve the global climate challenge posed in part by the world’s more than 7,000 coal-fired power plants.” Coal prices did surge after Trump’s election, at one point topping $110 per metric ton, but have since declined to about $83.50 per ton. Since the election at least one major power plant, the Navajo Generating Station near Page, has been marked for closure in two years. The Arizona utilities that own the generating station say that the low cost of natural gas is their primary reason for closing the plant. That in two words, market forces.
Waiting for Congress
Most state legislatures are waiting for Congress before taking action before another round of healthcare reform at the state level. And that’s a debate that is still hot. There are three distinct points of view about repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare). The plan by the House leadership (which has not been released yet) is supposed to be designed around tax credits instead of the insurance subsidies that are in the current law. Several of the most conservative members of the House and Senate see that as a new entitlement and have signaled their opposition. A third group of Republican moderates have been working with state governors to preserve Medicaid expansion because that insures some 22 million people (including more than $800 million for the Indian health system).
Rep. Cole is a likely supporter of the plan that emerges from House leadership. That includes a repeal of the Affordable Care Act as well as the Medicaid expansion. He recently told Native America Calling that Oklahoma did not choose to expand Medicaid and that made the system unequal.
However Cole said what ever plan emerges he said the Indian Health Care Improvement Act is a “bedrock” legal authority that must remain. “This legislation was included … purely as ‘vote bait’ to secure Democratic votes and has nothing to do with” the Affordable Care Act,” Cole said. “It is vital and ensures that Native Americans have quality health care available to them and their families. There is no controversy here – it sets the national policy for many programs and services provided by the Indian Health Service.”
A few weeks ago the repeal of the Affordable Care Act seemed like a sure thing. And now? The next week or two could answer that question. And the course that’s picked will have a huge impact on the Indian health system.
And, over that same time frame, Native American Republicans will be asked to take a stand about deep budget cuts across federal agencies. Several news agencies have reported that the Office of Management and Budget is calling for a $1.3 billion cut at the Interior Department. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke employees that he did look at the budget and is not happy about it, according to Energy & Environment News. “We’re going to fight about it,” Zinke said, “and I think I’m going to win at the end of the day.” E & E News reported that Zinke would engage in a major reorganization of the department, one that focuses the agency on the next one hundred years (including the promotion of tribal sovereignty).
It’s easy to find the issues where Native American Democrats and Republicans disagree. Indeed it would be simple for me to shape every column as doom and gloom, the logic of “Oh, what is that Trump going to do next?” But that won’t help the policy debates that are so important to Indian Country. But that idea discounts how much agreement there is out there — even in this hyper-partisan climate. It was Rep. Cole who helped champion the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2013, including the provisions for tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Tribes still have a lot of work to do to implement that law. Deborah Parker, former vice chair of the Tulalip Tribes, and a key supporter of the act, said tribes should get their law and order codes ready now to comply with the law. Too few tribes have taken that step and VAWA will again require reauthorization in 2018 so Indian Country has to present its strongest case for this Congress.
One example of a Native American issue that cuts across party lines is unfolding in Wyoming. The Indian Education for All, House Bill 76, would require the state’s schools to educate all children about the history and economic contributions by the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Tribes.
Sen. Affie Ellis was just elected in November and is a co-sponsor of the legislation. She’s a Navajo who grew up in Wyoming and she told the Casper Star-Tribune that Native American students sometimes are threatened by verbal abuse during sports trips across the state. “It’s a really important first step to understanding each other a little bit better,” she told The Star-Tribune. “It’s a brief idea, and I think it’s a fitting one.”
At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, Ellis spoke at a panel titled, “Rising Stars in the Conservative Movement.” Back in Wyoming her appearance generated both praise and criticism. The newspaper Planet Jackson Hole asked the question if Ellis was a “sane Republican alternative” to Trumpism? The paper quoted Ellis saying: “I think our country needs so desperately some thought and some well researched responses … There’s so many times when it’s easy to name call and have these cute hashtags that stick but we have to have strong facts and start communicating those facts in a very effective way. I think the hard part is the devil in the details of policy you’re working on doesn’t fit into small hashtags. Maybe we just need long hashtags.”
I don’t know about longer hashtags. The one I use, #NativePolicy, is short. But we certainly need more thoughtful, complex policy debates.
Elections are about ideas. What should our world look like? How do tribal nations, Alaska Native corporations, and communities fit into the American experience?
Elections are about tactics. Who runs? Are there resources? (And, when I say resources, I really mean, cash money.) And, does that make it possible to win?
Elections are about power. Do you have the votes to change the world? To protect a pipeline? Or to sell coal in a world that is shifting away from fossil fuels?
Elections are about people. The people who expect the Indian health clinic to have enough money to pay for a hospital stay. Or the people that decide how medical care should be funded, and who’s even eligible.
And elections are never forever. There is always another ahead. And that’s true win or lose. If you win, get ready to defend the gains you’ve made. If you lose, pick up the pieces, and start working for the next ballot.
Let’s examine 2016 and what worked, what needed work, and what must be rethought.
At one point more than a hundred candidates were running for Congress, state legislatures, and a variety of state offices. That is fabulous. Yes, the field was narrowed after primary contests, and, of course, the general election. But the point is you gotta run to win. So many talented people from across Indian Country gave elective office a shot. (In fact, for me, the one take away from this election: We have some incredibly talented people out there. And that talent is not disappearing just because voters didn’t discover them.)
There are some extraordinary hurdles. Money is a big one. There has to be at least enough money so that the Native candidates get consideration by voters. Then again. This election was a bit odd. Money played less a role than you would think.
Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) ran a frugal campaign. At one point he was basically selling t-shirts to finance his enterprise (although he did receive more money toward the end). And the result: His opponent easily won re-election with 69 percent of the vote, while Iron Eyes was stuck at 25 percent. This is not as bad as it looks because the Democrat-NPL candidate for governor only earned 19 percent of the vote. And the party’s Senate candidate: 17 percent.
What this tells me? Iron Eyes has a base of support. It’s his first run and I know he learned a lot. So a next time? Something to think about.
On the other hand, Denise Juneau (Mandan Hidatsa Arikara) broke fundraising records for a Native American running for Congress as a challenger (it’s way easier if you are an incumbent). She raised more than $2 million in an extraordinarily expensive House race. But Juneau demonstrated success. She was competitive. And that will be important in future races, too.
Indeed, the match between a well-funded incumbent and a challenger from Indian Country was true in Washington state, too, where former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas ran against Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, a member of Republican leadership.
And elections are never forever: It’s entirely possible that one of the Republicans that Iron Eyes, Juneau, or Pakootas, ran against could be recruited to the new Trump administration. And, then, well, opportunity time. North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer could end up serving in the Trump administration as Energy Secretary (or more likely, a Deputy Secretary.)
This election cycle at least 31 Native American candidates ran unopposed. Often these were reservation-based districts where there aren’t as many potential Republicans who would surface as opponents. But Rep.-elect Tanwa Sanchez (Shoshone-Bannock) was also in this group, running in Portland, Oregon, as well as Rep. Ponke-We Victors in Kansas.
Another twist this year: Districts where both candidates are Native American. There were two such districts in Montana. Sen-elect Frank Smith (Assiniboine Sioux), a Democrat, defeated Rep. G. Bruce Meyers (Chippewa Cree) in the northern part of the state. And Sen.-elect Jason Small (Northern Cheyenne), a Republican, defeated incumbent Carolyn Pease Lopez (Crow).
This was also true in New Mexico where Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage narrowly won with 5,042 to GloJean Todacheene’s 4,246 votes. Both women are Navajo.
Wyoming will have a new member of its legislator, Affie Ellis (Navajo) was elected to the state Senate as a Republican, defeating an incumbent. She posted on Facebook: “I am humbled. And honored. Thank you for all the kind words of support. We knew it would be a tough race and I’m proud of our efforts. In the end, I secured 60% of the vote and am looking forward to serving in the Wyoming State Senate.”
Montana continues to be the state with the largest Native American caucus in the legislature, 8 Democrats and 1 Republican. Rep. Susan Webber (Blackfeet) told The Montana Standard: “We’ve been literally and figuratively the minority’s minority. I know it looks like we have a lot of people in the Indian caucus, a lot of people were elected, but in reality it should be more. But just us getting in there, from my perspective, is a real positive.”
In Minnesota the Native American caucus is also a Native women’s caucus after the re-election of Rep. Susan Allen (Rosebud), Rep. Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock Sioux) and Rep.-Elect Jamie Becker Finn (Ojibwe).
And every election sows seeds of what can be. This one is no exception. In Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan (Coeur d’Alene) showed how to get elected as a Democrat in a largely Republican state. Jordan is the only Democrat elected north of Boise and the legislature will be 84 percent controlled by Republicans, a super-majority.
Jordan posted on Facebook: “We worked hard, with great diligence and incredible dignity above all else. However, while we continue moving forward after a shocking outcome, it’ll be up to us, the next generation of millennials to make a more productive change our state and country needs. We have to chalk this up as a valuable lesson learned, while challenging ourselves to be more engaged and begin organizing in all the best ways possible. I remain optimistic for my community, as I have been blessed with your support and tasked to protect our base values for another term!”
Last week’s election will require new thinking and new alliances. And that is already happening in Alaska. A new coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents has flipped the state House away from Republicans. The state is facing a multi-billion budget crisis. One of the Republicans who joined what’s being called the Musk Ox Revolt is Gabrielle LeDoux who told The Alaska Dispatch News, “We’re hired to do a job, and the purpose of our job is not to keep our job. It’s to actually do something.”
There are six Alaska Natives in the legislature, five Democrats and one Republican (whose race remains in recount territory).
Elections are about ideas, tactics, and power. Yet the outcomes determine policy. What choices the Congress will make, how a state chooses to implement those policies, and who gets to decide. There will be a lot of action in state houses over the next four years as the Trump administration goes about shedding federal power. This shift could mean a state-based energy policy. Or a new block grant to pay for health care, even for people in the Indian health system.
There will be challenges ahead. But remember: Elections are never final. There is always another one ahead.
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
Let’s start in North Dakota where three Native American candidates are on the ballot statewide, plus five more for state legislative offices. Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun are essentially running as a team. Almost a Indigenous version of the Democratic Party (which says something about the regular party). To me this race shows how much better our politics would be if campaigns were publicly funded because then it would only be a debate about the issues. And there would be a more equal platform for that discourse. As it stands: Iron Eyes and his colleagues are campaigning by selling t-shirts and small donations. While their opponents have all the resources they need (plus a very Republican state as a base of support). On Facebook, Iron Eyes posted, “Congressional races are just as important as the presidential race. If I can hit you up for 5$ go here www.ironeyesforcongress.us I need some basic ads to make this real.”
Last week the one moment of equality was Face To Face: North Dakota US House Debate on Prairie Public Broadcasting. This was important because the difference between U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota, and Iron Eyes could not be more stark. Cramer was pitch perfect in his support of big oil and the Dakota Access Pipeline. said that the Standing Rock Tribe did have consultation, nine times, but that was not the same as consent. He said his biggest concern is that the administration changed the rules after they were followed. (My view of that logic in an earlier piece, “Who gets to tell the Standing Rock story about what happens next?”)
“I just think we need to be respecting each other,” Iron Eyes said in the debate. “I just don’t feel we should be putting our water resource at risk … pipelines need to move our oil to market, but Energy Transfers lied to the American people saying this was American oil to be consumed on American soil, and they have since backed away from that.”
Ruth Buffalo is running to be the state’s Insurance Commission. She also debated last week on Prairie Public Television. She said it’s a critical post because it’s the advocate for the people of North Dakota to hold insurance companies accountable for following through on their promises. Her campaign is largely public appearances (she crosses the state a lot, and that’s not easy in North Dakota) as well as social media. Her campaign manager recently posted on Facebook: “Election day is less than FIVE weeks away! Our page has over 3,000 likes, which is phenomenal! This is a true grass roots effort. Today, and for the rest of the campaign, I am going to ask you a favor: spread the word to your contacts about Ruth and her vision as Insurance Commissioner of North Dakota. If everyone who likes this pages reaches and convinces at least 50 new people, we will have a real shot to bring Ruth’s experience in health and business, as well as her unique and compassionate voice, to the insurance branch of North Dakota.”
Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun is campaigning for the office that would regulate pipelines such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. In a campaign video she said many North Dakotans know that the regulatory process is unfair and she’s like to restore balance. “But I can’t do that alone. I need your vote,” she said. “Let’s give North Dakota a chance at success.”
The world is watching what is happening at Standing Rock. And these campaigns represent a chance for those same voices to have a say in the political process from pipelines to health care. And if you think it’s impossible for the impossible to happen, consider this, with the Trump-implosion, all bets are off. Seats that were supposed to be safe might not be. Elections are all about who shows up.
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.
The 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.”
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.
I am working on piece about Indian Country’s youth vote. I am especially interested in looking at what would 90/100% turnout look like at tribal colleges. Across the country there are about 30,000 tribal college students. I’ll start a spreadsheet and try to break that down by state. I know this is an important constituency. Four years ago much of the registration and organizing efforts at Fort Belknap was accomplished by students. I am really interested in exploring how this generation thinks about voting & activism.
My goal is to post something early in the week (before voter registration deadlines).
I am also planning a piece on voter registration efforts in states where that idea is difficult. (Shout out to Nathan Whistler about what’s going on in Nevada with disenfranchisement attempts.)
I continue to track the candidates on the #NativeVote16 list and will post a few updates soon. Even now I hear from people who I have missed. Last week I added Phil Bellfy, a citizen of the White Earth Nation, who’s running for the House in Northern Michigan.
I also heard from Tim Sumner, who is running for his second term as a Beltrami County Commissioner. My plan is to add Native officers holders and candidates in city, county, and other offices, to my database going forward. But that won’t happen until this election is over.
More memes next week — I am still posting candidates from Minnesota. Ballots are now available there. I still need to produce memes for Montana, South Dakota, Washington, New Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii, and Oklahoma. As I type these words I am thinking I should start posting two a day in order to get through all of the candidates on my list before Election Day.
I am also traveling — and will miss the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I’ll be on a plane so I will have to read & watch after the fact.
We are continuing to make improvements for my weekly commentary on Native Voice One. The latest plan is one-hour radio special about the election. We are hoping this would be produced mid-October. Audio will be available via social media as well as a free program for radio stations, especially tribal radio stations.
I want to especially thank Kauffman & Associations, Inc., for sponsoring the Native Voice One commentary. As I say every week: “Trahant Reports is brought to you by Kauffman & Associates, Inc., a Native American owned, woman-owned small business that has delivered innovative .solutions for government and commercial clients since 1990. KAI’s expertise spans diverse specialty areas, including public health, education, and economic development.” Thank you.
In North Dakota a federal judge limited a strict voter identification law, one that the court said would have impacted 3,800 Native American voters.
“Voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent,” said U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland. He was appointed by President George W. Bush. He said the state “produced no evidence suggesting the public’s confidence in the electoral process would be undermined by excusing those voters who cannot reasonably obtain an ID.” The key point after the ruling is that there is a “fail-safe” process allowing voters to swear they live in a current precinct (such as north of Cannonball) or a poll worker could vouch for that voter’s eligibility.
Three other state voter ID laws were limited by federal courts. This remains a contentious issue as state legislatures try and make it harder for people to cast ballots.
One cool voting improvement is the number of states that are setting up automatic registration. According to The Brennan Center for Justice: “Automatic voter registration is picking up speed and bipartisan support. The 2016 session saw more automatic voter registration bills introduced than any other kind of voting legislation. Under automatic registration, the government automatically and securely registers every eligible citizen who interacts with designated government offices unless the person declines to register.”
It’s also possible in many states to vote early. There are now 37 states that open up polls early in designated locations (including some in Indian Country). Other states allow absentee voting for voters by request. And, in three states, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, the entire election is conducted by mail.
I particularly like early voting. It takes away the “x” factor. You know, things like, “something came up.” “I forgot.” “I had a crisis at work.” What ever. Vote early and it’s done. — Mark Trahant
A question I am often asked: Are American Indians and Alaska Natives only Democrats? Of course not. There are Native Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, and Independents. Yet the data show that the vast majority of Native Americans vote for Democrats. And run for office as Democrats.
Of the active candidates on my #NativeVote16 boards there are 75 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and 4 independents (or no affiliation reported). But if you look at history, there are a lot more American Indians and Alaska Natives who have won office under the Republican banner. That list includes: Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, who joined the Republican Party after his election; Vice President Charles Curtis; as well as the only current members of Congress, Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin.
The Republican Party has its Richard Nixon legacy (even if it’s not talked about much these days). President Nixon championed self-determination, rejected assimilation, and returned land to its rightful tribal owners.
Today’s Republican Party platform continues to affirm Nixon’s basic framework. “Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments, American Indians, and Alaska Natives,” the platform says. “These obligations have not been sufficiently honored.”
What do the Republican candidates say about issues impacting American Indians and Alaska Natives? How do they make the case for being Republican and Native?
Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Cole is perhaps the most senior and respected Republican who’s also a member of a tribe. “As an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, I am very proud of my heritage and the tremendous accomplishments of tribes in Oklahoma and across our country,” Cole writes on his congressional web site. “I am committed to advocating on behalf of Native Americans in Congress.”
Cole’s advocacy is routine and powerful. He was instrumental in the 2013 enactment of the Violence Against Women Act because he gave cover to Republicans who voted for the measure (and against an alternative bill). Cole has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and, at the same time, has consistently said the United States government has “fallen behind” in its funding of the Indian health system. He often advocates for spending more on Indian health throughout the budget and appropriations process.
Indeed the area of health care is often a point of departure for Native American politicians who are Republican.
Montana state Rep. G. Bruce Meyer, who represents Box Elder in the state Legislature, voted for the expansion of Medicaid in the last session because it gave more options for American Indians. He also says that the Affordable Care Act has increased costs and the Indian Health Service has not improved as a result, including inadequate facilities, inadequate care and a lack of professionalism. “If we had all three working in tandem, if we had people qualifying for Medicaid services, and Indian Health Services, combined with the Affordable Care Act, it could work.”
But he said the problems in health care at the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service remain serious concerns. “I hope the affordable healthcare act could make some improvements, but so far we haven’t seen it,” he said. “I want to give it the benefit of the doubt to see if all three could work together, three sources of funding, but it hasn’t happened.”
Indeed most of the Republican candidates don’t even mention the link between the Affordable Care Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Mullin says on his web site that he is “a proud Cherokee citizen,” and “one of only two Native American Members of Congress.”
But when it comes to the issue health there is only the standard Republican party lines: “I have voted over 30 times to defund, dismantle or repeal Obamacare. This terrible law imposes more mandates, more taxes and is driving up the cost of health care. Obamacare also jeopardizes Oklahoma’s rural hospitals, which are already struggling.”
Labor issues are another area where Republicans favor tribal authority over federal or state power. “It is especially egregious that the Democratic Party has persistently undermined tribal sovereignty in order to provide advantage to union bosses in the tribal workplace,” the GOP platform says. “Native communities should have the same authority as state governments in labor matters, so that union bosses and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot undermine the authority of tribal governments.”
Meyer says that Native Americans are naturally conservative and so it makes sense for more to join the Republican ranks. He said one of the things he’s discovered by “knocking on doors” is that the Democrats take the Indian vote for granted. “We believe in the sacredness of life,” he said. “We believe in strong families. When I am asked about the Gay Rights movement in Indian Country, I just relate it to our traditional societies and cultures … Large families, traditional families, Mother, Father, Grandmother, Grandfather, Great-grandma, Great-grandpa, uncles, aunts, were considered just like mother and father. Strong traditional families were honored and respected. But now we see a shrinking family and the nuclear family.”
He said one of the issues where he often differs with a lot of people in the tribal community is regarding “federal dole” because it hasn’t improved conditions on reservations. “I am saying, ‘let’s give the Republicans a chance, let’s see if we can develop small businesses, let’s see if we can develop Indian entrepreneurs,” he said. “I think we can develop our resources instead of white corporations and the white man do it for us.”
Meyers is Chippewa-Cree from Rocky Boy. He’s a candidate for the state Senate running in a district with a large American Indian population. His Democratic competition is former state Rep. Frank Smith, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes.
Most of the Republican candidates make little mention of issues impacting American Indian communities (unless their district is majority Native American).
However in Duluth, Minnesota, Senate candidate Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Nation, is making reform of Indian education an issue in her campaign. She writes on her web page: “… in the State of Minnesota, American Indian students graduate at about a 49% rate, far below that of their non-Native peers. In many of the schools throughout the state, the numbers are actually lower. When education is not an expected goal or shared experience in nearly 50% of our youth, our societal foundation is weakened. Gone are the children’s options for the future of their education, for employment opportunities, and for their prospects of serving a productive role in our society.”
Bergstrom calls for “vouchers, education credits, and policies that support ‘child-focused’ learning. She says: “We must continue to look out, as cherished in Native American communities, seven generations to see how our policies and practices of today affect our future generations.”
Energy versus climate change
Most of the Republican candidates favor more energy development on tribal lands.
Alaska’s House Majority Leader, Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, praised the Obama administration for its decision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. “I’m encouraged that the president and Interior Department have finally awakened to the reality that Shell will follow the law and do right by the State of Alaska, indigenous peoples and federal regulators,” she said. “”We hope this signals a change in the federal government’s attitude toward their own permitting system and Outside environmental interests, who don’t have the Alaskan people in mind. We’re the nation’s Arctic. We’re the nation’s energy future. It’s time for the Obama administration to let us unleash our potential and build on our decades of energy production expertise. Today is a good day.”
Jason Small is running for the Montana Senate. He’s a member of Northern Cheyenne Tribe and his central theme is the importance of coal to jobs.”Indian Reservations contain 30% of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars of energy resources,” Small testified to Congress last year. “In my opinion, coal must continue to be the mainstay in the energy mix. While wind, solar, bio-mass, and hydro energy can contribute to our national energy needs, it is clear they cannot totally replace coal as a base load power sources. I am a strong proponent for development of the rich Northern Cheyenne coal reserves.”
Small said development of coal and the Colstrip power plant “provide 3,740 jobs directly related to energy production in Montana, 3,500 in eastern Montana. An additional 2,688 private sector jobs are related. Personal income from coal-related employment is about $363 million … Colstrip employs 363 permanent workers, including 41 tribal members, one-eighth of the workforce. Others are employed by subcontractors, including during the annual overhaul when 680 are employed by North American Energy Services alone including many Navajo boilermakers. The Western Energy Mine, Colstrip currently employs 80 minorities, the majority Northern Cheyenne, nearly one-third of the craft workforce. This satisfies an original tribal goal of developing a trained work force for the day when the Northern Cheyenne would develop their own reserves.”
But the problem with coal is not just political. The international market for coal is in free-fall and more West Coast ports are refusing to be shipping centers because of environmental and climate change concerns. The United Nations has said that 80 percent of the world’s coal is un-burnable after the most recent climate change agreement signed in Paris.
Meyers said the Crow Nation is sovereign and it ought to be able to develop its own coal no matter what the state or federal government says. “The test of sovereignty is not how much we are going to be dependent on the federal government, but the true test of sovereignty is, what can we do? To create our own businesses, create our own economic viability, or own economic sustainability, that will be the true test of sovereignty.”
And what about climate change?
“I think it’s more of a political agenda than reality,” Meyers said. “There have been some scientific studies, but even those, how true are they? When you really look at the scientific evidence, how scientifically-based are they really?”
Actually, the answer is 97 percent. According to the National Space and Aeronautics Administration, “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
Inside the caucus
In New Mexico, like Montana, being a member of the Republican Party means being in the majority. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, Navajo, is working with a Republican initiative to expand that majority with the Future Majority Project— a program designed to recruit more Republican candidates that reflect the diversity of America.
“Representatives (Alonzo) Baldonado and Clahchischilliage will be a great addition to the Future Majority Project because both have done a tremendous job advocating conservative values to increasingly diverse communities,” said Debbie Maestas, chairman for the Republican Party of New Mexico. “They represent the future of our party.”
Republicans are hoping to recruit, train, and elect hundreds of candidates from diverse communities. That’s essential to the party in a state like New Mexico where about half the population is Hispanic and Native Americans exceed 10 percent of the population.
Clahchischilliage is an experienced politician. She’s worked as executive director of the Navajo Nation’s Washington Office, ran for tribal president, and for other state offices. She also shows that Republicans can win seats in districts that are majority American Indian (and, for that matter, majority Democrat.) Her district is 70 percent Native American. She will face another Navajo in November, Glojean Todacheene.
However there is one caveat: Both Meyers and Clahchischilliage won their races in off-year elections. The challenge during a presidential cycle, when more Native Americans show up at the polls, will be tougher simply because there will also be more Democrats voting.
Perhaps the strongest case that Republican candidates for office make to Native American voters is that they will be inside the room when the party makes decisions on American Indian issues. Meyer said he was able to convince Republicans, for example, to support tribal water compacts with the state. “We need friends on both sides,” Meyers said. “It’s good that I am on the other side of the aisle. I tell people I am out to get the best deal for American Indians no matter which party because that’s my constituency.”
The Trump challenge
There is one question that every Republican has to answer this election: What do you think about your party’s nominee for president?
Rep. Cole, who is an important voice for party leadership, says that’s not an issue. He said on MSNBC: “There is a choice. It’s a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at this point. And, frankly, if you’re a Republican that’s a pretty easy choice. There is nobody who unites and motivates Republicans as much as Hillary Clinton.”
Then again not every Native American candidate is quite so eager to embrace Trump.
Chase Iron Eyes told the Fargo Forum that he is letting his campaign consultants go and is trying to raise enough money to keep his campaign sustainable.
“I was convinced that I needed an advisor, and these advisors brought other advisors who all cost a great deal of money,”he told the Forum. “I didn’t get into this to drag my family through the whole process to end up in debt because of outside consultants.”
Raising money is the toughest challenge for any Native American who runs for office. Most of us just don’t have the kind of network where we can call lots of people up and ask for few hundred dollars. Over and over. Yet it’s an essential task because that money is used to pay staff, develop field operations (such as registering voters and getting them to the polls) and paying for campaign advertisements. It is what is required to be competitive. (HBO’s John Oliver did a great segment on the “call center” approach to campaigns.)
And the Democratic Party is not investing its resources into the Iron Eyes campaign. He’s on his own. (This is not unusual. One candidate told me the party said raise a few hundred thousand dollars … then you will get our money.) It’s that crazy circle: If you need the money, you won’t see it; but if you don’t need the money, it will be there. (Previous: The hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections)
Cramer has raised $1.06 million compared to Iron Eyes’ $82,137. Most of Cramer’s funding comes from Political Action Committees, some $652,000.
On his new web site, Iron Eyes said this campaign has never been about money. “Money will make you forget we are a democracy dependent upon our direct involvement in that democracy,” according to the Iron Eyes for Congress page. “Money will make ND forget there are 3000 oil spills that big oil refuses to clean up & that a Republican controlled government says there is no money to clean up.”
It’s not uncommon for a campaign to reboot (and that’s true at almost every level of politics). Iron Eyes has a new web page, https://ironeyesforcongress.us/ and is building a sort of retail approach to the campaign. (Contribute $40, send a screenshot, and you’ll get a t-shirt.)
There is also a new social media push using the hashtag #FaceTheStorm. The idea is that people will tell their own stories about why they support Iron Eyes. Iron Eyes explains the idea this way on a video: “Faced with a dangerous blizzard on the Northern Plains, when snow storms are blasting everything that lives here, the buffalo do not hide. Because they have thicker fur, a thicker head, and thick skin, the way they are designed makes it more probable for them to survive if they face the storm. That is what we must do who value people over politics. We must come together and face the storm.”
How are other the other Native American candidates for federal office doing? The latest Federal Election Commission reports show how difficult a task raising money is for new candidates on the #NativeVote16 list. (Edgar Blatchford in Alaska is not yet reporting his campaign contributions.)
To the south, Democrat Victoria Steele, running in Arizona’s 2nd congressional district, has raised nearly $200,000 while her opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, has tallied more than $5 million.
That same mismatch is occurring in Washington state. Former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas has topped $166,000 from his fundraising efforts, but trails incumbent Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers who has received contributions of more than $2.5 million.
Denise Juneau is raising serious money. Her latest campaign report shows that she trails incumbent Rep. Ryan Zinke, but not as badly. Juneau’s contributions total more than $1.1 million to Zinke’s $3.5 million.
There are better ways to elect candidates. In Canada the party funds the candidates who earn a nomination. Other countries have public financing of campaigns so that every candidate has an equal shot at winning. That’s the direction we ought to be heading. But in this election, money still counts and Native candidates will need a boost in the form of many personal contributions from across Indian Country.
There is a hundred dollars-a-plate fundraiser planned on August 21 for Laurel Deegan-Fricke. She’s a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation and running in a highly competitive seat in Raleigh, North Carolina. Two years ago that race was decided by less than a thousand votes out of some 82,000 cast.
If you missed the fundraiser. Don’t worry. It won’t be Deegan-Fricke’s last. The “cost” of a Senate seat in North Carolina averages $173,576, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics. So if you’re not doing the math that means some 1,735 dinners. Then again Raleigh is not average. Four years ago, according to Open Secrets, candidates spent nearly $600,000 trying to win that Senate seat. Two years ago the winning candidate spent $470,000 and the losing candidate a whopping $1.1 million.
How much time do you have to spend raising money? “All day and night with less than 100 days to election,” answers Deegan-Fricke. She says she needs $500,000 to stay competitive.
Yet the issue of money is one reason why there are not more Native Americans serving in Congress, state legislatures and as governors. Of course the problem is that any “outside” candidate has an uphill climb in this aspect of representation. The fact is the system greatly favors those who are already in office. And money is one way to scare away potential challengers. In 2014 nearly a third of all Americans lived in states with an uncontested state senate race and more than forty percent in states with uncontested house races. (Previous: Hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections and what to do about it.)
There are solutions. One alternative is a system that includes full or partial public financing for campaigns. In an ideal setting, once a candidate meets the requirements to run, such as gathering signatures, and raising a limited amount, then state dollars are made available. A second system that’s used in many countries is that the political party funds its candidates. (In the U.S. it’s the opposite: You’re told by the party that you will have to raise “X” dollars before you will get funding. And usually the “X” is a big number.)
Arizona and Minnesota both have public financing options. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “a candidate for state office in Arizona must raise $5 contributions from at least 200 people in order to qualify for the program. In return, the state provides the candidate with public money in an amount equal to the expenditure limit.” States cannot require candidates to participate in public financing and that limits the program’s effectiveness because some candidates can raise unlimited amounts. I should also mention that some of the most interesting experiments right now are occurring at the local level, such as Seattle’s new approach where voters are given vouchers to send to candidates.
Wenona Benally, Navajo, who’s running for the Arizona House in District 7, said, “qualifying as a ‘clean elections’ candidate and receiving public funds helps tremendously with paying for campaign activities. However, the process for qualifying as a CCEC candidate is very time-consuming & arduous.” She said the Secretary of State reviews every donor and if it cannot verify all of the data, then the form gets kicked out.
Minnesota candidates for the Senate must raise $3,000 and House candidates $1,500 in order to receive public funds for their campaign. Rep. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Ojibwe, representing St. Louis Park and District 46, said she will receive $7,451 from public campaign financing. “I raised $50,000 for my race last year and I am trying to do the same this year,” she said. “I want to run a robust field campaign, but also want to make sure I can give money back to the party to take back the House.”
Successful fundraising is essential in any campaign.
As Rep. Flangan said: “I also think it’s important that candidates of color and Indigenous candidates are good fundraisers to demonstrate our power to folks in our caucus and in the state overall.”
Indeed that might be the most important point to remember. Yes, the challenges of fundraising are real, and a barrier to office for too many potential candidates. But if you look at the overall levels of representation, then state legislatures are where Native American candidates have been the most successful. So candidates are already raising what they need. That matters because it lays the groundwork for when more of those candidates choose to run for Congress. And “when” is the right word.