#NativeVote16 – North Dakota’s three statewide challengers pitch to voters

Chase Iron Eyes in Fargo for state’s congressional debate. He said: “We are creating a 21st century North Dakota.” (Photo via Facebook)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

We’re about a month away from this election season being over — and so there is a lot going on in the #NativeVote16 universe. (Previous: Make no mistake, Standing Rock is on the ballot.)

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.

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

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#NativeVote16 – Montana congressional debates will take place on tribal lands

Denise Juneau (Trahant photo)


Denise Juneau and Ryan Zinke have agreed to a series of congressional debates across Montana. And half of those debates will occur in Indian Country.

The first debate will be in Frazer within the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribal Nation. That  will take place on August 29.

Both campaigns have also agreed to a debate on the Crow Nation but the details remain to be worked out.

“I’m pleased Congressman Zinke has agreed to debate me in Billings, Great Falls, Frazer and Crow Agency, and address the issues that are vitally important to Montana voters,” Denise Juneau said. “It’s time Congressman Zinke explain why he’s voted to cut public lands funding, voted to transfer management of our lands to politically-appointed boards, voted to slash funding for Pell grants, and voted to limit health care for Montana women.”

Rep. Ryan Zinke (Campaign photo)

“We are very excited to announce such a historic debate schedule with two debates east of Billings and two on reservations, including in Fort Peck where I am proud to be an adopted member,” said Congressman Ryan Zinke. “Eastern Montana and the sovereign nations are equally as important as Billings, Great Falls and other population centers, but they often don’t get the attention they deserve. I’m looking forward to speaking directly with voters from these communities about how we can work together to get America and Montana back on the right track.”

This will be interesting. Obviously it’s historic: Two congressional debates in Native communities is unprecedented. But beyond that it’s important because these two tribal homelands are facing extraordinary challenges with violence, addiction, and the loss of jobs from the natural resource economy. There will be plenty to talk about. Especially if the candidates address their very different approaches to the role of the federal government when it comes to these issues.

Two other debates are scheduled: One in Billings on Sept. 1, and in Great Falls, on Oct. 5. The Libertarian candidate, Mike Fellows, has also been invited to participate in each debate.




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

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three stark differences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#NativeVote16 – Three words that exposed the Republican divide 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#NativeVote16 – Trump’s Republicans will champion more coal this election


Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 8.09.48 AM
Delegates will vote on the Republican platform on Monday.


Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

It’s time for the Republican Party and its soon-to-be nominee Donald J. Trump making their best case for winning the White House and Congress.

This will not be an election where the color gray will be debated. The differences on issues between Republicans and Democrats are stark. On Monday convention delegates will vote on the party platform, the document that outlines the party’s stand on major issues. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who is chairing the platform committee, told National Public Radio, “this was going to be a conservative platform, reflecting the views, and the values, and the vision of the Republican party, and I think we stayed true to that.”

So the draft of the document says the bible should be a guide when legislating and laws “must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.” The New York Times says the draft also encourages the teaching of the Bible in public schools because a good understanding of its contents is “indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry.”

According to the Times, Trump’s operators have not played much of a role in the writing of the platform at all. That said: “Another tweak to the platform’s language on immigration will also please Mr. Trump: Though the initial draft called for building a “physical barrier” along the United States border with Mexico, that passage was amended yesterday to call specifically for a wall.”

Republican platforms often include statements of policy on federal-Indian policy. And much of the party’s focus right now is on energy policy. Trump said in Montana and North Dakota this summer that he would remove barriers to oil and coal production to create more jobs.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, will speak at the convention. “In communities like Colstrip and other small communities, coal and other natural resources are the only answer,” Zinke said last month. “For the great coal nation of the Crow, there’s treaties. The treaties specifically state the United States shall not interfere with their destiny if they choose to mine their coal. As a sovereign nation they have every right to export their coal as they choose. But when the government gets in the way, as we have done, we have violated a treaty.”

I am not sure where that line in the Crow Treaty of 1868 is “specifically” found. Literally. (Pronounce “literally” as if you are Rob Lowe’s character in Parks and Recreation.)

In this election cycle, Republicans are carrying the banner for more coal. As the draft platform puts it:  Coal is “an abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.”

The problem, however, is that a Republican victory will not bring coal markets back to life. Natural gas is cheaper. Shipping coal to China is problematic (and Chinese consumption is declining anyway) plus every day more renewable sources come on line. The future is doing something else instead of coal as the “only answer.” And, if a kicker is needed, it’s this: Northwest tribes have also asserted their treaty rights to fish for salmon. In waters that are not polluted by coal dust. (Previous: The power of what if? Paying tribes to leave coal in the ground.)

Another draft plank in the Republican platform impacts treaty rights and that’s the call for Congress to  “immediately pass universal legislation providing the timely and orderly mechanism requiring the federal government to convey certain federally controlled public lands to the states.”

As Oregon Public Broadcasting puts it: That’s a message with a familiar tone. “Throughout the refuge occupation, Ammon Bundy and other militant leaders said that the federal government had no right to control public lands.”

Tribal rights to hunt and fish on public lands are often included, yes, even, specifically in treaty language. So any transfer of those lands ought to go to the tribes whose land it was first. As a resolution by the National Congress of American Indians says: Federal lands should be “considered for disposal or transfer to the nearest federally recognized Indian tribe for direct sale at the appraised value prior to subjecting such land to the competitive bidding process.”

Then that’s not the only troubling idea that will be debated Monday. As The New York Times said: “… nearly every provision that expressed disapproval of homosexuality, same-sex marriage or transgender rights passed. The platform calls for overturning the Supreme Court marriage decision with a constitutional amendment and makes references to appointing judges ‘who respect traditional family values.'” Plus just about every cause that the most conservative elements of the party think critical.

How important are party platforms? Are they treaties with voters?

“As a rule, platforms don’t seem to matter much,” wrote Dan Balz in The Washington Post. “Few voters will search, find and read through the many pages of party doctrine — for either the Republicans or the Democrats, whose newly drafted platform reflects a significant left turn. Trump, as with some other previous nominees, will probably ignore it and carry on his campaign as he wishes. The document will be presented early next week, ratified and put on a shelf.”

Still this document reflects the many divisions that are found in today’s Republican Party. Instead of looking for solutions, say, on climate change, perhaps including practical, conservative approaches, the document reduces governing to slogans. There is no climate change, only coal. This reflects the best GOP case.

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

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#NativeVote16 – Stick games with Republicans; hiding the Trump marker


Republican candidate for Gov. Greg Gianforte playing stick games at Arlee Celebration. “Great time at the pow-wow in Arlee … Thanks to CSKT Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley for the hospitality.” (Photo via the candidate’s Twitter feed.) 
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Make no mistake: The 2016 election is not routine. If you want proof, look no further than the weekend encampment at the Arlee Celebration. On Friday afternoon the Republican candidate for governor, Greg Gianforte, showed up at the celebration with a GOP colleague and then proceeded to serve grilled burgers to all comers. Free food? At a powwow? Sure. Fire. Hit. Gianforte proceeded to play a round of stick games (a tradition that’s been practiced by several former Montana governors). 

Gianforte’s visit was friendly; he wasn’t exactly talking policy. But this is where a Republican gamble for Indian Country gets tricky. 

In any election it is smart for a Republican to try and peel off a few Native American votes. Montana Democrats have been successful reaching out to tribal communities for a long time, especially after the 2005 election of Gov. Brian Schweitzer. So it makes perfect sense for the GOP to pitch Native voters at a powwow.

But just a few miles from the camp is a visible reminder about how complex a simple idea can be.

Just as you enter the reservation, a billboard advertises against the water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as an assault against non-Indian property rights. Many of the complaints are focused on state officials, who critics say, gave the tribes everything in the negotiations. (The deal must still be approved by the federal government. The Interior Department said last week that it likes the structure of the compact but not its $2.3 billion price tag. Montana Sen. Jon Tester has introduced legislation to make it law.) Critics understand it’s bipartisan and blame the Republican Attorney General Tim Fox as well as Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

Again in normal times it would be easy to dismiss antics of what are essentially fringe groups. But the Confederated Tribes’ territory, where the annual July 4th celebration occurs, is the heart of Montana’s opposition to tribal treaty rights, tribal management of resources, and, well just about anything with a reference to a tribe in any phrase.

This is where the Republican fault line is visible. The same people who shout at their government for working with tribes to solve problems are the ones who formed the Tea Party. A report by the Montana Human Rights Network said: “Over the years, anti-Indian activists and organizations have tried to couch their opposition to treaty rights and tribal sovereignty under the banner of ‘civil rights’ for non-Indians … All of these comments are a smokescreen to try and distract from the reality that compact opponents are trying to deny legally-established rights guaranteed to CSKT by treaty.”

The GOP divide is present in many forms. The state’s Republican platform says it supports tribes and treaties (and, of course, tribal development of natural resources). But at the same time a party resolution calls for the transfer of federal lands to the state government. Not a word about how original land owners would fit into such a transfer or how treaty-protected activities on public lands would be protected. The party document even discounts the idea of federal law enforcement: “The Sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer of the county. We support the requirement that a federal officer may not arrest, search or seize in Montana without the advanced, written permission of the elected county sheriff.”

What makes the GOP divide even more pronounced is Donald Trump. As the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party he is adding fuel to The Hateful Mix, a blend of racism and anti-government rhetoric.

And that’s a mixture that not every Republican can tolerate.

On Friday former Montana Gov. Marc Racicot wrote in The Washington Post: “It is inescapable that every decision made by every leader reflects the character of the man or woman making the decision. Character is the lens through which a leader perceives the path to be followed. It conceives and shapes every thought and is inextricably interwoven into every word spoken, every policy envisioned and every action taken.” And, as a result, Racicot said, he could not endorse nor vote for Trump.

On the other side of the divide: Rep. Ryan Zinke not only endorsed Trump but suggested he might make a good pick for vice president. (Denise Juneau is running against Zinke for Montana’s only House seat.)

This election is different because the internal debate within the Republican Party is so visible. There will always be policy differences, but this year there is more than that, because the logic of Trump requires buying into the premise of hating government so much that you must destroy it.

So every Republican candidate this election will play stick games. Look close: Which hand is hiding the bone marked Trump and which hand will be free?

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

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#NativeVote16 – Libertarians as the ‘normal’ alternative to the Democrats

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the nominee of the Libertarian Party. (Creative Commons photo provided by Nick del Castillo.)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Let’s explore two questions: First, will a third party candidacy matter in the 2016 presidential election? And, if so, what does that mean for the Native American vote?

The first question ought to be easy to answer because the arc of history says no. Democrats and Republicans have owned the presidential field since the mid-19th century when the Whig Party collapsed.

The Whigs were an unlikely coalition that included citizens opposed to Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policies. Yet in order to win, or so they said, the Whigs nominated generals who were famous as Indian fighters, General Zachary Taylor or “Old Rough and Ready,” and finally, General Winfield Scott, whose earned nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” wasn’t  exactly the warrior image a politician is eager to project. The Whig era reflects the irony of U.S. politics. On one hand there was the Democratic Party that championed Jackson’s criminal treatment of Native people and, on the other, a party that rejected Jackson’s removal policy, but nominated as its standard-bearers, soldiers who made their name killing Indians.

Gen. Winfield Scott. 1861. Image. Library of Congress

George Wallace and the Dixiecrats

There is a consistent theme that emerges when you look back at the history of third-party movements. The movements are most successful when the two major parties are realigning. That’s exactly what’s occurring with the Republican Party today.

The other consistent theme: The third party rise is often associated in a time when hate is also on the rise.

After the Whig Party ceased as a national political force most of its southern members created the Native American Party. Of course not that Native American Party. American Indians and Alaska Natives were not citizens. Indeed, the party later became the American Party and was often referred to as the “Know Nothings.” The party platform included provisions that “Americans must rule America … and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all State, Federal, and municipal offices of government.”

After the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, many Southerners again went the third party route in 1968 supporting former Alabama Gov. George Wallace and his American Independent Party. That party championed racism and segregation. Wallace was the last third party presidential candidate to win states, five of them, and 45 electoral votes.

Wallace’s strategy is what’s important to think about in a 2016 context: The primary objective of a third-party run is to deny the other two candidates 270 electoral votes. If that happens, the House of Representatives decides the election, not the voters. (Previous: America and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Election.)

One more point of context: That 1968 election was one where the Republican Party realigned. Richard Nixon recognized the importance of Southern white voters and made them a key GOP voting bloc. (Before Wallace the South was the base of Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party.) As Kevin Phillips wrote in his book, The Emerging Republican Majority, Nixon played the “Southern strategy” with “wedge” issues such as affirmative action that would pit the white working class against African American voters.

It’s the fallout of this strategy that’s one reason why the Republican Party is splitting today because its southern base has evolved to become even more intolerant on a host of issues such as civil rights and voting. And that’s what makes 2016 so extraordinary: It’s now the Republicans with Donald Trump as their party nominee that’s almost the platform of the Know Nothings or George Wallace. “Make America Great Again!” would have been a familiar theme.

Candidates with practical experience governing

This weekend the Libertarian Party nominated two former governors to champion their cause in this election. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (who was the party’s candidate four years ago is running with former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.

These two candidates are different from the Libertarian routine (I know, this is Johnson’s second run) because their message will be about experience. In a way they will be asking voters to ignore Libertarian purists and move their party to the center. That’s a tall order. Because they have to convince their own party members about the value of the center and they have to recruit disaffected Republicans as well as a few Democrats. 

Johnson’s reputation as a governor was frugal. He brags about the number of bills he vetoed as governor. In his first race for governor, he was supportive of New Mexico’s tribal gaming industry and received nearly $250,000 in campaign donations from tribes. He signed gambling compacts with the tribes shortly after taking office.

The Libertarian Party is a mix of conservative and liberal issues. Like the Republicans, the party advocates a significantly smaller government. But it’s also to the left of Democrats on the legalization of marijuana and other drugs. Johnson has also dismissed Donald Trump’s immigration policy as racist and says his call for a wall on the Mexican border only leads to taller ladders.

Johnson said he wanted to run this time around with Gov. Weld because he thinks the pair can win or at least participate in the coming presidential debates. (Candidates must poll at 15 percent or better to be included.)

The two can call on traditional Republican sources of funds, ranging from Mitt Romney supporters to the Koch Brothers. They basically will make the case that they are not crazy like Trump. And they can point to their records as former governors.

Johnson is polling at around 10 percent and the Libertarian ticket will be on all 50 ballots (compared to about 20 states for the Green Party.)

So will Johnson-Weld matter? Can they win any states? That’s a good point to explore the role of Native American voters.

Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican and his very presence changes the electoral map. He could, for example, be a contender in Rust Belt states where there are a lot of white, working class voters. As The New York Times put it: “Mr. Trump’s best play for the White House is to cut a swath through the Rust Belt, flipping states traditionally won by Democrats that harbor large numbers of the white working-class voters who have welcomed his hard line on immigration and trade.”

But travel into the West and it might be a different story. Montana Sen. Jon Tester won re-election with only 48.56 percent of the vote. The Libertarian candidate for Senate, Dan Cox, earned 6.56 percent of the vote. And that percentage represents a smaller number than Native American voters.

So a state normally not be in play for Democrats, Montana, could be up for grabs. And Montana is one of the best states for Libertarians. Several other Western states where the Libertarian message could win votes include Arizona, Nevada, and even Alaska

But Libertarians are hoping to do better than that. Many see 2016 as the year when it becomes the alternative party to Democrats. And, if history is a guide, the Libertarians could have a remarkable year. There is a major party realignment occurring and one campaign spews messages of hate rather than optimism (just compare the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump if you want proof.) That’s a theme from the past.

No one could have predicted the Libertarian presidential candidate to be a representative of normal. Especially a party campaigning with a ticket comprised of former governors who have  practical experience actually running governments. It will be interesting to see if there message gets out and connects with voters.

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 / TrahantReport