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

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three stark differences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com


#NativeVote16 – Oregon’s primary is the big day for Tawna Sanchez; Turnout test

Controversy in Oregon: Tawna Sanchez posted this picture with former Rep. Gabby Giffords because of a flyer that accuses her of being soft on gun control. Since wrote: “That is a despicable lie! In fact, this picture is me joining Gabby Giffords for the kickoff of the Oregon Coalition for Common Sense, a statewide organization working to close the loopholes in our background checks system and make our communities safer.” (Facebook photo)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

It’s another primary Election Day. Tonight returns will come in from Oregon and Kentucky. And while most of the attention will be on the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders contest, there are a couple of other things worth thinking about. Especially in Oregon.

First: The primary is the Big Day for Tawna Sanchez. She’s a candidate for the Oregon House in Portland, District 43. She’s Shoshone-Bannock. The candidate who wins the primary will win the office. (Previous: A record year for Native candidates?)

Sanchez is running on a  progressive platform. From her campaign page: “I’ve spent my life sticking up for women, children, and families. I protested coal and uranium mining on native reservations.  I’ve helped create a domestic violence program that is a national model. I was the second employee at NAYA, and today we employ 120 people.”

If elected, Sanchez would be a voice for what I have called the most underrepresented people in the country, urban American Indians. (And bonus: Sanchez has received support from Oregon tribes, most recently an endorsement from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.)

Sanchez is running against Roberta Phillip-Robbins. Earlier this month it was reported that Phillip-Robins was ineligible to run for office because her job was funded by a federal grant. She resigned from her job. But as the Willamette Week noted: “… on May 9, Sean Cruz, a former legislative staffer who has endorsed Sanchez, filed an elections complaint against Phillip-Robbins, arguing that because she was ineligible to run between her Dec. 17, 2015, candidate filing and her May 6 resignation from the county, she illegally—if inadvertently—collected nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions during that time. “Election laws have been broken and an impartial investigation is called for,” Cruz wrote.”

This controversy continues on election day. This morning Sanchez posted an election alert on Facebook:

“People across the District are telling us they’ve receiving mail and visits from Roberta Phillip-Robbins canvassers falsely claiming I oppose stronger gun laws. That is a despicable lie! In fact, this picture is me joining Gabby Giffords for the kickoff of the Oregon Coalition for Common Sense, a statewide organization working to close the loopholes in our background checks system and make our communities safer. I am incredibly disappointed that my opponent is stooping to this level to try to win this election. I think my record speaks for itself as a leader for decades in the domestic violence community, this is not something I would do.”

There is another reason to watch Oregon’s Primary Election returns. Turnout. Oregon is a vote by mail state and consistently has a higher turnout than other states. It’s a system that makes it easy to vote.

Let’s look at the numbers. Eight years ago, was the last contested primary on both sides, and Oregon’s voter turnout was 43.2%, according to the United States Election Project. That was second only to New Hampshire’s 53.6% (the lowest primary turnout numbers would come from a few caucus states that don’t even bother to count.)

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Reposting or reprinting this column? Please credit: Mark Trahant / TrahantReports.com





#NativeVote16 – Debate was a curtain hiding the real business of governing


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (House photo)


Leading in a time of chaos


Tuesday’s debate was kind of like looking at a traffic accident. You drive by not wanting to peek, but then you do, and it’s awful, so you think, “why did I do that?”

About the closest thing to reality was when Jeb Bush pointed out that Trump is a chaos candidate who would be a chaos president. True. But that idea fits Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, and perhaps others on the stage. And worse, the idea of willful chaos also fits the majority of Republican voters right now. It’s these voter groups that are demanding destruction in Washington.

Meanwhile in Washington folks are actually trying to govern. The new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, announced a compromise with Democrats early Wednesday morning on a spending bill to fund the government next year. The current funding bill expires today. A vote could come on Friday on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. It’s a 2,000-plus page bill that wraps up spending across the government, including funding for the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs including contract support costs. (I am still reading the bill, but here are a few details from The Washington Post.)

The bill means no more fights over Planned Parenthood, the Environmental Protection Administration, zeroing out the Affordable Care Act, or a shut down of government.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans won every position. Most Democrats aren’t keen on a provision that ends a ban on the export of U.S. oil (although that provision has been championed by North Dakota Democrat Sen. Heidi Heitkamp working with Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.) But Republicans were unsuccessful in getting tighter restrictions on refugees and stripping Planned Parenthood funding.

One especially disappointing provision is a continued ban on funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence. It’s one thing to be against gun control, but to not even study the problem? C’mon.

The basic problem for Speaker Ryan is that the only way this budget passes Congress is with Democratic votes. Too many Republicans will vote no on any budget that is not ideologically pure. (Measures that have no chance of becoming law.)

Watch what happens next: Will talk radio and conservative groups such as Heritage Action lobby against the bill? There are a lot of ways that can happen: Such as threatening primary opponents to those members who vote yes.

The question is Congress ready to govern? Or do they really like the chaos that was stage center in Las Vegas? Ryan, at least, has chosen to govern.



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

#NativeVote16 – Rethinking terrorism, guns and the study of violence

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Nevada’s John Oceguera, a candidate for Congress, resigns his membership in the National Rifle Association. (Picture via Facebook.)


U.S. spends billions to “fight terrorism” but not a dime to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study gun violence.


*** Updated after President Obama’s Sunday speech from the Oval Office.


The news cycle often defines the political story. So instead of a thoughtful conversation about climate change, or last week’s vote in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or even guns and violence, we turn on the television and terrorism dominates our discourse. This is where the narrative of fear trumps the data.

Yes, terrorism is a problem. And It’s frightening. But it’s hardly the most important (or deadly) one that this nation faces. Vox World (before the San Bernardino massacre) pointed out: “More than 10,000 Americans are killed every year by gun violence. By contrast, so few Americans have been killed by terrorist attacks since 9/11 that when you chart the two together, the terrorism death count approximates zero for every year except 2001. This comparison, if anything, understates the gap: Far more Americans die every year from (easily preventable) gun suicides than gun homicides.”

That is certainly true in Indian Country. A recent study by the University of North Dakota found that firearms are used 41 percent of the time in suicides, a significantly higher rate than other ethnic groups.

What’s terrorism and what’s routine gun violence? This country averages a mass murder every day. Yet every proposal to do something from the president has been ignored or condemned by the Congress. On Sunday the president said it’s too easy for “people who want to harm Americans to buy guns.”

But that’s not a message Congress will hear. Right now, even funding studies about gun violence is seen as biased and anti-gun. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been blocked from research for more than two decades. “The amount of money available today for studying the impact of firearms is a fraction of what it was in the mid-1990s, and the number of scientists toiling in the field has dwindled to just a handful as a result,”The New York Times said. “No other field of inquiry is singled out in this way.”

Instead Congress is eager to spend billions of dollars on military operations that’s don’t solve terrorism and, in the case of Daesh, the war effort clearly fueled the group’s rise to power.

Last week that same political divide surfaced again in the Senate when it voted against an amendment to prevent people on the terrorist “no fly” list from purchasing a weapon. Republicans argued that preventing people from buying guns would violate their Second Amendment rights. This is not just an academic debate. The Government Accountability Office found that “from February 2004 through February 2009, a total of 963 NICS background checks resulted in valid matches with individuals on the terrorist watch list. Of these transactions, approximately 90 percent (865 of 963) were allowed to proceed because the checks revealed no prohibiting information, such as felony convictions, illegal immigrant status, or other disqualifying factors. Two of the 865 transactions that were allowed to proceed involved explosives background checks.” And how many of those sales were stopped? GAO said: “About 10 percent (98 of 963) of the transactions were denied based on the existence of prohibiting information. No transactions involving explosives background checks were denied.” Not that that “No Fly” list is perfect (but that’s another story).

Guns? Check. Explosives? Fine. Your Second Amendment rights are protected as defined by the National Rifle Association. The NRA’s version of the Senate vote  was “Senate holds the line on Second Amendment rights.”

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John Oceguera, a candidate for Congress in Nevada, made national headlines this week by renouncing his membership in the National Rifle Association. “I am law-abiding gun owner, and have been a Life Member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). I grew up in a family of hunters,” Oceguera wrote in a letter to the NRA. “But more importantly, I’m a father and a husband. I believe that keeping our families safe is our most fundamental priority.”

Oceguera is a member of the Walker River Paiute Tribe. He said the country can no longer ignore gun violence. “Still, the NRA opposes any legislation that would help keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, criminals and the mentally ill, and spends millions to stop any action in Congress that could help prevent further violence. I cannot continue to be a member while the NRA refuses to back closing these loopholes. Therefore, I resign my membership in the NRA, effective immediately.

Across the country, Native American congressional candidates are split on the gun issue along party lines. In Arizona, Democrat Victoria Steele said: “The issue of gun violence in Arizona and around the country has reached epidemic proportions. Stories of mass shootings and casualties by the dozens are on the brink of becoming commonplace.  And yet, despite that alarming trend, Congress does nothing.”

Meanwhile, in Montana, Denise Juneau, who’s the state superintendent of public instruction, dismissed an initiative that would permit public school employees to be armed. She told Montana Public Radio that she’s against the proposal …  “because schools are supposed to be safe places for learning, adding guns into that mix threatens that. It just has so much opportunity for crisis to happen that it’s just a bad idea.”

However, Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, called the measure to prohibit people on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns “a paper tiger.” He told Oklahoma’s NewOnSix.com: “If the Attorney General is aware of individuals engaging in terrorist activities on American soil, those individuals should be in jail. They ought not be free to buy groceries, let alone guns.”

This is not an easy issue or debate. People in Indian Country own a lot of guns. (In general people living in rural areas own guns at higher rates than those in cities.) On top of that, we know how important hunting is to most Native Americans.

Perhaps, that’s one role for Native politicians. It might take leaders who own guns, those who are lifelong hunters, to rip up their NRA membership cards,  and then propose reasonable firearm policies and restrictions.

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