Latest attack on Medicaid also sabotages Treaty Rights, Indian health programs

Agency Says Indian Health Should Not Be Exempt From Medicaid Work Rules Because They Are ‘Race-Based’

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Trump administration is supporting a major policy shift on Indian health programs which could result in a loss of millions of dollars and sabotage treaty rights.

A story in Politico Sunday raised the issue. It said “the Trump administration contends the tribes are a race rather than separate governments, and exempting them from Medicaid work rules — which have been approved in three states and are being sought by at least 10 others — would be illegal preferential treatment. ‘HHS believes that such an exemption would raise constitutional and federal civil rights law concerns,’ according to a review by administration lawyers,” Politico said.

The new policy on Medicaid work requirements “does not honor the duty of the federal government to uphold the government-to-government relationship and recognize the political status enshrined in the Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, and other federal laws, said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “Our political relationship is not based upon race.”

“The United States has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans,” Mary Smith, who was acting head of the Indian Health Service during the Obama administration and is a member of the Cherokee Nation, told Politico. “It’s the largest prepaid health system in the world — they’ve paid through land and massacres — and now you’re going to take away health care and add a work requirement?”

Medicaid has become a key funding stream for the Indian health system — especially in programs managed by tribes and non-profits. Medicaid is a state-federal partnership and public insurance. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid eligibility, but the Supreme Court ruled that each state could decide whether or not to expand. Since the expansion of Medicaid some 237,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in 19 states have become insured.

Officially Medicaid represents 13 percent of the Indian Health Service’s $6.1 billion budget (just under $800 million).

But even that number is misleading because it does not include money collected from third-party billing from tribal and non-profit organizations. In Alaska, for example, the entire Alaska Native health system is operated by tribes or tribal organizations and the state says 40 percent of its $1.8 billion Medicaid budget is spent on Alaska Native patients. That one state approaches the entire “budgeted” amount for Medicaid.

Other states report similar increases. Kaiser Family Foundation found that in Arizona, one tribally-operated health system reported that about half of visits were by patients covered by Medicaid in 2016. And, an Urban Indian Health Program, reported that its uninsured rate at one clinic fell from 85 percent before the Affordable Care Act to under 10 percent.

Those Medicaid (and all insurance) dollars are even more significant because by law they remain with local service units where the patient is treated (and the insurance is billed). In Alaska more than two-thirds of those dollars are spent on private sector doctors and hospitals through purchased care for Alaska Native patients. And, unlike IHS funds, Medicaid is an entitlement. So if a person is eligible, the money follows.

A recent report by Kaiser Health News looked at Census data and found that 52 percent of residents in New Mexico’s McKinley County have coverage through the Medicaid.  That’s the highest rate among U.S. counties with at least 65,000 people. “The heavy concentration of Medicaid in this high-altitude desert is a result of two factors: the high poverty rate and the Indian Health Service’s relentless work to enroll patients in the program,” Kaiser reported. Most of McKinley County is located on the Navajo and Zuni reservations.


Kaiser Health News said Medicaid has opened up new opportunities for Native patients to “get more timely care, especially surgery and mental health services. It has been vital in combating high rates of obesity, teen birth, suicide and diabetes, according to local health officials.”

However the growth of Medicaid is resulting in unequal care for patients in the Indian health system. The benefits in some states, including those that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, are more generous. Other states not only refused to expand Medicaid and have been adding new restrictions such as requiring “able-bodied” adults to have their Medicaid eligibility contingent on work.

But the Indian health system — the federal Indian Health Service and tribally and nonprofit operated programs — are in a special case because there is a 100 percent federal match for most services. So states set the rules, but do not have to pay the bill. (Medicaid is often the second largest single item in a state budget behind public schools.)

Medicaid is the largest health insurance program in America, insuring one in five adults, and many with complex and long-term chronic care needs. The Trump administration and many state legislatures controlled by Republicans see Medicaid as a welfare program. While most Democrats view it simply as a public health insurance program.

Work rules are particularly challenging for Indian Country. Unlike other Medicaid programs, patients in the Indian health system will still be eligible to receive basic care. So stricter rules will mean fewer people will sign up for Medicaid and the Indian Health Service — already significantly underfunded — will have to pick up the extra costs from existing appropriations. That will result in less money, and fewer healthcare services, across the board.

A letter from the Tribal Technical Advisory Group for Medicare and Medicaid said American Indians and Alaska Natives “are among the nation’s most vulnerable populations, and rely heavily on the IHS for health care. However, the IHS is currently funded at around 60 percent of need, and average per capita spending for IHS patients is only $3,688.” The latest per person cost for health care nationally is $10,348 (totalling $3.3 trillion, nearly 20 percent of the entire economy).

The tribal advisory group said it is “critically important” that there be a blanket exemption for IHS beneficiaries from the mandatory work requirements.

A report in September by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives on Medicaid already work, yet continue to face high rates of poverty. It said over three-quarters of American Indians and Alaska Natives are in working families, but that’s a gap of about 8 percent compared to other Americans (83 percent).

The Trump administration’s characterization of tribal health programs as “race-based” is particularly troubling to tribal leaders because it would reverse historical precedence.

A memo last month from the law firm of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “has ample legal authority to single out IHS beneficiaries for special treatment in administering the statutes under its jurisdiction if doing so is rationally related to its unique trust responsibility to Indians. Under familiar principles of Indian law, such actions are political in nature, and as a result do not constitute prohibited race based classifications. This principle has been recognized and repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court and every Circuit Court of Appeals that has considered it, and has been extended to the actions of Administrative Agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services even in the absence of a specific statute.”

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a Shoshone-Bannock tribal citzen. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Cross posted on Indian Country Today.

(The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.)

 

She Represents. A survey of Native American women who’ve been elected

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Click for interactive version of this graphic.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Former Montana State Sen. Carol Juneau once said that she considered state office because that’s where she could make a difference. (She is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Tribe but was living in the Blackfeet Nation). The year was 1998. She was first appointed to the legislature to replace a man who left office to take up a seat on the Blackfeet Tribal Council and then she became one of two Native American members of the Montana House of Representatives. In February of 1999 she made the case to the House Democratic Caucus that Montana’s American Indians ought to have better representation, because tribal people “are citizens of the state of Montana, the same as any other citizens. I’d like to see that Indian people and Indian tribes in Montana aren’t left outside of everything.”

Today Native Montanans are not left out.

The state has the most Native Americans elected as legislators in the country, three members of the Senate and six members of the House. More than that: Montana has elected more women than any other state: Four of the nine legislators.

And though she is not currently in office, Denise Juneau (Carol’s daughter) was the only Native American woman to ever win a state constitutional office, she served two terms as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as a congressional candidate.

The Montana story has a national application, too. A higher percentage of Native American women serve in state legislatures than do women nationally.

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Women make up about 25 percent of state legislatures. But a little more than 40 percent of all American Indian and Alaska Native legislators are female. The numbers break down this way: There are at least 67 Native American legislators out of 7,383 seats in 50 states or nearly one percent. (If you think that’s bad: Congress only has Native representation pegged at one-third of one percent.) Of those 67 seats, at least 25 of them are held by Native American women. So another way to look at the data: There are 1,800 legislative seats held by women; that works out to a Native representation of 1.4 percent.

There is still a long way to go to reach parity with the population, but it’s much better than just about any other category in the body politic. For example: A recent report by the Bureau of Indian Affairs shows more than 570 elected tribal leaders and, in that group, just under 25 percent are women.

The Native delegation in Minnesota is eighty percent female; its own caucus. (You could even argue that women are 100 percent of the delegation because the other tribal member in the legislature, Republican Rep. Steve Green, is White Earth Ojibwe, but he rarely champions or mentions tribal issues.)

A recent article in the Minnesota Post was headlined, “Something new for the Minnesota Legislature: A caucus of first Minnesotans.” Rep. Susan Allen, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, was first elected in a special election. “Before Allen was elected in 2012, only nine legislators in state history who self-identified as American Indian served in the Legislature — all men — and most of them were elected back when Minnesota was still considered a territory,” the Post said.

Allen told the Post: “You can be a part of an institution that is predominantly white and not have to lose your identity. I can be here without having to lose my identity to do it, and previous generations, I don’t think they had that.”

The Post explained several reasons why it’s so important for a legislature to hear from Native American legislators and for those elected representatives to keep an eye out for bills that impact the Native community.

One anecdote in particular was powerful. The Post said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Poden, a Standing Rock descendent, was giving American Indian students a tour of the Capitol. She could see they were overwhelmed. “I said, come back again and again and bring other Natives to the Capitol so that you’re not nervous, so that you’re not intimidated, so that some day you’ll be sitting in this office doing the work that we’re doing,” she said in the Post. “You could almost see the light bulb go off in their head: I could do this?”

Arizona is another state where most of the Native delegation — three out of four — are women. This fits Arizona. Its legislature is third in the nation for the highest percentage of women at nearly 40 percent.

New Mexico is the only state where the male-female balance is 50/50. And five states, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, have only a woman representing Native Americans in the legislature. Conversely, Colorado, North Carolina, and North Dakota have only one Native American man serving in the legislature. Alaska (88 percent) and Oklahoma (86 percent) are primarily represented by men. South Dakota has three American Indian men in the legislature and no women.

Idaho’s Rep. Paulette Jordan, Couer d’Alene, is not only the only Native American in the legislature, she’s the only Democrat elected north of Boise. She told the Spokane Spokesman Review: “How can we continue to fight for balance in the state, with the overwhelming odds?That’s part of the beauty of our connection to our ancestors. We know that they’re always walking with us, guiding us and helping us in this lifetime … the fact that we’re still here – we still have the beauty, the inner identity, our connection to everything, to the land, to the earth itself, to our relatives both tribal and non-tribal alike.”

Nearly all of the Native American women who serve in state legislatures are Democrats. 21 out of 25. But it’s also worth mentioning that two of those Republican women are in leadership in Alaska and Hawaii. (Previously: Native Republicans open up a channel for discourse about Indian Country’s issues.)

I don’t have the total numbers for Native Americans elected at the city and county level. Yet. (Early drafts of spreadsheets are here and here. Please do let me know who should be on these lists.)

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Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, currently represents more citizens than any Native woman in America (more than 90,000 people live in her North Seattle district). She was elected to Seattle’s City Council in November of 2015. (City of Seattle photo)

But this much is clear: Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, currently represents more citizens than any Native woman in America (more than 90,000 people live in her North Seattle district). She was elected to Seattle’s City Council in November of 2015. In an interview with the Tacoma Art Museum she talked about her idea about the role of women: “While men were in charge of external power, women had interior, spiritual, and domestic power. They were the centers of the community.” That’s exactly how she’s approached her job on the council. She’s argued for community services from sidewalks to child car. On Juarez’ blog she reports: “In this budget I advocated for and secured $4.4 million in targeted investments in our community including improvements in human services, construction of sidewalks, and neighborhood planning initiatives. Ultimately, I achieved a 94% success rate for my specific District 5 budget priorities.”

Denise Juneau, of course, is the only Native American woman to hold statewide office (twice). She actually earned thousands of more votes from Montanans than did Barack Obama in 2012. (Previously: Denise Juneau’s eight years of promise.) She had a remarkable run even though last year fell short of being the first Native woman to ever win a seat in Congress.
In addition to Juneau, at least seven Native American women have run for Congress starting in 1988. Jeanne Givens, a Couer d’Alene tribal member in Idaho was the first. Then Ada Deer, Menominee, in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free, Choctaw, in Oklahoma, and Diane Benson, Tlingit, in Alaska, Three Native women have run in Arizona: Mary Kim Titla, White Mountain Apache, Arizona Rep. Wenona Benally, Navajo, and Victoria Steele, Seneca.

It’s so long past the time to erase that phrase, “ever” or for that matter, “the first” when it comes to Native women in office. And I suspect the 2018 elections will be a remarkable opportunity for more Native Americans to win office. It will be a referendum on President Donald J. Trump and his policies.

It’s also worth noting that Native American women have run for the vice presidency three times.

LaDonna Harris, Comanche, was on the ticket with Barry Commoner for the Citizen Party in 1980 (the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide). This was Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders. The party highlighted the structural limits of the Democratic Party and blamed corporate America for the excess. The antidote was people power.

What’s interesting about the campaign now is that Commoner and Harris focused on environmental issues (long before the words global warming or climate change were in public discourse). Get this: The Citizens Party platform cited the role of science in managing complex environmental challenges.

“As a Comanche woman fighter, I’m proud to be a part of this party,” Harris said. “The traditions of my people have always held to the unity of the oppressed. That is why I want to show that we care about the problems of Chicanos, the Blacks, women, the elderly and the poor.”

Winona LaDuke, White Earth Ojibwe, joined Ralph Nader on the Green Party Ticket in 2000 and again in 2004. When LaDuke announced her candidacy she was asked whether a Native woman from rural Minnesota should even be considered? “I would argue yes,” she said. “In fact, I would question the inverse. Can men of privilege … who do not feel the impact of policies on forests, children or their ability to breast-feed children … actually have the compassion to make policy that is reflective of the interests of others? At this point, I think not.”

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

 

Winning the election of ideas

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Cover photo: Rep. Paulette Jordan via Facebook

 

Rethinking tribal policy at the state level

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Elections are about ideas. What should our world look like? How do tribal nations, Alaska Native corporations, and communities fit into the American experience?

Elections are about tactics. Who runs? Are there resources? (And, when I say resources, I really mean, cash money.) And, does that make it possible to win?

Elections are about power. Do you have the votes to change the world? To protect a pipeline? Or to sell coal in a world that is shifting away from fossil fuels?

Elections are about people. The people who expect the Indian health clinic to have enough money to pay for a hospital stay. Or the people that decide how medical care should be funded, and who’s even eligible.

And elections are never forever. There is always another ahead. And that’s true win or lose. If you win, get ready to defend the gains you’ve made. If you lose, pick up the pieces, and start working for the next ballot.

Let’s examine 2016 and what worked, what needed work, and what must be rethought.
At one point more than a hundred candidates were running for Congress, state legislatures, and a variety of state offices. That is fabulous. Yes, the field was narrowed after primary contests, and, of course, the general election. But the point is you gotta run to win. So many talented people from across Indian Country gave elective office a shot. (In fact, for me, the one take away from this election: We have some incredibly talented people out there. And that talent is not disappearing just because voters didn’t discover them.)

There are some extraordinary hurdles. Money is a big one. There has to be at least enough money so that the Native candidates get consideration by voters. Then again. This election was a bit odd. Money played less a role than you would think.

Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) ran a frugal campaign. At one point he was basically selling t-shirts to finance his enterprise (although he did receive more money toward the end). And the result: His opponent easily won re-election with 69 percent of the vote, while Iron Eyes was stuck at 25 percent. This is not as bad as it looks because the Democrat-NPL candidate for governor only earned 19 percent of the vote. And the party’s Senate candidate: 17 percent.

What this tells me? Iron Eyes has a base of support. It’s his first run and I know he learned a lot. So a next time? Something to think about.

On the other hand, Denise Juneau (Mandan Hidatsa Arikara) broke fundraising records for a Native American running for Congress as a challenger (it’s way easier if you are an incumbent). She raised more than $2 million in an extraordinarily expensive House race. But Juneau demonstrated success. She was competitive. And that will be important in future races, too.

Indeed, the match between a well-funded incumbent and a challenger from Indian Country was true in Washington state, too, where former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas ran against Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, a member of Republican leadership.

And elections are never forever: It’s entirely possible that one of the Republicans that Iron Eyes, Juneau, or Pakootas, ran against could be recruited to the new Trump administration. And, then, well, opportunity time. North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer could end up serving in the Trump administration as Energy Secretary (or more likely, a Deputy Secretary.)

This election cycle at least 31 Native American candidates ran unopposed. Often these were reservation-based districts where there aren’t as many potential Republicans who would surface as opponents. But Rep.-elect Tanwa Sanchez (Shoshone-Bannock) was also in this group, running in Portland, Oregon, as well as Rep. Ponke-We Victors in Kansas.
Another twist this year: Districts where both candidates are Native American. There were two such districts in Montana. Sen-elect Frank Smith (Assiniboine Sioux), a Democrat, defeated Rep. G. Bruce Meyers (Chippewa Cree) in the northern part of the state. And Sen.-elect Jason Small (Northern Cheyenne), a Republican, defeated incumbent Carolyn Pease Lopez (Crow).

This was also true in New Mexico where Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage narrowly won with 5,042 to GloJean Todacheene’s 4,246 votes. Both women are Navajo.

Wyoming will have a new member of its legislator, Affie Ellis (Navajo) was elected to the state Senate as a Republican, defeating an incumbent. She posted on Facebook: “I am humbled. And honored. Thank you for all the kind words of support. We knew it would be a tough race and I’m proud of our efforts. In the end, I secured 60% of the vote and am looking forward to serving in the Wyoming State Senate.”

 

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Nine Native Americans now serve in the Montana Legislature. That’s the most in the country both in percentage terms and as a total. (Trahant photo)

Montana continues to be the state with the largest Native American caucus in the legislature, 8 Democrats and 1 Republican. Rep. Susan Webber (Blackfeet) told The Montana Standard: “We’ve been literally and figuratively the minority’s minority. I know it looks like we have a lot of people in the Indian caucus, a lot of people were elected, but in reality it should be more. But just us getting in there, from my perspective, is a real positive.”

In Minnesota the Native American caucus is also a Native women’s caucus after the re-election of Rep. Susan Allen (Rosebud), Rep. Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock Sioux) and Rep.-Elect Jamie Becker Finn (Ojibwe).

And every election sows seeds of what can be. This one is no exception. In Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan (Coeur d’Alene) showed how to get elected as a Democrat in a largely Republican state. Jordan is the only Democrat elected north of Boise and the legislature will be 84 percent controlled by Republicans, a super-majority.

Jordan posted on Facebook: “We worked hard, with great diligence and incredible dignity above all else. However, while we continue moving forward after a shocking outcome, it’ll be up to us, the next generation of millennials to make a more productive change our state and country needs. We have to chalk this up as a valuable lesson learned, while challenging ourselves to be more engaged and begin organizing in all the best ways possible. I remain optimistic for my community, as I have been blessed with your support and tasked to protect our base values for another term!”

Last week’s election will require new thinking and new alliances. And that is already happening in Alaska. A new coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents has flipped the state House away from Republicans. The state is facing a multi-billion budget crisis. One of the Republicans who joined what’s being called the Musk Ox Revolt is Gabrielle LeDoux who told The Alaska Dispatch News, “We’re hired to do a job, and the purpose of our job is not to keep our job. It’s to actually do something.”

There are six Alaska Natives in the legislature, five Democrats and one Republican (whose race remains in recount territory).

Elections are about ideas, tactics, and power. Yet the outcomes determine policy. What choices the Congress will make, how a state chooses to implement those policies, and who gets to decide. There will be a lot of action in state houses over the next four years as the Trump administration goes about shedding federal power. This shift could mean a state-based energy policy. Or a new block grant to pay for health care, even for people in the Indian health system.

There will be challenges ahead. But remember: Elections are never final. There is always another one ahead.

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

#NativeVote16 – Indian Country was like America … only more so

It’s hard to understate how important the difference the enthusiasm gap made in this election. Bernie Sanders showed how to stir passion in voters. Hillary Clinton? Not so much. (Trahant photo from Billings rally.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

This election Indian Country was like America. Perhaps only more so.

Most American Indian and Alaska Natives voted for Hillary Clinton. But that support was mild. There were not enough votes to make a difference in red states like Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota. Just enough votes to stay the course in blue states like New Mexico, Washington or Oregon. And, most important, not nearly enough votes in the swing states.

Hillary Clinton earned the most votes, 60, 839,922, to Donald J. Trump’s 60,265,858. But that, of course, is not the way we elect the national leader and Trump’s 290 electoral votes were more than enough to win.  What’s more: The margins within those states were such that Native American voters could not have made the difference. There would have had to be a wider coalition of voters, something  Barack Obama did so well, and Secretary Clinton did not.

A few examples.

If you look at a color-coded 2012 election map Indian Country pops out. There are bright blue pools of voters in deeply red states. Shannon County (now Oglala Lakota County) voted 93.4 percent for Obama. That’s Pine Ridge. Obama won 3/4s of the vote in Rolette County, North Dakota, which includes the Turtle Mountian Band of Chippewas.

Or next door in Montana, voters from the Fort Peck Reservation came out and led the county with 56.5 percent voting for Obama. But blue faded in the red states this election. Trump picked up 200 more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, but the real number is that nearly 600 fewer voters went for Hillary Clinton compared to Barack Obama.

Same story in Oglala Lakota Country. Clinton won, and by a large margin, but with 500 fewer votes than Obama.

In Rolette County nearly 1,300 fewer votes for Clinton.

The red states did not change because of that, but it’s a good indication about how tepid the support for Clinton was, even in Indian Country.

This story played out in blue states, too. More than 2,000 voters disappeared in McKinley County on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

And, in swing states, such as Arizona, that slight difference, a few hundred people who did not vote here and there, added up into real numbers. In Apache County, where the majority of the voters are Navajo, 17,147 picked Obama four years ago. This election only 12,196 voted for Clinton.

Indian Country will make a difference in future elections. The demographic makeup of the country is changing fast and we are a part of that. What’s most stunning about this election is how little demographics mattered. I wrote in December: “Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates  will whip up magic and united a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters.” And that would have been true: If enough of us had been motivated to vote.

I think it’s clear that Clinton took Indian Country for granted. There was no attempt to learn and execute  what worked from the Bernie Sanders campaign. In June, I suggested the Clinton campaign appoint and promote public Native  surrogates because “there ought to be a face from Indian Country.” This could have helped build enthusiasm.

And ignoring Standing Rock was a sure way to turn off Native voters. There was probably a “let’s get past the election” conversation, although eventually Tim Kane did weigh in, but nothing changed the narrative that Clinton represented more corporate  power, not less. Supporting Standing Rock would have been the right call morally. But I can see how the politics was more complicated because union voices (and donors) wanted the pipeline to proceed.

Yet that might be the essence of Hillary Clinton and why she lost. Her campaign was a package of powerful interests trying to market itself as the voice of ordinary people. Indian Country’s answer was, yeah, whatever. Meh.

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 – Less representation, not more, but a few important wins too

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Re-elected, Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan. 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Native American representation in Congress was 0.37 percent before the election and today it’s the same, Rep. Tom Cole and Rep. Markwayne Mullin were easily re-elected to the House.

But Denise Juneau, Joe Pakotas and Chase Iron Eyes were all defeated by wide margins in Montana, Washington and North Dakota.

The tally of statewide office holders will drop, though. Denise Juneau will end her term as Montana’s Supt. of Public Instruction in January. Byron Mallot was not on the ballot and he has another two years as Lt. Gov. of Alaska. But Henry Red Cloud, Ruth Buffalo, and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun lost their bid for offices in South Dakota and North Dakota.

 

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Native Americans running for state legislatures did not fare better, except, I should point out there are some bright spots.

Rep. Paulette Jordan, a Democrat, won re-election in deep red Idaho.  She posted on Facebook: “While it is bittersweet to win in such a large loss both local and national, we must remain hopeful and optimistic that our vision of equality and balance will soon be achieved. Until that day comes: onward!”

And Montana Native legislative candidates won 8 seats from both reservation and urban districts. Elected were Shane Morigeau to represent Missoula, Garrett Lankford in Great Falls, and Frank Smith, Carolyn Pease-Lopez, Susan Webber, Rae Peppers, Jonathan Windy Boy and the lone Republican, Jason Smith.

Four Native women won in Minnesota. State Representatives Susan Allen, Peggy Flanagan, Mary Kunesh-Podein were re-elected, and a new voice, Jamie Becker-Finn.

Rep.-elect Tawna Sanchez in Oregon and Kansas re-elected Rep. Ponke-We Victors.

Still, Indian Country lost some races with really talented people. But elections are not forever. So expect to hear more in the future from:  Laurel Deegan-Fricke in North Carolina, Cesar Alvarez, Cheryl Ann Kary in North Dakota, Red Dawn Foster in South Dakota, Bryan Van Stippen in Wisconsin, and, Ronda Metcalf and Sharlaine LaClair from Washington.

The complete list.

 

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 – Making history, showcasing so much remarkable talent

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Washington legislative candidate Sharlaine LaClair was recently featured on the cover of a national story from Refinery29: “35 Women Running For Office you should know about!” (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

There is no question in my mind that gender is on the ballot this election.

Hillary Clinton would be the first woman ever elected in U.S. history. While the Republican nominee for president finds new ways to show his contempt for women almost every time he opens his mouth. And that, I believe, will determine the result.

When you look the Native American candidates running for all offices across the country, it’s clear that women are making history. This will be a break-through year.

Denise Juneau, as NBC News pointed out Saturday, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress. (From the state that elected the first woman to Congress.)

Juneau is the only Native American woman running for Congress but if you look back at the history of women who have tried, the list is significant. Just a few: Jeanne Givens in Idaho, Ada Deer in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free in Oklahoma, and Wenona Benally and Mary Kim Titla in Arizona’s First Congressional District. (The district with the highest percentage of Native voters.) You could add to that list two vice presidential nominees, Winona LaDuke and LaDonna Harris. Or the two Native American women running statewide in North Dakota, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun and Ruth Buffalo.

Indeed, more than 37 percent of all the Native American candidates running this election are female.  In Minnesota six of the seven candidates running for the Legislature are women. And three of the four Native candidates in Arizona.

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Of course that number is not half, so there remains a long ways to go. But a little perspective from the data. Nationally women make up about 20 percent of Congress both in the House and in the Senate. And in state legislatures women make up 24.6 percent of those bodies, a percentage that Native American candidates could exceed.

And it’s not just the numbers: It’s the resumes, it’s the talent.

Jamescita Peshlakai (who is running unopposed in Arizona for the state senate) is Navajo and a Persian Gulf War  veteran who served in the U.S. Army for eight years. She used the G.I. Bill to get her college education, eventually earning a master’s degree in history and educational psychology. She already has legislative experience, serving in the Arizona House.

On the same ballot in the same district, Benally is running again this time for the legislature and unopposed). “I am a Harvard Law School graduate. I also earned a master’s degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Master’s of Law from the James E. Rogers College of Law,” Benally wrote on her Facebook page. She recently told the story about a meeting with Bernie Sanders. She wrote:”I thanked him for inspiring a new generation of young leaders – like me – who have picked up the torch and are seeking change at the local level. His response: ‘No, thank you!'”

This story of talent is repeated from coast to coast. It’s Tawna Sanchez in Oregon. It’s Laurel Deegan-Fricke in North Carolina. And it’s Red Dawn Foster in South Dakota. (The complete list is here.)

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Washington legislative candidate Sharlaine LaClair was recently featured on the cover of a national story from Refinery29: “35 Women Running For Office you should know about!”

The slide show included her picture and said: “Why you should know her: LaClair, a member of the Lummi Nation, would be one of four Native Americans in the Washington Legislature if elected.” Featured in that same slide show is Denise JuneauTulsi GabbardKamala Harris, and Paula Hawks. Cool company.

I can’t imagine a more difficult year for women to run or, more important, raise critical issues. Donald Trump has sunk the national discourse, especially on issues of gender, to a new low. A poll last week by Pew Research found “substantial differences in the level of respect voters think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have for different groups in American society, and some of the widest gaps are on women, blacks and Hispanics.”

Native Americans were not included in the Pew poll, but, I would argue we would show a similar gap. In Alaska, for example, Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, wrote “Donald Trump’s character has been proven beyond question to be that of a bully, misogynist, and a sexual aggressor. His comments released recently are simply further proof that he is no leader – he is part of the problem.”

As I said: There is no question in my mind that gender is on this year’s ballot.

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 – 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 – The mechanics of reaching Indian Country voters

Amy Croover is the Native Vote Director for the Montana Democratic Party. (Photo via press release)
Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

First the news: Montana Democrats hired Amy Croover as director of the Native Vote program. A Democratic Party press release said her task is to increase the number of Native American voters.

The message is significant. Montana Democrats are investing real resources to give American Indian voters a greater say. “As a country and as a state, we’ve moved the needle in the right direction when it comes to our cherished Native American communities and culture, but more work needs to be done,” said Nancy Keenan, executive director of the state’s Democrats. 

Croover has a solid resume. She’s a Ho-Chunk tribal member and has worked with Montana tribes. She’s worked with young people at the Salish Kootenai College. And she was Sen. Jon Tester’s Native American liaison for seven years. “I jumped at the chance to be a part of the team that elects Denise Juneau as the first Native American woman to Congress,” Croover said. “I believe that when Democrats govern, Indian Country wins.”

This is a nice turn of the phrase. It’s a flip of what Denise Juneau often says in her stump speech, when Indians vote, Democrats win.

Now the context. At its core politics is about two things: Policy and mechanics. Policy is the ideas, often the stuff that happens after elections;  mechanics is how policy gets made.

Another way to think about the difference: Policy is usually what politicians talk about. Mechanics is the work that’s actually done by people whose names we may never know.

Political parties (both Republicans and Democrats) talk a lot about American Indian and Alaska Native policy. President Nixon’s 1970 message that declared an end to termination and the promotion of self-determination was a policy prescription. But the mechanics of that pronouncement was left up to Congress, largely, Forrest Gerard working with Sen. Henry Jackson and Franklin Ducheneaux, who was Rep. Morris Udall’s counsel in the House. The idea was not enough. Someone had to do the work.

It’s the same with elections. It’s one thing to lay out an American Indian policy, most candidates who have an interest in Indian Country do just that, but it’s another step entirely to invest in the mechanics. 

This is important because no matter how many of us want to vote for Denise Juneau (or any of the seven other Native federal candidates) that will not happen unless we have registered first. The process is mechanical. Register voters. Then count them. Find out where the numbers could be higher and then register more people. Repeat as often as necessary.

It’s the same step by step process for voting. (I especially like absentee voting because it’s a way to bank and count actual votes.)

And this election is the right one to test the mechanical approach to democracy in Indian Country because there are so many Native candidates on the ballot. The incentives are aligned for people to vote for Denise Juneau as well as Native Democratic candidates for the legislature. 

Other states have seen initiatives to improve the mechanics of the Native vote. Two years ago, for example, Sen. Mark Begich made Alaska Native voters a key element of his unsuccessful bid for re-election. But. The thing is. Begich made the election a lot closer than it would have been had he not made the effort. And, his staff work in the many villages probably helped elect Gov. Bill Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot. The mechanics paid off.

The most common complaint I hear from Native candidates (especially former candidates who have lost) is that they get no help from their state or national party. That needs to change because in the years to come Indian Country will need more investment in the mechanical side of politics. As the demographics of the nation shift, there will be more and more states and districts where the Native vote will make the difference. But for that to happen, someone has to do the work.

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 – Graphic look at Native candidates for state legislatures

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What does the election landscape look like? This. I am also updating the spreedsheet that lists all of these candidates. I will post as soon as I have confirmed a couple of races. — Mark Trahant

 

 

#NativeVote16 – Three lessons Clinton could learn from Sanders

Clinton’s big night: Winning New Jersey, South Dakota, New Mexico, California, and most likely, the nomination. (Campaign photo by Elizabeth Chen.)

And one important lesson for Indian Country

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports
There are three lessons that the Hillary Clinton campaign could learn from team Bernie Sanders. And there is one critical lesson from Clinton that could help Indian Country win more elections. 

A little background first.

I have been writing about political campaigns for forty-plus years. I’ve seen an evolution in how presidential candidates reach out to Indian Country.

Early on the connection with Indian Country was mostly seen as a constituent service. Candidates visited. Showed their face. Even said vote for me. Many even published nifty policy papers written by folks who work every day on Native issues. But there was no real connection.

My first experience with that was in 1976 at a press conference with the new President-elect Jimmy Carter. At a press conference I asked him how reserved tribal water rights would fit into a Carter water policy? He looked at me and then said that was a question for the Interior Secretary. Next.

That started to change when Jesse Jackson ran for president. I remember him walking into the Navajo Nation Council and he wasn’t just there. He was present. The response from the tribal delegates was just as real and emotional. There was a connection.

Barack Obama did Jackson one better when he campaigned on the Crow Nation in May of 2008. And that connection paid off: Obama has had one of the most successful presidencies in history and that’s especially true when it measure what has occurred in the area of Native American policy. 

Has it been a perfect eight years? Of course not. But compared to other administrations — even good ones — this has been a remarkable ride. Obama delivered on his promises. Period.

So with that history fresh in my mind I think Bernie Sanders raised the level of expectation to an even higher standard.

What made the Sanders’ campaign so remarkable is that it took what had been a special event — a visit to Crow, for example — and it made it a routine part of the campaign. When a Sanders event was near Indian Country (or better within a tribal nation) everyone from the candidate to his staff knew what to do. 

This is how campaigns should be run. It conveys a level of respect to the first people of this continent in a way that defies history.

How would this have translated into policy? That we will never know. Unless. Unless Secretary Clinton picks up the best elements of the Sanders campaign and adds something more. This is entirely possible. She does have a history in Indian Country that goes back a long time, at least as far back as her legal services work, and with the right people to help her, she could find that next level.

So here are three things I’d like to see the Clinton campaign do.

First: When campaigning in or near Indian Country make sure the protocol is public. The fact is that Clinton met with tribal leaders in Nevada and Iowa long before this election became contested. But the meetings were private. I understand that it was a nod to tribal sovereignty — and that’s important — but it does not generate a broader base of support in Indian Country. In the general election it would be smart for Clinton to not only campaign in Indian Country but to make sure that tribal leadership is part of the dialogue. (To be fair: There was some of that, but it was not communicated well.)

Second: Hire Nicole Willis. Now. The great thing about her role with the Sanders’ campaign is that she had access and authority. It may not seem like Indian Country is a big enough constituent group for such a high level post, but it’s a powerful metaphor that goes beyond politics. 

Third: Identify Native American surrogates and let them talk. At various points the Sanders campaign did this with Deborah Parker and Tara Houska. This is important because there ought to be a face from Indian Country. This has started unofficially, especially on Facebook and within tribal communities, but it ought to be a larger part of the campaign apparatus. I’d love to see Native voices arguing with a Trump surrogate on MSNBC or even Fox. Clinton has a fabulous team of advisers, but they are not public. They should be.

And finally the Clinton campaign did something last night that Indian Country should make our election cornerstone, early voting. As Harry Enten wrote for fivethirtyeight.com: “Clinton built a tremendous lead in the state from early mail-in votes, and she never relinquished it. Just after midnight, Clinton was up by 26 percentage points with over a million votes counted. By the time all the early vote was in, she was able to take that advantage up to about 400,000. That margin stayed remarkably consistent as more and more of the in-person vote was tabulated. In other words, Sanders fought Clinton to a draw among voters who cast their ballot at the polls yesterday, but the damage had been done by early voters …”

Imagine if Indian Country voters did that. No forgetting to get the polls. No last minute snags. Just votes that are banked in advance. (This can’t be done everywhere, but where it can, it’s a powerful tool.) We can do damage.

We’re going to hear a lot in the next few days about the “lesser of two evils.” I don’t like that phrase. It reminds me of a truth about writing: perfect is the enemy of good. I have disagreements with every candidate, even some passionate splits, but I also look for areas where we agree. 

It’s true that politics is about choices, but it’s also about the team of people that come together to make a candidate successful. Look at those who are hired by Clinton from Indian Country and you’ll see a wealth of talented people who are ready to govern. Especially if given the chance.

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

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