#NativeVote16 – Sanders at NCAI: Real dollars to Indian Country won’t cost a lot

President Nixon and John Ehrlichman at the Western White House in California.

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

A couple of decades ago I had a chance to interview John Ehrlichman.  He had been recently released from prison for perjury and other Watergate-related crimes. We were talking about President Nixon’s American Indian and Alaska Native policies. He talked about some of the successes, some of the challenges, and then I asked him “why?”

Why was Richard Nixon interested in Indian affairs? Ehrlichman said the usual story was because of Nixon’s coach, Wallace Newman. Then he smiled. He said another reason was the number of Native Americans was so small. He said the federal government ought to be able to use its resources to bring about real change. (He added that he also liked the idea that it would drive Democrats crazy.)

I was thinking of this moment after listening to Bernie Sanders speak to the National Congress of American Indians via YouTube. The politics of the Nixon administration and Sanders could not be more different. Yet both hit on what ought to be an absolute truth in Washington: You can spend a lot of money on Indian Country and it’s still a tiny slice of the federal pie.

“We need to commit to fully funding the Indian Health Service,” Sanders said. “As I have said in every one of our tribal meetings, the tribal population is not massive. It does not take an incredible amount of resources to meet this obligation. It only takes a president who is prepared to make it a priority.”

This might be one of the  most important statements made during the 2016 campaign. And it’s not only presidents that could benefit Sanders’ thinking.

Republicans in the House and Senate have discovered the Indian Health Service crisis in the Great Plains region. Yet not one solution has called for spending more money  (although there are proposals to reform third-party billing which could add resources). The Indian Health Service budget looks huge on paper, next year’s request is for $5.7 billion. But when you break it down per person it’s less than $2,500 (a little more for those with insurance or Medicaid). And the national average for health care spending is $8,402 per person.

In other words: If the United States “fully funded” Indian health the cost would be roughly $8.8 billion. That’s a big number, unless you consider, the federal government spends about $1 trillion a year on health care.

Bernie Sanders is right. The country should redefine its relationship with its first people. And fully-funding the promise of health care is an excellent place to start.

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 -Tom Cole says he’s more worried about Clinton than Trump


Should a Republican back Donald Trump? Rep. Tom Cole says it’s a simple decision. (Campaign photo)

What’s a Republican to do?

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports


So what is a Republican candidate for Congress to do? Support Donald Trump and some of his nonsensical policies? Or back a third-party candidate who has little chance of winning?

Oklahoma’s Tom Cole says a simple decision. He said he’s a Republican. He’s on the ballot as a Republican and he will support the nominee of the party. So yes, he’s supporting Donald Trump.

“I’m a lot more concerned about Hillary Clinton than I am about Donald Trump,” Cole said according to the Oklahoma-based blog, web site NonDoc. Cole said there are issues he disagrees with Trump and will continue to do so, such as Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country. “Number one, it’s unconstitutional. It’s pretty clear, if you read the Constitution, we can’t impose religious tests for anything. And second, we need Muslims in this fight as (they are) a lot of the best friends our country has around the world.”

Cole said he worked with Clinton and she is effective, even when he disagrees with her ideologically. He said her election would be a continuation of Barack Obama’s policies.

And, according to NonDoc, Cole, who is a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, said that’s not all bad.  “I always joke, I’ve probably got more Obama pictures — I have five Obama pictures on the wall in my house, because four of them are Indian legislation that’s passed. So we’ve worked on some things together. But, I think we’ve got a very different view of what the appropriate level of taxation and regulation is. And somebody that’s going to defend Obamacare, for instance, we just disagree. Philosophically, I am certainly to the right of Secretary Clinton.”

Cole and many others who are in the Republican Party recognize the ballot challenges of running with Trump and the difficulty of a conservative running as a third party candidate.

First, there is the problem of ballot access. Many states have filing deadlines that make it difficult for independent candidates to get on all 50 state ballots. As I have reported earlier, even established parties, such as the Libertarian and the Green parties, have not been able to do that. (Previous: How does a country with a rigged, two party system reinvent itself as a multiparty democracy.)

Second, there is a fun, practical problem. A third-party candidate means splitting the vote in the all-important contest to win states (and electoral college votes). Let’s take Montana as an example. You could make the case that Jon Tester won re-election in Montana in part because of the 31,892 votes that Dan Cox earned as the Libertarian Party candidate. Tester won re-election with 236,123 votes while the Republican Denny Rehberg had 218,051 votes.  I don’t think every Libertarian vote would have gone for the Republican, but in a three-way race, it’s hard to know exactly. Now imagine this three-way choice in the presidential race: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and a third-party conservative challenger. I would guess that a conservative would do far better than Dan Cox, maybe even getting more votes than Donald Trump. But would it be enough to win Montana? That I doubt. What it would do is put Montana in play for the Democrats.

Conservatives could  also get serious about the Libertarian Party. The party’s likely nominee is former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson. He’s also a former Republican. The Libertarian Party convention is at the end of this month. But again, the question has to be, what states can Libertarians win?

And what about a third-party challenge by Bernie Sanders? On Twitter there is more and more talk of such a possibility. Again, the ballot access requirements make that problematic. And even if it did happen, what states could Sanders win in a four-way race? There is really no way to answer that question.

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