#NativeVote16 – Driving turnout, early votes from Alaska to North Dakota

Selfies: A get out the vote rally in New Town, North Dakota. Facebook photo via North Segment of the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Across Indian Country there are rallies, phone banks, forums, and social media pitches that are repeating one message, vote. Native American voters can make the difference in key states from the presidential race to county commissions.

And what does it matter? In a paragraph: One presidential candidate, Donald Trump, favors completion of the the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as resurrecting the Keystone XL Pipeline. He would support legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that includes increased funding for the Indian Health System as well as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Clinton, on the other hand, would be more of the same. She generally supports President Obama’s policies on energy, climate, and on federal-tribal relations. (Previous: Native Vote tips the Electoral College.)

And this election there are so many talented Native American candidates whose very presence makes this country better. This is why we need to vote. This is why we vote.

Denise Juneau’s Montana get out the vote tour started on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation. (Photo via Twitter)

In Montana, Democrats, including congressional candidate Denise Juneau, include tribal nations in that last minute push. The five-day, statewide tour stretched from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation to across the state to Wolf Point and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes. Juneau told Montana Public Radio: “We are on this swing around the state, 17 communities we’ll be hitting all across Montana to talk to voters to know that what we stand for and know our records and that we are going to really talk about the future of this state and what it looks like and draw the stark contrasts that are necessary. I plan to hold my opponent accountable to his lack of a non-record of looking out for Montana, and win over the voters of Montana, and that’s really the excitement around this last push across the state with all these statewide candidates. We’re going to work really hard to get out the vote and make sure that when we wake up after election day the headlines read that we win.”


Juneau also picked up another newspaper endorsement, The Missoulian. “Montanans need a strong voice in the U.S. House who is focused on serving her constituents,” the paper said. “Let’s see what Denise Juneau can do for Montana – for our economy, our public lands and our access to health care – as our U.S. representative.”

Elections were once about turnout on at the polls. But in this era most people will vote early and that changes the focus. Juneau said she already voted and is encouraging everyone in the state to vote early. “You never know what’s going to be happening on Election Day.”

Juneau, of course, is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes (and Blackfeet). The Three Affiliated Tribes have a lot going on this election with candidates running across the country. Another tribal member, Laurel Deegan-Fricke, is in a tight state senate race in North Carolina. And closer to home, citizens Ruth Buffalo is on the ballot for State Insurance Commissioner and Cesar Alvarez is a candidate for the state House of Representatives.

A Thursday rally in New Town included Buffalo, Alvarez, and a broad section of North Dakota candidates, including Chase Iron Eyes, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, as well as other candidates for state, regional and tribal offices.

The outreach to Native Voters in North Dakota also included stops at the United Tribes Technical College and Fort Yates. Iron Eyes and Hunte-Beaubrun are Standing Rock Sioux tribal members.

Iron Eyes posted on Facebook: “I feel good about our campaign. I love being the underdog. North Dakota is about underdogs. We are all looked over and counted out. We all meet challenges head on. We all #FaceTheStorm. Only the strong survive. I ask for the strength to Walk Without Fear. We don’t win unless you vote! It’s that simple.”

The Native Vote is critical in Arizona both in the presidential race and in the U.S. Senate race. Jamescita Peshlakai, who is running for the Arizona state Senate, posted on Facebook that “our next US Senator, Ann Kirkpatrick, is talking Navajo on KTNN. Wow. 2 years ago President Obama ended his campaign commercial with “Ahehee!” Our language can be learned by non-Navajos. If there is a will, there is a way.”

On Saturday the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona is doing a phone bank with the goal of reaching 10,000 Native voters before the election.

There is also a Native Vote rally scheduled for Election Day starting at 11:30 am in Tempe on the campus of Arizona State University.

And in Alaska the early vote is breaking records. The Alaska Dispatch News reports that 22,114 early votes have already been cast, five days before Election Day. “Early in-person votes go right into the ballot box and are counted on Tuesday, along with ones turned in at the polls,” the Alaska Dispatch News said.”Since the ballots aren’t tallied until Tuesday, there’s no real way to tell how people are voting. And it’s not entirely clear what’s driving the increased early turnout.”

On the Facebook page, Get Out the Native Vote-Interior Alaska, there is this remarkable story posted by Wilmina Daisy Stevens: “When it comes to voting, I always have to think of my mother, Hannah Paul Solomon. On the very last day that she was with us, my sister told her that she had received her GwichyaaZhee Corporation ballot. She wanted to vote it and she did. She never told anyone how she voted but she knew how important it was to vote. My sister sealed the envelope and we watched for the mailman. Once the mailman came, I said ‘The mailman just picked up your ballot, Mom. Your vote is counted.’ She had a smile on her face. Three hours later, my mom passed away. I vote because my Mom showed me how important it is to vote whether its Tribal, Corporations, City, Village, School Boards, or National: Please exercise your rights to vote. Its the only way to voice your opinion. Mahsi’ Mahsi Choo Shalak Nai.”

Five days to go.

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 – August is a make or break month for three candidates

Joe Pakootas on the campaign trail in Washington state. (Campaign photo)

Pakootas: “Winning requires a big effort”

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

August begins with eight Native American candidates for the U.S. House and Senate. But that number is likely to shrink when the month comes to a close. Three candidates are on the ballot: Democrats Joe Pakootas (Colville) in Washington’s 5th Congressional District, Victoria Steele (Seneca) in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District; and, Republican Shawn Redd (Navajo) in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District.

The first of these primary elections is in Washington. Votes will be counted on Tuesday, Aug. 2. It’s mostly a state that votes by mail. And, it’s a state with a blanket, or a top-two primary. That means the first two candidates will go on the November ballot regardless of party. There are five candidates, two who “prefers Republicans,” two who “prefers Democrats,” including Pakootas, and a candidate who “prefers Libertarian.” (The use of “prefers” is because the parties have no way to nominate candidates in this system; so anyone can claim any label they want. This language was a compromise.)

Pakootas asked for help from his supporters by email last week: “Winning this election will require a BIG effort! I need your vote. But I also need the votes of your friends, family members, and neighbors. Statistics show that a person will be more likely to vote if they know their friend has already voted. Let’s get all our neighbors engaged in the civic process, it’s just too important to be complacent. Please don’t let someone else make this decision for you! Voting is incredibly important and worth a short conversation. All you have to do is ask one simple question: ‘Have you voted for Joe?'”

Pakootas is the former chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes and later chief executive of the tribes’ enterprises. In that job, he revived 13 money-losing tribal businesses. The University of Washington awarded him the Bradford Award, given annually to a minority businessman, for his leadership. (Previous: Six Seats Native Candidates Can Win to Flip Congress.)

Pakootas main primary opponent is Cathy McMorris Rodgers. She’s a member of the Republican House leadership team. Two years ago Pakootas unsuccessfully challenged McMorris Rodgers for the seat. In that race he was outspent by a 12:1 margin. This time around Pakootas has more resources, but not nearly enough. As of a July 13 report, McMorris Rodgers has raised more than $2.4 million to Pakootas’ $166,729. (That’s more than a 16:1 difference.) Northwest Tribes are a significant source of Pakootas’ fundraising, including his own tribe, Colville, plus Quinault, Puyallup, Spokane, Tulalip, Yakama, Jamestown S’Kallam, Swinomish, and Chehalis.

Should he win Tuesday, Pakootas will need more money for the fall campaign to be competitive with McMorris Rodgers.

And one of the issues for any Republican is how they stand on Donald Trump (so odd, I know, usually a party’s nominee already matches the philosophy of its members). McMorris Rodgers, like many elected Republicans, did not attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. However in May she endorsed Trump saying it’s essential to respect the will of Republican primary voters.

From ABC News: “Mr. Trump won millions of supporters by speaking his mind honestly; calling out the dysfunction in Washington, D.C.; and talking outside the politically correct box,” McMorris Rodgers said. “In the months ahead, he will have to earn the presidency by demonstrating that he has the temperament for the job and plans to empower every American to pursue a future of opportunity and freedom.”

Every Monday Pakootas posts about his policy differences with McMorris Rodgers with the hashtag, #McMorrisMonday. Recently he wrote: “We must not forget that OUR Representative has endorsed Donald Trump. We’ve all heard the racist, misogynistic, prejudice, hateful, uneducated, and fear-mongering comments that Donald Trump has made. My opponent must now navigate within a culture that perpetuates and even promotes this behavior. She says that Donald Trump “Owes it to our country to treat everyone respectfully and to build an inclusive coalition.” How is it possible for my opponent to maintain her stated values while also supporting Mr. Trump’s toxic ideology? In light of the serious issues that our country is currently facing, do these hateful values and destructive policies really represent our District?”

Tuesday’s primary will be the first chance to see what the impact of Trump might be on races other than the presidential contest.

Democrat Victoria Steele makes a pitch to a voter in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.  The primary is Aug. 30 and absentee ballots will go out in the mail this week. (Photo via campaign’s Facebook page.)

Trump Effect could propel Steele to Congress (if she has money)

The Trump Effect might be even more important to Arizona’s Victoria Steele.

Her opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, is a Republican who will not endorse Trump. She told The Tucson Weekly: “I have never endorsed a politician in my life and I’m not going to start now, so you can ask me for the next three and a half months, but it’s not happening. “Who we each vote for is our responsibility as a citizen and a voter and, in that role, have a vote just like you have a vote and I personally believe that is between me, God and the ballot box.”

Steele said that it took McSally half a year to reach that conclusion. “When he mocked and mimicked a disabled man – she looked the other way,” Steele said in a news release. “When he accused Mexican people of being rapists and murders – she looked the other way. When he made fun of prominent women for having menstrual period or being disgusted for using the restroom – she looked the other way.”

Steele said the incumbent could not “summon the courage to stand up for people that Trump attacks.”

However when it comes to money McSally is close to the top of the list. She’s raised $5.6 million so far compared to Steele’s $195,708. Even more important, at least this month, Steele trails Democrat Matt Heinz in the money race. He’s raised $815,974.

Unlike Pakootas, Steele has not had significant support from tribes or tribal enterprises. Sixty percent of her fundraising is from individual donors, often in small amounts of $25 or $50.

So why are tribes not investing in a Steele candidacy? Unfortunately too many tribes and tribal enterprises do politics the same way as other “special interest groups.” That means investing in candidates who are already elected or likely to win. Investing in our own is not good politics. Or so they tell me. The only way Steele can get the money to be competitive especially in the next 30 days is for individual tribal members to step up and contribute or better a few tribes. (Previous: The Hidden History of Why Native Americans Lose Elections.)

The case for Steele is clear. What we need in Congress is a “caucus” that is made up of Native people, similar to the Congressional Black Caucus. (There is a Native American caucus now, but it’s more of an interest group rather than an indigenous network.) The only way that’s going to happen is for people to rally around Native candidates when they run. Perhaps it’s not good business, at least in the way that modern campaigns operate, but it is the right thing to do when you believe that Indian Country needs more voices in Congress.

There is another reason to back Steele in this election: Donald Trump. Her district may be only about 2 percent Native American, but the fastest growing group are Latinos. The group, One Arizona is hoping that Latino registration will top one million in the state before election day. Pew Research says the Arizona 2nd Congressional District says eligible Latino voters are nearly 22 percent of the population. That alone is enough to change the outcome of a race that was won by less than a thousand votes out of 220,000 cast.

Republican Shawn Redd campaigning in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. (Campaign photo via Facebook)

Demographics challenge for a Navajo Republican

Navajo candidate Shawn Redd has raised only $23,549 and is running in a crowded Republican primary. State Sen. Carlyle Begay dropped out of that race in late June.

Redd’s biggest challenge is running as a a self-described conservative Republican when most Navajos are Democrats. In order to vote in the Arizona primary, voters either have to register as Republicans or be unaffiliated.

Arizona’s first congressional seat has the most Native American voters of any district in the country.

Redd, for his part, is not running away from Trump. He recently posted on Facebook support of his party’s nominee. “Elizabeth Warren is a Fraud and Trump has every right to say it! The NY Times didn’t like me telling them that and cut the interview short. I feel strongly about this issue and was glad to voice my opinion to the liberal media even if they didn’t print much of it! Real Native American Women deserve the opportunities given to Sen. Warren that she felt her high cheek bones entitled her to! ‪#‎VoteRedd‬ ‪#‎Trump‬.”

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 – Big money targets Arizona’s first congressional



Three Native candidates; one Arizona seat

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

My list of Native American candidates for Congress keeps changing. (Actually my entire databases are moving parts because I keep adding new names, see new reports filed, and find other data). I am now back to eight Native American candidates for Congress. Well, maybe nine. I had dropped Shawn Redd from my active list because he had not filed a campaign finance report. Redd has now done that. (Previous: Seven Native American candidates for Congress.) I also removed Kayto Sullivan from my database. Let’s move that up to a “maybe.”

Redd, Navajo, is running as a Republican in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. Remember that’s the district with the highest percentage of Native American voters. In his latest filing, Redd raised $8,762, spent $7,615, leaving cash on hand of $1,785 as of March 31. He significantly trails another Navajo Republican, Arizona state Sen. Carlyle Begay. Begay raised $39,906 during the same time frame. (Spreadsheet here. Previous: Little dollars could turn the world of politics upside down.)

Screenshot 2016-05-01 11.55.28

But let’s be clear about the Arizona 1st Congressional District: It has the most Native American voters of any district in the country, but it’s also an open seat, and there will be a lot of money thrown at winning this seat.

Two years ago this seat was one of the most expensive for so-called “dark money.” Some $2.5 million was spent by the conservative groups, American Action Network, and Young Guns Network. This is where large donors fund independent political action groups who buy mostly negative ads against a candidate. These independent campaigns do not need to disclose the source of their funding. In the 2014 campaign these groups spent more than the Republican candidate, Andy Tobin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Indian Country, of course, cannot compete with that kind of spending. But this district two years ago defeated big money and if the Native American vote turns out that can happen again.

Redd and Begay are counting on help from Navajo voters during the primary. But that’s a long shot for a couple of reasons.

First, Arizona requires voters in primary elections to be either unaffiliated or registered as Republicans. The registration deadline is August 1. And early voting begins a couple of days later.

The second reason is math. In Apache County, where most of the voters are Navajo, there are 26, 784 active Democrats and only 7, 893 Republicans. That’s a huge gap. The good news is there are also some 13,000 voters who are independent and that is a potential source of primary votes. The numbers are similar in other Arizona counties with large Native American populations.

But there is a “however” here.

This is a district where the national Democratic Party is risking a future base. If Begay or Redd can somehow win the primary, they would be strong candidates in the general election. Yes, it’s because they are Navajos, but especially in Begay’s case, it’s also because he works hard at constituent services. In March, for example, when a Navajo girls’ basketball team was sanctioned by referees for wearing traditional tsiyéél hair styles, Begay filed legislation to make state law clear.

So it may be a long shot but Begay could win this primary. Two years ago only 52,487 people bothered to vote in the primary. The winning candidate had 18,814 votes. This time around that winning number will likely be smaller because there are four other well-funded Republicans splitting the vote. The question is, then, how many Navajos will vote Republican in a primary?

Democrats have different problems in this race. Kayto Sullivan announced that he was running. He has not raised any funds but on Twitter said he was in Window Rock gathering signatures. He also tweeted: “Many candidates running for congressional office have donations of several thousand but I’m just a normal person with nothing near that.”

Perhaps Sullivan won’t be the only Native American Democrat running. There is still time for a surprise candidate to join the race. The filing deadline is June 1.

The party apparatus has more or less settled on former State Sen. Tom O’Halleran. Like Begay he switched parties, once serving as a Republican in the legislature, now a Democrat. If the race ends up being between O’Halleran and one of the other big money Republicans, he will probably do no worse than the current incumbent, Ann Kirkpatrick.

Navajos will likely turn out and vote in significant numbers in November because of the presidential race. And O’Halleran is likely to benefit from that. Unless his opponent is Begay. Then all bets are off.

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