Today is humor day in the Senate. But at least the healthcare debate will go on and on without a conclusion. And no matter what happens today and Friday there is still a long way to go.
The Senate has at least ten more hours of official debate on a House bill that’s been substituted with language that neither we nor senators have yet seen. (Leading to great theatrics by the Senate Democrats who said they’d offer no more amendments until there was an actual bill with, you know, like words in it.) But even without an actual bill Democrats sent the framework of the so-called “Skinny Repeal” to the Congressional Budget Office for a score and the answer is more of the same, the number of uninsured would increase from 28 million to 44 million in a decade.
Nonetheless by Friday there will be some sort of proposal that’s designed to get 50 votes so the legislation will go to a conference committee with the House. This Skinny Repeal strips the individual mandate (causing a mess in insurance) but leaves Medicaid alone. For now. Basically this means the House will get its way and senators will be forced to vote for that approach or nothing. It’s a risky strategy when the Republican majority is so slim. Actually in both houses.
Today the Senate will consider a proposal for universal health care, Medicare for all. Consider is not the right word here because the proposal is already doomed. But Montana Sen. Steve Daines wants Democrats on record voting for this scary, scary idea. But as Pat Bagley, the cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune tweeted yesterday, not one country that’s gone down the single payer path has reversed course. It’s the United States that is the outlier with our incomprehensible health care “system.” Even Bernie Sanders, who is for Medicare for All, said he won’t vote for this amendment because it’s a ruse.
Daines won’t be voting for his own amendment either. That’s not the point. Daines told the Helena Independent Record Wednesday night “It’s time for every senator to go on the record on whether or not they support a single-payer system.”
So, while we are at it, let’s be clear about what Single Payer could do for the Indian health system. Indian Health Service funding would jump by at least 40 percent in a Medicare for all approach. The agency (and the tribal and nonprofit operations) would be equal with other healthcare providers; getting paid for every patient instead of worrying about appropriations or tracking down insurance payments from companies, Medicaid, and other third-party payers. So it would be a financial boom. Big time.
But as I said: Medicare for all is really not on the table. The Senate vote is just supposed to frighten Democrats. So. Be careful. Or Congress will give you health care. Aye.
Speaking of bad jokes, I laughed at the Trump administration’s threats to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke warned Murkowski that Alaska energy projects could suffer because of her vote (and her leadership) against the GOP health care proposals. (I do think she could lose her Energy Committee chairmanship, but that, too is a silly move by Republicans in a narrowly divided Senate.)
So the Trump administration that wants Energy for All is telling a Senator who’s pro-energy that Alaska development is in trouble because she’s against their destruction of health care. Now that’s some weighty logic. Nonetheless Alaska Senator, Dan Sullivan reported this threat with a straight face. He told the Alaska Dispatch News that it’s a “troubling message … I’m not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop.”
So oil companies be warned. You could be punished. As will we all. Be afraid. And remember universal care for all is up today. So keep the children away from the Senate TV.
A couple of years ago a tribal leader showed me an abandoned lumber mill near the village of Tyonek, Alaska. The company promised jobs. And, for a time, for a couple of decades, there were those jobs. But after the resource was consumed, the mill closed, the company disappeared, and the shell of the enterprise remains today.
This same story could be told in tribal communities across North America. Sometimes the resource was timber. Other times gas and oil. Or coal.
The lucky communities were left with a small toxic dump site. More often there was major cleanup work required after (plus a few more jobs). And in the worst case scenario, a Superfund site was left behind requiring government supervision and an even greater restoration effort.
But all along, and in each case, the accompanying idea was that jobs would be a part of the deal.
There would be construction jobs to build the mine, pipeline, or processing plant. Then there would be truck driving jobs moving materials. A few executive jobs (especially in public and community relations) and, of course, the eventual supervision of the cleanup (especially if the tribal government had its own environmental protection agency.)
That was the deal. But it’s one that is no longer true. Now the resource is extracted, pipelines are built, and toxic waste is left behind … while the promised jobs are limited to the initial construction jobs.
The renewed effort to build the Keystone XL pipeline is a classic example of this shift. When President Donald J. Trump signed the executive order to approve the project he promised “thousands of jobs.” That’s true enough for the construction phase, but only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline, according to the State Department report.
Keystone, at least, is prospective jobs. New ones. But the bigger challenge for the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation and some thirty tribes with coal reserves or power plants is that new deal for resource-based plants and extraction does not create as many jobs.
The numbers are stark.
The U.S. Energy and Employment Outlook 2017 shows that electricity from coal declined 53 percent between 2006 and 2016. Over that same period, electricity from natural gas increased by 33 percent and from solar by 5,000 percent.
Coal is still a major source of energy. But it’s in decline. Coal and natural now gas add up to two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S. And that’s expected to remain so until at least 2040 when the market share declines to a little more than half.
But because it’s a market that’s going down it means that tribes that develop coal will not share in the rewards of either major profits or in a spike in jobs.
The only hope for this shrinking industry is to export the coal to other countries (something that will be extremely difficult because so many other nations have already agreed to the Paris climate targets). As Clark Williams-Derry has reported for the Sightline Institute:
“Robust, sustainable Asian coal markets were never a realistic hope for US coal exporters: the transportation costs were too high, the competition too fierce, and the demand too unstable. So the coal industry’s PR flacks may continue to spin tales about endless riches in the Asian coal market, the financials are telling a much more sobering story: that the coal export pipe dream continues to fade away, leaving a bad hangover on the coal industry’s balance sheets and a lingering bad taste in the mouths of coal investors and executives alike.”
On top of all that, Derry-Williams points out that China’s coal consumption has fallen for three consecutive years.
And the international context is that coal is the most polluting of the three types of fossil fuels. More than 80 percent of the world’s known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to meet global warming targets.
There are jobs in the energy field, but, as the Department of Energy report puts it: “Employment in electric power generation now totals 860,869 … (and) the number of jobs is projected to grow by another 7 percent but the majority will be in construction to build and install new renewable energy capacity.”
The green economy is taking over. (Trump or no Trump.)
The extractive economy (much like the farm economy a generation ago) reached its peak, probably back in 2014. Oil and gas employed 514,000 people. Today it’s 388,000. Coal and extraction related jobs peaked at 90,000 and now that number is about 53,000.
Then Indian Country’s development of coal (or not) has been the story so far in the Trump era.
Last month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a memorandum lifting restrictions on federal coal leasing. He said the “war on coal is over.” Then he quoted Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying, “there are no jobs like coal jobs.”
A day later the Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed suit. The tribe said the Interior Department did not consult it prior to lifting the restrictions. “It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne’s trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our Nation or evaluating the impacts to our Reservation and our residents,” Northern Cheyenne Tribe president L. Jace Killsback said in a news release. There are 426 million tons of coal located near the Northern Cheyenne and on the Crow Nation.
Meanwhile in Alaska, another coal project was put to rest in a tribal community. The village of Tyonek has been opposed to the Chuitna Coal Project. (Previously: Mother of the Earth returns to Tyonek) After a decade of planning, PacRim Coal suspended the project last month because an investor backed out. The project could be brought back to life. But that’s not likely. Because coal is a losing bet for any investor.
According to Alaska Public Media that meant a joyful celebration in Tyonek. The president of the village Native Council, Arthur Stanifer said, “What it means for us is our fish will continue to be here for future generations, also our wildlife, like the bears and the moose and the other animals will be secure and they’ll be here. They’ll have a safe place to be.”
And what of the jobs? That’s the hard part. The prospects for extraction-related jobs are about to be hit by even more disruptive forces. For example in the oil fields of North Dakota one of the great paying jobs is truck driving. Moving material back and forth. But already in Europe companies are experimenting and will soon begin the shift to self-driving vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before that trend takes over because it fits the model of efficient capitalism. Self-driving trucks don’t need rest breaks, consume less fuel, and fewer accidents. That same disruption of automation is occurring across the employment spectrum. Jobs that can be done by machines, will be.
So if jobs are no longer part of the equation, does natural resource extraction benefit tribal communities?
The answer ought to include a plan where the United States government and tribes work together to replace these jobs: Retrain workers and invest in the energy sector that’s growing, renewable fuels. But that’s not likely to happen in Trump Era.
Last year I expected a record number of Native Americans to get elected to offices across the country. There were just so many really superb candidates running for Congress, state legislatures, and statewide offices. At one point my list topped a hundred candidates. Of course it didn’t turn out that way. Too many of those exceptional #NativeVote16 candidates lost. But my tally to date: Sixty-six elected representatives and senators. So the 2016 election cycle turned out to be more of a rebuilding year instead of one that broke records.
Yet it turns out there is still history to be made.
State legislatures are convening around the country this month and there is an interesting twist: Native Americans are in key leadership positions in at least seven states. That’s impressive — and critical right now because of the types of conversations that will be going back and forth between Washington, D.C., and state capitals about Medicaid, health care and energy policy.
Alaska is a great bipartisan example.
Two years ago former Sealaska chairman Byron Mallott, Tlingit, was elected the state’s Lt. Gov. (He was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, but joined an independent fusion ticket along with Gov. Bill Walker.) The Walker-Mallott administration elevated Native issues to an unprecedented level of influence. One of the governor’s first appointments was Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, an Orutsararmiut Native Council tribal member, and a long time health advocate, as the state’s commissioner for the the state’s Department of Health and Social Services. She will be the one negotiating with the Trump administration about what Medicaid will look like if Congress acts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Then the state legislature and the Walker-Mallott administration have been at odds over state spending and resources. Alaska has a multibillion dollar budget deficit largely because of the state’s reliance on taxes from oil and gas. As The Fairbanks Daily Miner put it: “Fortunately for the state, previous years when oil revenues were high allowed legislators to sock away billions of dollars in savings accounts. Unfortunately for the state, it was easier for legislators to spend from these savings accounts than make the hard decisions that would put Alaska on a path to a balanced budget.” Further complicating that budget challenge, Alaska citizens are paid a per capita distribution instead of paying income or other general taxes.
So after this election a new alliance was formed in the legislature to try and come up solutions, three Republicans and two independents joined the Democrats to form a majority caucus. The Speaker of the House in this coalition is Bryce Edgmon, Yup’ik. He said his native background is how he views the world. He told the Bristol Bay Times: “I know it’s not only my children and maybe their children’s future, but it’s also the future of our way of life out here in rural Alaska and a lot of our Native villages.”
There are now eight Alaska Natives in the legislature representing both parties. Rep. Sam Kito III, Tlingit, is chair of the Labor & Commerce Committee as well as the Legislative Council (a joint committee with the Senate). Neal Foster is co-chair of the Finance Committee.And Dean Westlake, Inupiaq, is chair of the Economic Development Committee and Arctic Policy. In the Senate, Lyman Hoffman, a Democrat who caucuses with Republicans, is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. The House Minority Leader is Charisse Millett, Inupiaq. In a previous legislature, Millett was instrumental in legislating Alaska Native languages as official state languages.
Actually I wrote “bipartisan.” That’s probably the wrong word for what’s occurring in Alaska because a few elected representatives run for election identifying with one party, only to caucus with the other after the election. (Perhaps a model for Congress?)
Oklahoma and Montana are the two states with the most Native legislators, nine. A larger group of Native legislators makes it easier to form a caucus so members can work together on issues important in Native communities. And both states have an active Native caucus.
Oklahoma legislators are leaders in both parties. In the House, Rep. Mark McBride, Potawatomi, is the Assistant Majority Floor Leader. Rep. Chuck Hoskin, Cherokee, is the Minority Whip. And in the Senate, Anastasia Pittman, Seminole, is the Assistant Democratic Leader.
Montana’s newly elected Rep. Shane Morigeau, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, will serve in leadership this session as Minority Whip. It’s a rare honor for a freshman.
Montana’s American Indian caucus was an important voice in the last legislature on issues ranging from tribal college funding to water compacts. “We’ve been literally and figuratively the minority’s minority,” Rep. Susan Webber, Blackfeet, told the Billings Gazette. “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.”
A critical challenge for the American Indian Caucus this session will be Medicaid. Montana came late to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act but its impact has been swift. The state’s uninsured rate dropped from 20 percent in 2012 to 7.4 percent last year. A report by The Montana Budget and Policy Center says a repeal of the Affordable Care Act “could have disastrous impacts on Montana, putting at risk the health care coverage of over 142,000 Montanans who have benefited from ACA measures. At the greatest risk are the over 61,000 Montanans who gained access to affordable health care coverage through Montana’s Medicaid expansion plan.” Worse: the report found that “repeal could cause a greater number of uninsured Montanans than before the ACA was enacted.”
Montana Budget and Policy says 8,000 American Indians are enrolled in insurance through the Medicaid expansion program. Third-party insurance, such as Medicaid, has added nearly a billion dollars to the Indian Health Service budget. “Nationwide, reimbursements at IHS facilities, tribal operated facilities, and urban Indian clinics have increased 21% since the expansion of Medicaid,” the report said. “In 2014, nearly 40% of American Indians did not have health insurance, but Medicaid expansion represented one of the most significant opportunities to expand coverage for American Indians.”
This is important because if Congress repeals the Affordable Care Act, it will be up to state governments to pick up the pieces (as well as the cost) or strip millions of Americans from health insurance coverage. Repeal without new resources could devastate the Indian health system.
Other states where Native American legislators are included in the leadership structure: Hawaii, where Andria Tupola is Minority Floor Leader; and in Colorado, Rep. Joseph Salazar is a committee vice chair.
In Washington Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip, has been a long-time champion of issues that are important in Native communities.
McCoy sponsored legislation to close coal burning power plants and “dramatically reduce the amount of coal burned to generate energy for Washington residents, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Colstrip by 5 million tons — the equivalent of a million cars — a year.”
The senator says Washington Republicans and dental lobbyists are blocking the creation of a mid-level dental practice along the lines of what’s been done in several states. “Indian country may not have the loudest voice in Olympia, but it still has basic needs,” McCoy wrote in The Seattle Times.
“The idea is pretty simple — allow native communities to train and recruit dental therapists to help clear the backlog of an ongoing oral-health crisis. The research is alarming — one-quarter of Native Americans aged 35 to 44 years have fewer than 20 of their natural teeth,” he wrote. “The dentists also ignore the groundbreaking success of similar programs in other states. It’s been working for 11 years for indigenous communities in Alaska, where 45,000 people are seeing reliable providers for the first time in their lives.”
This issue is not going to go away. A new national survey reports that 45 percent of U.S. voters say they go without dental care because of cost or lack of insurance. But 8 of 10 favor adding midlevel providers as a solution. “Good oral health is critical to overall health, yet policies to expand access to dental care do not reflect this,” said Tera Bianchi, project director of the Dental Access Project at Community Catalyst. “Dental therapists offer better access to care for the most underserved populations in a cost-effective way to the system. They are a smart, effective bipartisan way to improve access to care.”
And this session McCoy will be the he face of the Democratic Party, chairing the caucus where he says he will help “foster the vision and values of Senate Democrats as they navigate the 2017 session.”
In other words: Sen. McCoy has a seat at the head of the table.
Across Indian Country there are rallies, phone banks, forums, and social media pitches that are repeating one message, vote. Native American voters can make the difference in key states from the presidential race to county commissions.
And what does it matter? In a paragraph: One presidential candidate, Donald Trump, favors completion of the the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as resurrecting the Keystone XL Pipeline. He would support legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that includes increased funding for the Indian Health System as well as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Clinton, on the other hand, would be more of the same. She generally supports President Obama’s policies on energy, climate, and on federal-tribal relations. (Previous: Native Vote tips the Electoral College.)
And this election there are so many talented Native American candidates whose very presence makes this country better. This is why we need to vote. This is why we vote.
In Montana, Democrats, including congressional candidate Denise Juneau, include tribal nations in that last minute push. The five-day, statewide tour stretched from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation to across the state to Wolf Point and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes. Juneau told Montana Public Radio: “We are on this swing around the state, 17 communities we’ll be hitting all across Montana to talk to voters to know that what we stand for and know our records and that we are going to really talk about the future of this state and what it looks like and draw the stark contrasts that are necessary. I plan to hold my opponent accountable to his lack of a non-record of looking out for Montana, and win over the voters of Montana, and that’s really the excitement around this last push across the state with all these statewide candidates. We’re going to work really hard to get out the vote and make sure that when we wake up after election day the headlines read that we win.”
Juneau also picked up another newspaper endorsement, The Missoulian. “Montanans need a strong voice in the U.S. House who is focused on serving her constituents,” the paper said. “Let’s see what Denise Juneau can do for Montana – for our economy, our public lands and our access to health care – as our U.S. representative.”
Elections were once about turnout on at the polls. But in this era most people will vote early and that changes the focus. Juneau said she already voted and is encouraging everyone in the state to vote early. “You never know what’s going to be happening on Election Day.”
Juneau, of course, is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes (and Blackfeet). The Three Affiliated Tribes have a lot going on this election with candidates running across the country. Another tribal member, Laurel Deegan-Fricke, is in a tight state senate race in North Carolina. And closer to home, citizens Ruth Buffalo is on the ballot for State Insurance Commissioner and Cesar Alvarez is a candidate for the state House of Representatives.
A Thursday rally in New Town included Buffalo, Alvarez, and a broad section of North Dakota candidates, including Chase Iron Eyes, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, as well as other candidates for state, regional and tribal offices.
The outreach to Native Voters in North Dakota also included stops at the United Tribes Technical College and Fort Yates. Iron Eyes and Hunte-Beaubrun are Standing Rock Sioux tribal members.
Iron Eyes posted on Facebook: “I feel good about our campaign. I love being the underdog. North Dakota is about underdogs. We are all looked over and counted out. We all meet challenges head on. We all #FaceTheStorm. Only the strong survive. I ask for the strength to Walk Without Fear. We don’t win unless you vote! It’s that simple.”
The Native Vote is critical in Arizona both in the presidential race and in the U.S. Senate race. Jamescita Peshlakai, who is running for the Arizona state Senate, posted on Facebook that “our next US Senator, Ann Kirkpatrick, is talking Navajo on KTNN. Wow. 2 years ago President Obama ended his campaign commercial with “Ahehee!” Our language can be learned by non-Navajos. If there is a will, there is a way.”
On Saturday the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona is doing a phone bank with the goal of reaching 10,000 Native voters before the election.
And in Alaska the early vote is breaking records. The Alaska Dispatch News reports that 22,114 early votes have already been cast, five days before Election Day. “Early in-person votes go right into the ballot box and are counted on Tuesday, along with ones turned in at the polls,” the Alaska Dispatch News said.”Since the ballots aren’t tallied until Tuesday, there’s no real way to tell how people are voting. And it’s not entirely clear what’s driving the increased early turnout.”
On the Facebook page, Get Out the Native Vote-Interior Alaska, there is this remarkable story posted by Wilmina Daisy Stevens: “When it comes to voting, I always have to think of my mother, Hannah Paul Solomon. On the very last day that she was with us, my sister told her that she had received her GwichyaaZhee Corporation ballot. She wanted to vote it and she did. She never told anyone how she voted but she knew how important it was to vote. My sister sealed the envelope and we watched for the mailman. Once the mailman came, I said ‘The mailman just picked up your ballot, Mom. Your vote is counted.’ She had a smile on her face. Three hours later, my mom passed away. I vote because my Mom showed me how important it is to vote whether its Tribal, Corporations, City, Village, School Boards, or National: Please exercise your rights to vote. Its the only way to voice your opinion. Mahsi’ Mahsi Choo Shalak Nai.”
Let’s start in Montana where Denise Juneau sought out Speaker Paul Ryan and asked to meet with him. Ryan was in Montana to campaign for Juneau’s opponent, Rep. Ryan Zinke.
It was an unusual request, to say the least. And Ryan’s response was a quick no, staff writing, “The speaker was only briefly in Billings for a great rally with Ryan Zinke and other Republican leaders.”
Juneau’s pitched a “positive bipartisan working relationship” and to discuss issues important to Montana, including high school graduation rates.
That’s kind of funny when you think about it. And it’s a great way to change the story of the day.
I’ve been wondering how Juneau versus Zinke is playing on Google. There is still far more interest in Juneau, some thirty searches a day. That’s been consistent. (People must already know about Zinke because they’re not googling him.)
This doesn’t tell us anything about who’s voting, but it does show interest and curiosity. I guess no one is curious about Ryan Zinke.
Juneau also reported another fundraising milestone. She ranks 6th in the country for congressional candidates who are raising money from small donors. A small donation is considered less than $200.
Henry Red Cloud, who is running for the South Dakota Public Utility Commission, debated his opponent, incumbent Chris Nelson, in Sturgis on Saturday. According to the Watertown Public Opinion, Red Cloud made the case for renewable energy (he owns a solar energy company at Pine Ridge).
Nelson said that South Dakota doesn’t have an “optimal sun regime” and wind is intermittent. However he agreed that “South Dakota would see much more use of renewable systems in the coming years. Red Cloud said the goal ought to be for people to use less. “I’m not saying completely off-grid. No, I’m not saying that. Cutting back – cutting back 50, 60, 80 percent,” Red Cloud he said.
Oklahoma Rep. MarkWayne Mullin is chairing Native Americans for Trump.
“The daily flood of new federal regulations keep Indian Country from becoming self-sufficient. Local tribal decisions, not federal bureaucrats, are the best way to improve our communities. As both an enrolled member of Cherokee Nation and a member of Congress, I will stand with Donald Trump in supporting tribal sovereignty and reining in federal over-regulation,” McMullin told The Washington Times. (Previous: Native Republicans make their case.)
The Times said the organization includes tribal leaders from 15 states and includes former Cherokee Chief Ross Swimmer and New Mexico Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage. She told The Times: “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.”
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, is joining forces with a Maryland Democrat calling for a bipartisan Social Security commission. “Americans know that Social Security is on an unsustainable path,” Cole said in a written statement. “They know common sense reforms need to take place. And they know that duplicitous politicians and special interest groups will not hesitate to frighten the elderly with misinformation and outright lies if it means more votes or more contributions. It’s time for our elected leaders to demonstrate the same courage and common sense, and finally address this critical issue.”
So there you have it: There is still bipartisan work going on. Even in an election year. Just not in Montana.
It’s an understatement to say that North Dakota is making history.
The rush to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, was supposed to be routine. It was designed to avoid most regulation, especially federal oversight, and get built without fanfare. But when that route was moved so that it crossed under the Missouri River near the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe everything changed. The issue united Indian Country in a way that’s unprecedented. While the state and the company are making history, too, by writing a soon-to-be case study about how not to handle a crisis.
But there is another chapter. No state in the history of the United States has ever had three Native Americans running as major party nominees for statewide offices. To put that in perspective in recent years: Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee, ran for attorney general (he won) and governor of Idaho (he lost). Byron Mallott, Tlingit, is the Lt. Gov. of Alaska, and Denise Juneau, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, is Supt. of Public Instruction in Montana. There have been a few others candidates, but my point is they are scattered, one candidate is a big deal. So three Native American candidates is beyond extraordinary.
I have been criss-crossing North Dakota in recent days with Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo, and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun for public conversations on a range of issues. We started in Bismarck Thursday, Fargo on Friday, Grand Forks Saturday, and we will conclude in Minot today. Iron Eyes is running for Congress. Buffalo for the state’s insurance commissioner. And, Hunte-Beaubrun is running for the Public Service Commission, the agency that would regulate pipelines. They are running on the North Dakota Democratic-NonPartisan League Party ticket.
North Dakota is a huge state. Thursday night’s event alone meant I had to return home at about 1 am (and getting up again a couple of hours later to write). I want to point that out for one reason: These three candidates have kept this kind of schedule for months. The sacrifice of time, money, and just the stamina required, is remarkable.
Iron Eyes travels the state’s roadways pulling a cargo trailer with his campaign signs inside and on display outside. It’s probably his most visible campaign advertising. On Saturday he made certain to park his vehicle where the University of North Dakota was playing football. More eyeballs. His fundraising is authentic grass roots. He posted on Facebook: “16,227 people have contributed an average of $3.80 to our campaign. Send $3.80 today!”
Three. Dollars. Eighty. That’s it. Think of what that means in a world where the wealthy write checks and buy access to politicians from both parties.
Ruth Buffalo may be the hardest working candidate in the history of North Dakota. Every time you open Facebook you see her knocking on doors, making telephone calls, or supporting the other candidates running. When people look at her resume, her background, she is clearly prepared for this job. As Greg Stites, a former counsel for the North Dakota Insurance Commission, wrote in The Grand Forks Herald: “Ruth Buffalo is the best candidate for the job, with an academic background essentially built for the role of insurance commissioner. She holds a master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University. Her depth of knowledge of the health and insurance needs of our state are unmatched by her opponents. And her accomplishments do not end there.”
And there is not only history, but irony, in Hunte-Beaubrun’s candidacy for the very agency that would regulate pipelines in North Dakota. She’s from Cannonball. This dispute is her community; her water. Imagine how history would be different if on a regulatory agency there was one person who could object to a routine pipeline drawing.
The rules would be different “because we would have a seat at that table,” Hunte-Beaubrun said. “We’d be able to aid in the process of creating those rules and regulations (and) we would be able to help everyone understand culturally where we’re coming from.”
There could have been a solution without a controversy. Win, win.
And that’s why representation is so critical. We have so many states, counties, cities, where decisions have been made without even hearing a Native voice, let alone considering what’s said. That’s not democracy. And will no longer work in a country where the demographics are changing rapidly.
Yes, it’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide offices. But what you know what’s cooler than that? The trend is only beginning. Even better think about what history that could still be created. What if everyone in Indian Country, every ally, everyone who wants change, saw the merit of voting for a candidate who’s proud of contributions measured in pocket coins instead of the million-dollar access that we’ve come to accept as normal?
Early in the election cycle I made a prediction: I said if Donald Trump was the Republican nominee, the House would be in play for the Democrats. The reaction (and more than once) was 30 seats? Not likely. (Previous: Native candidates could help flip Congress).
Not likely are the words of the day. It’s a possibility now because Donald Trump’s war against Republicans has not only doomed his bid for the White House, but it’s making it more likely that Democrats will win the Senate and unlikely as it was, the House. The polling data backs up this idea (certainly good news for Denise Juneau, Joe Pakootas, and Chase Iron Eyes.)
But it’s now seven points. That’s sweep territory. And the prospect of the House of Representatives shifting from Paul Ryan’s leadership to Nancy Pelosi.
The Trump campaign has created an impossible political dilemma for Republican candidates because he’s now attacking Republicans and forcing them to stand with him or against him.
That leaves Republicans with three choices. Hide. Denounce Trump. Or continue supporting Trump as a flawed candidate.
Washington’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers picked door number three. In a statement on Spokane’s KXLY she said: “I have said all along that I absolutely disagree with some of Donald Trump’s statements – especially the video released on Friday. I will be voting for Mr. Trump because I believe that we must defeat Hillary Clinton who has a record of deliberately misleading the American people.”
Democrat Joe Pakootas is relentless on this issue.
“Sexual assault remains a prevalent issue in our country. 1 out of 5 women and one out of 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. These estimates are likely very low because rape is one of the least reported crimes. Few are reported, even fewer are prosecuted, and even fewer find the rapist guilty,” Pakootas posted on his campaign web site and on Facebook. “First of all, we need to stop normalizing rape culture. This means not tolerating any talk that encourages sexual assault. We need to make sure the burden is on the perpetrator, not the victim. We need to teach individuals NOT to assault, as well as safety to victims.”
So what does Door Number Three look like politically? According to the national survey, when Running against a Republican “who continues to endorse Donald Trump” the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 12-point advantage. Voters, especially mainstream voters, don’t like that approach.
The logic behind that spread is simple. To reach a majority, fifty percent plus one, a candidate needs consensus. A broad coalition of voters. So ignoring those who think Trump crossed the line will not accomplish that. And, at the same time, if you do denounce Trump, his hardcore supporters will not forgive you and stay home, vote Libertarian, or write in another name.
Who else is in this camp? Rep. Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, who is being challenged by Chase Iron Eyes.
In Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke also says he still prefers Trump over Clinton. He told Breitbart: “What Mr. Trump said was wrong. There is no other way to say it. He should be ashamed. But, that doesn’t make Hillary any better a candidate. What we face everyday is a bureaucracy that’s grown out of control, a government that have become separated and is no longer held accountable to the people,” he said. “This is a unique election in the history of our country.”
Dozens of senior Republicans, including Speaker Ryan and Sen. John McCain, have distanced themselves from Trump. But that choice doesn’t inspire voters either, according to the DCCC survey. “Even against a ‘Republican candidate who never formally endorsed Donald Trump and now says they won’t vote for him’ the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 10-point advantage.” The reason? The survey reports only 39 percent of voters say: “That these Republicans are showing character and integrity for finally standing up to Donald Trump.”
Update: Some of the Republicans who wanted Trump to withdraw have now changed their minds and are back as supporters. At least voters know where they stand. For the moment.
These are significant numbers. In a recent Montana poll Denise Juneau trailed Zinke by three points and another by 11 points. So a 12-point swing would change everything. Same story in Washington state. And, if Iron Eyes can get his message out, even in North Dakota.
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.
Let’s start with the big picture. Donald Trump’s recorded revelation of felony intent — and yes, it’s that serious — ought to disqualify him from the presidency. There is no excuse. We are not talking about lewd behavior, consensual relationships, or being boorish. Trump said he can engage in criminal behavior. “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he said. “You can do anything.”
In less than 24 hours we’re seeing Republicans disinvite Trump from events (as is the case with Paul Ryan) and others reverse their endorsement (as happened in Utah) along with calls for Trump to drop out of the race. This is unprecedented. And expected. We knew this was Donald J. Trump. This tape is only conformation.
Denise Juneau, who’s running for Montana’s only House seat, called on her opponent Rep. Ryan Zinke to withdraw his endorsement of Trump. “Donald Trump has shown his complete disrespect for women since the beginning of his campaign, but that didn’t stop Congressman Zinke from backing him from day one,” Juneau said in a news release. “Just this week, Congressman Zinke laughed off Trump’s sexist behavior, calling him an ‘equal opportunity offender.’ I’m calling on Congressman Zinke to denounce Trump’s violent remarks, withdraw his endorsement, and apologize for joking about Trump’s consistently offensive language. Montana’s 500,000 mothers, daughters and sisters are watching.”
Of course most politicians will try to talk about something else. North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer would prefer to talk about energy policy. He sees himself as a key voice for a Trump energy policy. Cramer said this week that the Paris Agreement on climate change is “is unilaterally disarming the American economy at the behest of the world.” And that statement is exactly why he’s on the side of the Dakota Access Pipeline project and ready to roll over the sovereignty or legitimate concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux.
But how can any candidate now be legitimate when talking about Donald Trump? There is no energy policy for a disqualified presidential candidate.
Even before the Trump tape surfaced, Chase Iron Eyes in a debate was pressing Cramer about his views on women. “Today in my debate with Kevin Cramer I said we are creating a 21st century North Dakota; a North Dakota where women earn the same as men for the same work! Where women’s sovereignty over their own bodies must be respected,” Iron Eyes posted on Facebook. Audio of the debate his here. “My perceptions of patriarchy are skewed but I have daughters and I was happy to be able to use the word patriarchy in a US Congressional debate, maybe the 1st time in ND history, for a man anyways. For Trump to even suggest or for a man to even ask or consider whether or not a woman should be “punished” for her own serious health care decisions, is conceptually repulsive.”
In Oklahoma, neither Rep. Tom Cole nor Markwayne Mullins have weighed in on the Trump tape yet. However in recent weeks, Cole called Trump a work in progress. We will see if that is still the line after a few days.
In Washington state, Democrat Joe Pakootas immediately denounced the Trump tape. “As a husband, father & grandparent I am appalled & sickened by the vulgar comments spoken by my opponent’s presidential candidate Donald Trump about women today,” Pakootas posted on Facebook. “Most Americans are outraged & disgusted by this sick behavior. However, last night my opponent again expressed her unwavering support for Mr. Trump. It is beyond time for my opponent to demonstrate some moral courage & put integrity above party politics. I call upon her to stand up for women as a Christian & a leader & condemn this reprehensible behavior. He is not fit to be president & anyone who endorses a man like that does not deserve another term in the United States House of Representatives.”
Ten months ago the United States told the world it was ready to do something about climate change. Enough talk. Time to act. And because of the nature of the crisis, the world’s governments are moving quickly. Well, at least as measured by governments. On Wednesday President Barack Obama said the global agreement will begin implementation on Nov. 4 after being ratified by European nations.
“Today, the world meets the moment. And if we follow through on the commitments that this agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet,” the president said.
And the Paris agreement formally begins on Nov. 4, four days before the U.S. presidential election in which Republican Donald Trump opposes the deal as well as science, while Democrat Hillary Clinton strongly supports it.
“Now, the Paris Agreement alone will not solve the climate crisis. Even if we meet every target embodied in the agreement, we’ll only get to part of where we need to go,” the President said. But make no mistake, this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change. It will help other nations ratchet down their dangerous carbon emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations. And by sending a signal that this is going to be our future — a clean energy future — it opens up the floodgates for businesses, and scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation at a scale that we’ve never seen before. So this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.”
The test of those words is found at Standing Rock. If, the president, the government, the world, really believe that the agreement will only get us part of where we need to go to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, then stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline is essential.
A recent report by Oil Change International, and a consortium of environmental organizations, calls for a “managed decline of fossil fuel production.” The logic is simple, math. The study measures potential carbon emissions from “where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed.” Add those numbers up and “the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond two degrees Celsius of warming.”
In other words: Keep it in the ground is not just a slogan but the answer to the math question, “how does the world meet its target of limiting global warming to 2°C?” Remember, and this is important, two degrees Celsius is supposed to be the upper limit. The Paris agreement calls for nations to work toward a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, a much more difficult goal.
“Scientists say that to have even a two-thirds chance of staying below a global increase of two degrees Celsius, we can release 800 gigatons more CO2 into the atmosphere,” writes Bill McKibben in The New Republic. “But the Rystad data shows coal mines and oil and gas wells currently in operation worldwide contain 942 gigatons worth of CO2. So the math problem is simple, and it goes like this: 942 > 800.” That’s just to hit the 2 degree target. To reach the more difficult, stretch goal? McKibben says “to have even a 50–50 chance of meeting that goal, we can only release about 353 gigatons more CO2. So let’s do the math again: 942 > 353.”
Even that number. challenging as it is, does not mean we give up fossil fuels over night. (One of the first dismissals of what was occurring at Standing Rock was by industry supporters who said, “oh, but they drive cars and trucks there …”) As the report puts it: “This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight. Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.”
That’s really the key in North Dakota — and beyond. Starting the transition by saying that Dakota Access Pipeline represents our past and a mistake. And as part of a managed decline, major fossil fuel infrastructure projects — this pipeline — are no more.
But what about the jobs? What will this do to North Dakota? Actually it could be a great thing. Data from Stanford researchers shows that the transition to clean energy could happen faster than projected — and benefit a state almost immediately. In North Dakota the Solutions Project says an transformation “plan pays for itself in as little as 2 years from air pollution and climate cost savings alone.” Two years? Imagine the intellectual activity, the construction, the jobs, the fresh investment, all that would come together to make that so. It would be mind-blowing. The Stanford data says such a transition would create 8,574 permanent operations jobs and 21,744 construction jobs.
But this global challenge, the data of climate change, adds up to one thing: Standing Rock is a test. The United States cannot meet its obligations to the world if it continues business as usual. It’s just not possible, the math of carbon emissions cannot be wished away. The people who are camped at Standing Rock are giving President Obama the opportunity to show how a managed decline is possible. And, if done right, inspiring. As the president said, “this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got.”