The Alaska Fix: How the Senate could fix healthcare & govern in the Trump era

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The Senate is broken. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (who has already lost a primary only to win a general election) should consider The Alaska Fix for the good of the country. Three senators could put the Senate under new management (like the Alaska House of Representatives). (Senate photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

The Senate is broken. Republicans control 52 seats only part of the time. Enough votes to win a majority and pass a judicial nominee. But not enough votes to fix the healthcare legislation sent up by the House. Or, more important, not enough votes to govern. Watch that problem grow on issues ranging from the federal budget to raising the debt limit.

The latest plan is a doomed vote on healthcare. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that “as of today we simply do not have 50 senators who can agree on what ought to replace the existing law.” His response is to demand a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act with a plan to pass a replacement bill later. The old kick-the-can-down-the-road approach. But first a vote — and already at least three senators have said they will oppose a motion to proceed so there will not even be a debate.

The Senate will be on record. And we will know which Republicans are more loyal to their party than the country. Then, the thinking goes, Republican voters could punish those members next election with primary challenges. (Already the White House is shopping for a candidate to run against Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake.)

This is governing in the Trump era. Make that, this is not governing in the Trump era. The twist in this story is that the majority of the Senate wants to work together, find common ground, and move on. The majority in the Senate could pass a budget. A majority in the Senate would raise the debt limit. And, most important, the majority of the Senate would act as a constitutional check on the executive branch.

This is actually what senators say they want. And get this: More than 70 percent of the public want bipartisan cooperation, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Even 46 percent of Trump supporters say “they want to see Republicans work with Democrats to improve the Affordable Care Act — statistically tied with the 47% who would rather see Republicans continue working on their own plan to repeal and replace it.”

Meanwhile the White House is blaming Democrats for the failure to get 52 Republican votes. (Logic be damned.) And President Trump’s is again saying just let Obamacare fail (with his management help). He said: “It will be a lot easier. … We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it. I can tell you the Republicans are not going to own it. We’ll let Obamacare fail and then the Democrats are going to come to us.”

Same story from Republican leaders across the board. McConnell has used “working with Democrats” as kind of a threat. The message is GOP loyalty is more important than governing.

Enough.

The Senate could get back on track by picking up a lesson from Alaska: Choose to govern.

The Senate could function again if the majority — Republicans and Democrats — came together to lead. This is how it works in the Alaska House of Representatives; a governing caucus brings together 17 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 2 independents.

A new Senate independent bloc could work the same way.

It would only take 3 Republicans to make it so. They’d join all of the Senate’s Democrats and independents to run the show. You could start with Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and, since he’s so unpopular at the White House, Jeff Flake from Arizona. Either Murkowski or Collins would make a fine Majority Leader. (Yes, there will be retaliation from Republican loyalists. But even that might not work. Murkowski already knows what it’s like to lose a Republican primary only to win the general election.)

The Senate would be the counterweight to a Trump administration out of control.

This would mean new committee chairs, including Democrats. Imagine Patty Murray in charge of heath care legislation.  Or Bernie Sanders calling the shots on the budget. And Indian Affairs would be chaired by Tom Udall. A new day.

There is precedent. In 2001 the Senate was divided equally among Democrats and Republicans. The leadership went to Republicans because Richard Cheney was Vice President and could cast the deciding vote. But in May 2001 Vermont Sen. James Jeffords switched from Republican to Independent. One Senator flipped control from the Republicans to the Democrats in the middle of a session.

Jeffords’ obituary in The New York Times put it this way: “As chairman of the Education and Labor Committee … he had become frustrated by what he viewed as Republican parsimony.” As the dictionary puts it parsimony is cheap to the point of stinginess. True today. But then, like now, Republicans weren’t serious about governing. So for the good of the country — politics be damned — Jeffords placed the Senate under new management.

It’s time for new management in the Senate.

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

 

 

Sometimes the stars do align: Peggy Flanagan and a run for Congress

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Rep. Peggy Flanagan’s Twitter profile picture. She represents Minnesota’s District 46A and could soon be a candidate for Congress.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Sometimes the stars do align. The short version: Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is campaigning to chair the Democratic National Committee. If he wins, that opens up a congressional seat in a special election. And, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan is thinking about running.

Now, the details.  Ellison represents Minneapolis and some of the suburbs, including St. Louis Park and, as he puts it in his biography, is “one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse districts in Minnesota.” He’s often a leader of the  Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 113th Congress and is often a voice for justice on issues ranging from financial services to Standing Rock.

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Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota.

Ellison wrote last week on Facebook:

“After months of protests, I’m inspired by this victory by thousands of indigenous activists and Water Protectors, and millions of Americans who support them. This is a victory for all people who fight for social justice. And it is a victory won by the power of peaceful protest – a reminder of what people can do when they stand up and organize.

We use environmental impact statements to understand how key projects will impact our environment and communities. I hope that Energy Transfer Partners, and most importantly, the next Administration, recognize the concerns raised by the Standing Rock Tribe.

I also want to acknowledge that the responsibility for this project falls on the Energy Transfer board room, not the workers who are simply trying to do their jobs. Working Americans need our support as well. That’s why I support a broad infrastructure package that creates good jobs for millions of American workers.

We have a responsibility to respect the sovereignty of the Standing Rock Tribe, and to ensure their voices are heard. And we must ensure that the millions of people who depend on the Missouri and Cannonball rivers have access to clean water. As the Water Protectors at Standing Rock remind us every day: Water Is Life.”

This is not exactly the message we have been hearing from the Democratic National Committee. Instead, since the summer, when the presidential campaign was at its height, we heard statements about protecting peaceful protest and workers (without a definition of what was meant).  The Democratic Party has been trying to represent corporate patrons (including those who build and fund pipelines) as well as some of its core constituent groups. That no longer works. If it ever did. In this age of social media and transparency, the people are demanding more accountability and a clear sense of direction about social justice.

And that’s the basis of Ellison’s campaign, building a party that champions grass roots efforts. He said last week: “The Democratic Party must be the party that delivers for working people. We can do that by meeting folks where they are, looking them in the eye, treating them with respect, and working to solve their problems. For me, that means a chair with only one full time commitment.”

So that means Ellison (unlike former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz) would give up his congressinal seat. “I have decided to resign as a member of Congress if I win the election for DNC chair. Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising. I will be ‘all-in’ to meet the challenge.”

Ellison was a strong candidate before his announcement last week. But since then he is earning more endorsements from elected Democrats. According to Politico, supporters now include: Reps. John Lewis, Raul Grijalva, Luis Gutierrez and Tulsi Gabbard, a former DNC vice chair, as well as Sens. Martin Heinrich, Bernie Sanders, Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and on Thursday, the AFL-CIO also announced its endorsement.

The election of the DNC chair will happen at the party’s winter meeting, sometime before March 2017. There are at least two other candidates:  Raymond Buckley, a NH party leader, and Jaime Harrison, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. There are other potential candidates as well, including Labor Secretary Thomas Perez.

And that’s the stage setting a Peggy Flanagan run for Congress.

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Flanagan’s entry into the race would be historic. She’s a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and she would be the first American Indian woman ever elected to Congress. That sentence is in itself remarkable when you think about this country’s history and the contributions from so many Native women. Montana and Arizona could, should, have broken that barrier in 2016 by electing Denise Juneau and Victoria Steele. But the geography and the timing weren’t there. Sometimes elections require a bit more, well, luck.

And Minnesota’s fifth congressional district could be the spot. As Ellison’s biography says, it’s one of the most vibrant and ethnically diverse districts in Minnesota. This is a place where voters would appreciate, even celebrate, the historical significance of this first. After all this is a state that just elected four Native women to its Legislature. Another record.

Flanagan also has the ideal background for this job. She’s been an organizer working on social justice issues for more than a decade. More than that: She teaches other people how to win campaigns and elections for Wellstone Action and The Management Center (an organization working for social change). She was executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota.

And, if that’s not enough, she knows how to win a special election. She was elected to the Minnesota House in 2015 when Rep. Ryan Winkler moved out of the country. She jumped into the race early, ran unopposed, and earned 96.4 percent of the vote.

It’s not likely that Flanagan will run unopposed for a congressional seat. But she is already getting early support on social media. (Hashtag: #RunPeggyRun.)

Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak Jr. posted this on Twitter: “Wow! It would be great to have one of the best young leaders in the country be my rep in Congress.” He’s not alone. Others have expressed their fondness for Ellison and then say Flanagan is the right candidate to build on that legacy.

In politics timing is everything. Sometimes the stars do align.

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 – A record year? Why not? (Special election week report)

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Do you ever wonder who will be the first Native American president? That answer might already be found on the ballots across the country. Where more Native Americans than ever are running for office.

Welcome to the Trahant Reports election special. I’m  Mark Trahant.

You can find my blog at trahantreports.com or my work on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and, if you have an iPhone, on Apple News. Just look for Trahant Reports.

So often the stories reported about Indigenous people are defined by our challenges. These are the stories we know too well.

Instead we’re going to talk about our successes. We’ll explore how Native Americans are challenging the status quo by running for office and voting.

It’s sovereignty at the ballot box.

I’d like to report this is a record year for Native Americans running for elective office. But there’s a problem. No one has ever measured this before. We don’t have good data.

So is this a record year? Probably. Likely and why not?

Here’s the plan. I have broken this story into chapters. I’ve posted slides (they can be found on the Native Voice One website, many radio station web sites, or on my blog at trahantreports.com) Feel free to take a look at while you are listening, the visual story is one reason why I wanted to create chapters in this podcast.

Chapter one: Context

Let’s start with this number: 1.7 percent is the Census Bureau’s estimate of how many American Indians and Alaska Natives there are in this country. (There are a lot of ways you can measure the population of Native Americans. But I wanted one that would be useful because it’s found across many documents and that makes it easy to compare. It’s also the number used by the National Congress of American Indians.) So this is our baseline for discussion.

I should mention that one important election factor is that the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives is growing faster than the general population. By a wide margin. In fact, a third of all Native Americans are under the age of 18, compared to about a quarter of the total population. We are a young people. And our numbers are rising and in politics that’s everything.

And it’s not just American Indians and Alaska Natives who are changing the face of America. It’s a much larger diversity story.

When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 the population of the United States was 80 percent white. Today it’s about 63 percent white.

One demographic profile of voters by The National Journal shows how dramatically the country has changed since President Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support of 56 percent of white voters in 1980. But in 2012, when non­-white voters ac­coun­ted for 28 per­cent of the elect­or­ate, Mitt Rom­ney took 59 per­cent of white voters—and lost the pres­id­en­tial race by 4 per­cent­age points.

What’s striking about this election so far is that the Republican candidates did not even try to build a coalition with minority voters, young voters, or to fix the gender gap that’s been a problem for decades.

Millennials are now the largest age group – some 90 million people – and are more independent than previous generations.

The country’s diversity trend is just beginning. The U.S. Census reports that American Indians and Alaska Natives grew 1.4 percent since 2013, compared to about 0.5 percent for whites.

So if we are growing, what does that mean in a political context? Well, a couple of years ago, Malia Villegas, director of the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center, said population parity would mean at least two U.S. senators and seven members of the House of Representatives.

That’s the goal. How far away are we from that? Well it’s really the number two because there are only two, Representatives in the U.S. Congress,  Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin, both are Republicans from Oklahoma.

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.007.jpegTom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, maybe the most important members in the history of Congress.

When the issues involve tribes, and especially tribal sovereignty, Cole is a champion. But more than that advocacy, Cole argues the case for tribes from within the Republican caucus, and, even better, within the House Republican leadership. He is a measured, reasoned voice, not just for Indian Country, but for his ideas about what a conservative party should be. And that recognizes being inclusive.

Cole has history of being the consistent inside-the-party voice calling for more money for the Indian Health system. “We have a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who recognize the Indian country has been historically underfunded,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network in 2012.  And, more important, he was the architect of building a coalition in the House to enact the Violence Against Women Act. He told WNYC radio that bill was “a very difficult issue because there were divisions within his own conference that prevented (then Speaker John Boehner) from getting to 218 votes.”

Yet Cole found enough Republicans and Democrats working together to pass the measure into law.

Rep. MarkWayne Mullin is in his second term. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation and he describes himself as a “rancher” and as a “businessman.” He took over his father’s plumbing business and expanded it several fold. His website lists a variety of conservative causes, ranging from too much foreign aid to repealing ObamaCare. Mullin does talk about tribal issues from time to time, but more often is a reliable vote for the conservative factions in the House of Representatives. He’s not the kind of representative to buck his party on, say, the Violence Against Women Act.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.014.jpegChapter Two: The Presidency

My focus is on Native Americans who are running for office. But you cannot talk about an election project without at least talking about the presidency.

So here are a few thoughts.

Hillary Clinton is  a story that’s told in hundreds of tweets from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and those who make up the larger American family. One of my favorite images of this campaign shows a young Native daughter watching Clinton walk on stage to accept the Democratic nomination.

That image says so much about what’s possible.

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Clinton said. It’s line we all know to be true.

The limitless sky reminded me about Wilma Mankiller. She was fond about telling a story about the first treaty negotiations between the Cherokee Tribe and the United States. One of the first questions: “Where are your women?”

Mankiller said it was common for Cherokee women to be included in ceremonies and negotiations and it was inconceivable that the United States would come to a negotiation alone. How can you negotiate anything with only half your people or half a way of thinking?

“Where are your women?” That question has a new meaning and it parallels that of Native Americans running for and winning offices across the country. First one person wins, then another, then another, and so on. “Where are your women?” is a question with different answers every election. In state legislatures, Congress, and soon, possibly, the White House. Where are your women? The answer would be, running governments.

WHEN IT COMES TO INDIAN COUNTRY, Donald Trump is running on one issue, energy.  There is probably no greater divide between Republicans and Democrats than on energy and climate issues.

Donald Trump  calls his energy policy, “America First,” a new energy revolution.  “President Obama has done everything he can to get in the way of American energy,” Trump said. Too many regulations make it harder to profit.

But it’s not just costly regulations making profits harder to come by. It’s also market forces. And that’s the part of the story that doesn’t fit neatly into a political debate. Drive across North Dakota, as I have recently done , and you will be struck by the huge “man camps” that were built to temporarily house oil and gas workers. Many of those camps now sit empty or near empty because the jobs have dropped as fast as the price of oil. (It’s now about $50 a barrel, up from its lows, but significantly less than what oil producers predicted.

Trump supports the Dakota Access Pipeline — a project that news reports also say he has invested in.

 

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A political history

Remember the entire premise of the U.S. political system is that tribes are governments. Tribes are political entities enshrined in the Constitution. Yet, and this is huge, tribes are the only such political entity that does not include even minimal, structural representation in Congress.

Even before the Constitution, the Continental Congress made it possible for residents of the territory of Ohio to have a voice.

On November 11, 1794, one James White was seated in the Third Congress as a Delegate. Congress hadn’t even set the rules yet for what that meant. White did end up in the House where his role was described, as quote “no more than an Envoy to Congress” because he could not vote.

Today there are six Delegates in Congress, representing Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., Guam, U.S.Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

This is where Indian Country gets short-changed.

The Navajo Nation, a geographic, political, constitutional entity, is far larger and has more people than the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa or the Northern Mariana Islands.

The thing is Congress makes up its own rules for Delegates. It’s not a Constitutional act.

But full authority or not, at least Delegates are there. Seated. At the table. Their very presence would be a reminder about the unique political status of tribal governments.

There’s another interesting thread of history: And that’s about the office of Vice President. It may be worth at least a footnote in the long history of tribal, federal relations.

Charles Curtis was Herbert Hoover’s vice president and running mate. He had been the Senate Majority leader, representing Kansas. He was a member of the Kaw Tribe,and spoke Kanza, but instead of being an American hero, he’s most known for being the author of the General Allotment Act of 1887 – the Curtis Act – the very vehicle used to rob Native people of some 90 million acres of land.

Curtis is not alone in one respect. More American Indians have been candidates for the vice presidency than any other national office.

In the 2000 and 2004, Winona LaDuke, a member of Minnesota’s White Earth Chippewa Tribe, was on the presidential ballot as Ralph Nader’s running mate for the Green Party ticket. The Greens, she said, would “stand with others around this country as a catalyst for the creation of a new model of electoral politics.”

And before LaDuke, LaDonna Harris, a Commanche, and a founder of Americans for Indian Opportunity, was the vice presidential nominee of the Citizen’s Party in 1980. She ran with ecologist Barry Commoner in the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide win.

Another historical thread, the motivation of some Native American candidates.

After World War II there was a disastrous policy called termination – the idea of ending the federal-treaty relationship with tribal governments – there were two distinct reasons. Some believed it was the next logical step for Indian progress, an economic integration. While others hated government and used termination as a method to shrink and attack government.

Utah Republican Senator Arthur Watkins was from the shrink-and-attack government camp. He was zealous about termination, badgering tribal witnesses when they came to Capitol Hill, refusing to even consider alternatives. He dismissed treaty obligations outright. Indians, he said, “want all the benefits of the things we have – highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished – but they don’t want to pay their share of it.”

This was a real threat and Native American leaders responded by encouraging people to vote.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.017.jpegJoseph Garry was president of the National Congress of American Indians during this era. In a period of about 30 years, more than a hundred tribes were disbanded and tribal governments dissolved. The result was huge losses of land and natural resources in Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Texas.

Garry saw voting as the strongest weapon in this battle. So the chairman of the Coeur d’Alene tribe ran for the Idaho House of Representatives and was elected in 1957. Later, he won a seat in the the Idaho Senate, and in 1960 he sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Idaho is a surprising birthplace for Garry’s legacy. Not many Native Americans live in Idaho, where they comprise roughly 1 percent of the population. But Garry’s successes there (even then) showed that someone from a tribal community could be a leader for all citizens of the state.

And it’s an active legacy.  In 1975, Garry’s niece, Jeanne Givens, became the first Native woman elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Like her uncle, she challenged the status quo with a bid for Congress in 1988. Givens lost, but four years ago another Coeur d’Alene tribal member, Paulette Jordan, ran for the Idaho House seat. She lost that attempt but two years later she won and that illustrates what may be the most important lesson in politics: You’ve got to run to win—sometimes more than once. Jordan describes Givens as a mentor who has taught her much about politics and both have earned the legacy of Joe Garry.

When a state like Idaho has a history of electing Native Americans to public office, you have to wonder, “Where else?” It’s almost been a story of success-by-stealth.

There is a win in Arizona, another in Kansas. And when you add them up, there are at least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians serving in 19 state legislatures.

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Chapter 3: The People’s House

It’s easy to be optimistic about the prospects for American Indian and Alaska Native candidates in this election and beyond. Our numbers are growing, organizations are getting stronger, and, best of all, the most remarkable, talented people are giving elective office a shot.

So then I hear a voice inside: “Ahh, yes, but good people lose.” That’s true. But at the same time politics has a long arc that brings about change. It’s not one election. Or one candidate. It’s the constant push.

Start with Trahant’s Rule: You gotta run to win. There is no substitute for putting your name on the ballot.

This year several talented people did just that. My former colleague at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Edgar Blatchford, ran for the Senate in Alaska. He ran with little money, promoting his candidacy largely via social media. He was the only Native American running for the U.S. Senate.

There are two areas of the country where it’s a question of “when” not “if” there will be Native representation in Congress. Alaska is one and Arizona is the second.

Victoria Steele ran for the House from southern Arizona and in northern Arizona, two Navajos, both Republicans, did campaign for that seat. State Senator Carlyle Begay and Shawn Redd.

Perhaps it’s an election or two away but one day … there will be Native American members of Congress who represent Arizona and Alaska.

Across the nation this year there are five Native American candidates for Congress. The two Republican incumbents, plus three challengers, Denise Juneau in Montana, Joe Pakootas in Washington, and Chase Iron Eyes in North Dakota.

Denise Juneau is Montana’s superintendent of public instruction. She’s a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikakara Tribes and grew up in Browning, Montana, in the Blackfeet Reservation. Juneau has a track record. She’s already won two statewide contests and knows what it takes to win a House seat. This is how U.S. politics often works: A candidate wins at the state level, does a good a job, and then she moves on to Congress. Juneau is running against Rep. Ryan Zinke. And, lately, there has been back and forth about who has been in Montana longer. Seriously.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.023.jpegJoe Pakootas would be the first former tribal leader ever elected to Congress.

He’s the former chairman of the Colville Confederated Tribes and later chief executive of the tribes’ enterprises. It was in that job, he revived thirteen money-losing tribal enterprises. The University of Washington awarded him the Bradford Award, an honor given annually to a minority businessman, for his leadership.

Then in North Dakota, there is Chase Iron Eyes. He’s from Standing Rock — the center of attention for Indian Country (and for the planet). He’s an attorney. And he’s running for Congress from North Dakota out of necessity. “I take a look around and I see that our government is broken, and I feel responsible to do my part to try and fix this on behalf of North Dakota.”

In addition to Congress, more Native Americans than ever are running for state offices.

Let’s start in North Dakota. Where there is a lot of news right now.

The rush to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, was supposed to be routine. It was designed to avoid regulation, especially federal oversight, and get built without fanfare.

The Dakota Access Pipeline issue united Indian Country in a way that’s unprecedented.

But there’s another important chapter. No state in the history of the country has ever had three Native Americans running as major party nominees for statewide offices. To put that in perspective in recent years: Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee, ran for attorney general and won and governor of Idaho (he lost).  And there have been a few others candidates, but my point is they’re scattered, one candidate is a big deal. So three Native American candidates, well that’s beyond extraordinary.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.028.jpegIron Eyes as I mentioned is running for Congress. Buffalo for the state’s insurance commissioner. And, Hunte-Beaubrun is running for the Public Service Commission, the agency that would regulate pipelines. They are running on the North Dakota Democratic-NonPartisan League Party ticket.

Iron Eyes travels the state’s roadways pulling a cargo trailer with his campaign signs inside and on display outside. It’s probably his most visible campaign advertising. On a Saturday he made certain to park his vehicle where the University of North Dakota was playing football. More eyeballs. His fundraising is authentic grass roots. He posted on Facebook recently: “16,227 people have contributed an average of $3.80 to our campaign. Send $3.80 today!”

Three. Dollars. Eighty. That’s it. Think of what that means in a world where the wealthy write checks and buy access to politicians from both parties.

Ruth Buffalo may be the hardest working candidate in the history of North Dakota. Every time you open Facebook you see here knocking on doors, making telephone calls, or supporting the other candidates who are running. When people look at her resume, her background, she is clearly prepared for this job. As Greg Stites, a former counsel for the North Dakota Insurance Commission, wrote in The Grand Forks Herald: “Ruth Buffalo is the best candidate for the job, with an academic background essentially built for the role of insurance commissioner. She holds a master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University. Her depth of knowledge of the health and insurance needs for our state are unmatched by her opponents. And her accomplishments do not end there.”

There is not only history, but irony, in Hunte-Beaubrun’s candidacy for the very agency that would regulate pipelines in North Dakota. She’s from Cannonball. The Dakota Access Pipeline dispute is her community; her water. Imagine how history would be different if on a regulatory agency there was one person who could object to a routine pipeline drawing.

The rules would be different “because we would have a seat at that table,” she said. And we would be able to help everyone understand culturally where we’re coming from.”

There could have been a solution without controversy.

This is the essence of why representation is so critical. We have so many states, counties, cities, where decisions have been made without even hearing a Native voice, let alone considering what’s said. That’s not democracy. And it will no longer work in a country where the demographics are changing this rapidly.

Yes, it’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide office. But you know what’s even cooler than that? This trend is just beginning. Even better, think about what history that could still be created. What if everyone in Indian Country, every ally, everyone who wants change, saw the merit of voting for a candidate who’s proud of contributions measured in pocket coins instead of the million-dollar access that we’ve come to accept as normal?

Next door, in South Dakota, a Lakota man is running for the state agency that regulates energy.

South Dakota Democrats nominated Henry Red Cloud as the party nominee for a spot on the state’s Public Utilities Commission. Red Cloud is the founder and owner of a renewable energy company based in Pine Ridge, Lakota Solar Enterprises.  The company says.  “We believe that reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is important. And on tribal lands, it is imperative. We hope you will join us in helping tribes achieve energy sovereignty.” He calls renewable energy “a new way to honor old ways.”

This is a great story to tell during an election campaign. Voters will be introduced to a creative and innovative energy path that’s creating real jobs now, employing people to build and install solar energy systems. Contrast this with the usual discourse about energy or even the nonsense about how climate change isn’t real.

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.038.jpeg
Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan

 

Chapter Four: Shhh! Secret success

Who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama? She’s probably already elected to a state office.

At least 73 American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians serve in 19 state legislatures. This is important. First, if you look at the body of work of these state senators and representatives, you’ll find them advocating for better service, more funding and improving relationships between tribal nations and state governments. Second, state offices are a source of talent for higher elective office, ranging from Congress to the White House. Remember it was only 1996 when Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois state Senate.

Montana best demonstrates the growing influence of Native Americans in politics.

Twenty years ago, Montana was pretty much like any state with a significant Native population. There were only one or two Native Americans serving in the legislature. Then a Native American candidate won in 1997. And again in 2003. And by 2007 Native Americans in Montana reached ten seats in the legislature; representing 6.6 percent of that body. Montana’s population is 7.4 percent Native American. Today there are 3 Native Americans in the Senate and 5 in the House, some 5.3 percent of the legislature.

To put the Montana percentages in national terms: If Congress were 5.3 percent Native American, there would be 5 U.S. Senators and 21 members of the House. Even if you adjust for population, the number of Native American members of Congress would have to more than double to equal the representation found in Montana.

Why is Montana the model? Hard work. Good candidates. And, when neccessary litigation to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

And there’s another reason why the Native American electoral experience in Montana is different.

The 2004 election of Brian Schweitzer as governor was a game changer. “Never before in Montana’s history has an entire Administration reached out to Indians to ensure they were acknowledged, respected, and most importantly, included,” During those eight years more than 250 “First Montanans” were appointed to boards, councils, commissions and state offices, including many firsts, such as appointments to the Fish and Wildlife commission, athletic commission, building code council and health-related boards. These offices made it clear to the citizens of Montana that Native Americans were a part of the body politic.

The track record of Native American legislators is also pretty good. According to Montana Budget and Policy Center, last year’s session produced a number of innovative laws, including Medicaid expansion (which is a financial boost to the Indian health system) as well as laws that will improve funding for tribal colleges, supporting tribal languages, and streamlining Indian business ventures. The record of Native American legislators was not 100 percent, but it’s likely that during the next session many of the ideas that failed to pass will be back on the agenda.

Oklahoma is the the largest state number of Native American legislators at 14. It’s also the only state with a balance between Democrats and Republicans (8 Democrats and 6 Republicans). To put that number in perspective: Nationally of the 70 elected Native Americans in state legislatures, 58 are Democrats and 12 are Republicans.

It’s also worth noting that tribes in Maine have three automatic delegates to the legislature. The offices are similar to delegates to Congress from the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories. The practice began in 1823 and Maine tribal delegates can serve on committees but cannot vote.

Across the country it’s clear that Native American representation before state governments significantly trails the population of American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians. For example there are 40 members serving in Alaska House and 20 in the state Senate. Yet only five Alaska Natives represented in the House — or 12.5 percent — and two in the Senate. Yet Alaska has the highest voting age population of Native Americans in the country, some 17 percent.

The growth of Native American voters — and elected officials — is only the beginning of a trend. We know our population is growing faster than the general population. And in many states there is already the number of voters required to build a winning coalition that includes Native communities.

Most of the action in the decade ahead will be at the state level. If you look at the list of some seventy elected state officials it’s clear that there is a wealth of talent such as Alaska’s Sam Kito III or South Dakota’s soon to be Senator Kevin Killer.

Look across the country and you will see why the Native Americans who now serve  in state legislatures are the next generation of leaders in Congress — and even the White House.

So if you want to know who will be Indian Country’s Barack Obama, look to the states.

Her name will be Peggy, Paulette or Winona.

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A final note: There are many people I want to thank for making Trahant Reports possible. Shyanne Beatty and Nola Moses at Native Voice One. It was Shyanne’s idea for my weekly commentary. Nola has been listening to one mic after another, helping me improve the sound for this program. Thank you to both.

I have also had financial support from the First People’s Fund. A special thank you to Jackie Tiller and Rebecca Adamson. Also thanks to Paul DeMain and the Native American Educational Technologies.

Jo Ann Kauffman and Kauffman and Associates was the first sponsor of Trahant Reports — so important, and so helpful, thank you.

And a special shout out to Cara and Ken Hall who gave me an unexpected “family” contribution. Thank you and that’s humbling.

And thank you to the people who listen to this podcast, the weekly commentary on Native Voice One, and the many people who read my reports on my page and across social media. I’m grateful.

We’re about to close the books on the 2016 election. But be assured I will keep writing about the policy choices ahead and what it means for Indian Country.

Until next time. This is Trahant Reports and I am Mark Trahant.

 

#NativeVote16 – Native Americans for Trump, renewable energy & curiosity

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Henry Red Cloud said South Dakota’s goal should be to increase renewable energy, cutting use by 0, 60, 80 percent.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

One week. Lots to report.

Let’s start in Montana where Denise Juneau sought out Speaker Paul Ryan and asked to meet with him. Ryan was in Montana to campaign for Juneau’s opponent, Rep. Ryan Zinke.

It was an unusual request, to say the least. And Ryan’s response was  a quick no, staff writing, “The speaker was only briefly in Billings for a great rally with Ryan Zinke and other Republican leaders.”

 

Juneau’s pitched a “positive bipartisan working relationship” and to discuss issues important to Montana, including high school graduation rates.

That’s kind of funny when you think about it. And it’s a great way to change the story of the day.

I’ve been wondering how Juneau versus Zinke is playing on Google. There is still far more interest in Juneau, some thirty searches a day. That’s been consistent. (People must already know about Zinke because they’re not googling him.)

This doesn’t tell us anything about who’s voting, but it does show interest and curiosity. I guess no one is curious about Ryan Zinke.

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Juneau versus Zinke on Google. Juneau searches are in red, Zinke in blue. As of October 31.

Juneau also reported another fundraising milestone. She ranks 6th in the country for congressional candidates who are raising money from small donors.  A small donation is considered less than $200.

Henry Red Cloud, who is running for the South Dakota Public Utility Commission, debated his opponent, incumbent Chris Nelson, in Sturgis on Saturday. According to the Watertown Public Opinion, Red Cloud made the case for renewable energy (he owns a solar energy company at Pine Ridge).

Nelson said that South Dakota doesn’t have an “optimal sun regime” and wind is intermittent. However he agreed that “South Dakota would see much more use of renewable systems in the coming years. Red Cloud said the goal ought to be for people to use less. “I’m not saying completely off-grid. No, I’m not saying that. Cutting back – cutting back 50, 60, 80 percent,” Red Cloud he said.

Red Cloud is one of two #NativeVote16 candidates running for a public utilities commission. The other is Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun in North Dakota.

Oklahoma Rep. MarkWayne Mullin is chairing Native Americans for Trump.

“The daily flood of new federal regulations keep Indian Country from becoming self-sufficient. Local tribal decisions, not federal bureaucrats, are the best way to improve our communities. As both an enrolled member of Cherokee Nation and a member of Congress, I will stand with Donald Trump in supporting tribal sovereignty and reining in federal over-regulation,” McMullin told The Washington Times. (Previous: Native Republicans make their case.)

The Times said the organization includes tribal leaders from 15 states and includes former Cherokee Chief Ross Swimmer and New Mexico Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage. She told The Times: “The Trump administration will ease restrictions on American energy reserves worth trillions of dollars. Together we will block the bureaucrats holding Native American businesses back and bring new jobs into our communities.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, is joining forces with a Maryland Democrat calling for a bipartisan Social Security commission. “Americans know that Social Security is on an unsustainable path,” Cole said in a written statement. “They know common sense reforms need to take place. And they know that duplicitous politicians and special interest groups will not hesitate to frighten the elderly with misinformation and outright lies if it means more votes or more contributions. It’s time for our elected leaders to demonstrate the same courage and common sense, and finally address this critical issue.”

So there you have it: There is still bipartisan work going on. Even in an election year. Just not in Montana.

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 – North Dakota forges a new history from pipeline to ballots

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History in North Dakota: Marlo Hunte-Bueaubrun, Standing Rock, running for the Public Service Commission, Chase Iron Eyes, Standing Rock, a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, and Ruth Buffalo, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, is campaigning for state Insurance Commissioner. (Jaynie Parrish photo)

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

It’s an understatement to say that North Dakota is making history.

The rush to build a new oil pipeline from the Bakken oil fields to Patoka, Illinois, was supposed to be routine. It was designed to avoid most regulation, especially federal oversight, and get built without fanfare. But when that route was moved so that it crossed under the Missouri River near the water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe everything changed. The issue united Indian Country in a way that’s unprecedented. While the state and the company are making history, too, by writing a soon-to-be case study about how not to handle a crisis.

History.

But there is another chapter. No state in the history of the United States has ever had three Native Americans running as major party nominees for statewide offices. To put that in perspective in recent years: Larry EchoHawk, Pawnee, ran for attorney general (he won) and governor of Idaho (he lost). Byron Mallott, Tlingit, is the Lt. Gov. of Alaska, and Denise Juneau, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara, is Supt. of Public Instruction in Montana. There have been a few others candidates, but my point is they are scattered, one candidate is a big deal. So three Native American candidates is beyond extraordinary.

I have been criss-crossing North Dakota in recent days with Chase Iron Eyes, Ruth Buffalo, and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun for public conversations on a range of issues. We started in Bismarck Thursday, Fargo on Friday, Grand Forks Saturday, and we will conclude in Minot today. Iron Eyes is running for Congress. Buffalo for the state’s insurance commissioner. And, Hunte-Beaubrun is running for the Public Service Commission, the agency that would regulate pipelines. They are running on the North Dakota Democratic-NonPartisan League Party ticket.

North Dakota is a huge state. Thursday night’s event alone meant I had to return home at about 1 am (and getting up again a couple of hours later to write). I want to point that out for one reason: These three candidates have kept this kind of schedule for months. The sacrifice of time, money, and just the stamina required, is remarkable.

Iron Eyes travels the state’s roadways pulling a cargo trailer with his campaign signs inside and on display outside. It’s probably his most visible campaign advertising. On Saturday he made certain to park his vehicle where the University of North Dakota was playing football. More eyeballs. His fundraising is authentic grass roots. He posted on Facebook: “16,227 people have contributed an average of $3.80 to our campaign. Send $3.80 today!”

Three. Dollars. Eighty. That’s it. Think of what that means in a world where the wealthy write checks and buy access to politicians from both parties.

Ruth Buffalo may be the hardest working candidate in the history of North Dakota. Every time you open Facebook you see her knocking on doors, making telephone calls, or supporting the other candidates running. When people look at her resume, her background, she is clearly prepared for this job. As Greg Stites, a former counsel for the North Dakota Insurance Commission, wrote in The Grand Forks Herald: “Ruth Buffalo is the best candidate for the job, with an academic background essentially built for the role of insurance commissioner. She holds a master’s degree in public health from North Dakota State University. Her depth of knowledge of the health and insurance needs of our state are unmatched by her opponents. And her accomplishments do not end there.”

Indeed.

And there is not only history, but irony, in Hunte-Beaubrun’s candidacy for the very agency that would regulate pipelines in North Dakota. She’s from Cannonball. This dispute is her community; her water. Imagine how history would be different if on a regulatory agency there was one person who could object to a routine pipeline drawing.

The rules would be different “because we would have a seat at that table,” Hunte-Beaubrun said. “We’d be able to aid in the process of creating those rules and regulations (and) we would be able to help everyone understand culturally where we’re coming from.”

There could have been a solution without a controversy. Win, win.

And that’s why representation is so critical. We have so many states, counties, cities, where decisions have been made without even hearing a Native voice, let alone considering what’s said. That’s not democracy. And will no longer work in a country where the demographics are changing rapidly.

Yes, it’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide offices. But what you know what’s cooler than that? The trend is only beginning. Even better think about what history  that could still be created. What if everyone in Indian Country, every ally, everyone who wants change, saw the merit of voting for a candidate who’s proud of contributions measured in pocket coins instead of the million-dollar access that we’ve come to accept as normal?

History.

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

Video interviews are here.

Chase Iron Eyes.

Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun.

Ruth Buffalo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#NativeVote16 – Fifteen days. One-sided radio, Arizona 1st & who’s a Montanan?

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Montana congressional candidate Denise Juneau. (Trahant photo)

Trahant Reports

Two weeks and a day to go and the crazy season has begun. North Dakota’s Chase Iron Eyes was a guest on a right wing radio program where he said he faced a series of loaded, baited questions. Such as: “do you believe in abortion, even after new science developments? Should people be able to just choose which bathrooms to use?”

No worries. Iron Eyes said he ain’t scared of them, ain’t scared to go toe to toe with any of them in a debate, you guys are done.”

And the proof of that? Iron Eyes said Republican Kevin Cramer “won’t even debate me in front of people. What is that?”

Arizona First Congressional District is supposed to be one of the Republican’s best opportunities. It’s a rural district, but it’s also the most Native American of any district in the country. It’s represented by Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick who’s now running for the Senate against John McCain. And, Mitt Romney picked up more votes from that district than Barack Obama.

But it’s time to scratch Arizona First from the competitive list. A poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows Democrat Tom O’Halleran with a ten-point lead over his opponent, Republican Paul Babeu.

Nearly a quarter of Arizonans have already voted.

Rep. Ryan Zinke, who’s being challenged by State Supt. of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, is tired of people questioning his residency saying he spends more time in Southern California. A story in the Helena Independent Record says Zinke’s Second Street house is a bed and breakfast. Zinke says the plan was always for the family to live upstairs.

But here is the good part: Zinke says “he can go back and forth” with Juneau, too. “Is it 54 generations?” Zinke told the newspaper. “Born in Oakland. I don’t think that counts as 54 generations. And why 54 or 52 or 51? I haven’t gone there because quite frankly I think Montana and America are tired of the slams over things that don’t matter.”

A debate over 54, 52 or 51. This is where he wants to go? Seriously? SMH. I’ll stick with this number: Fifteen days.– Mark Trahant

 

 

 

#NativeVote16 – A Democratic House was a long shot … until last week

 

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Photo post on Facebook by Stevens County Democrats. Incumbent Republicans have a new challenge: Rejecting Trump (and making their base mad) or sticking with Trump (making it that more difficult to build a majority margin.)
Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Early in the election cycle I made a prediction: I said if Donald Trump was the Republican nominee, the House would be in play for the Democrats. The reaction (and more than once) was 30 seats? Not likely. (Previous: Native candidates could help flip Congress).

Not likely are the words of the day. It’s a possibility now because Donald Trump’s war against Republicans has not only doomed his bid for the White House, but it’s making it more likely that Democrats will win the Senate and unlikely as it was, the House. The polling data backs up this idea (certainly good news for Denise Juneau, Joe Pakootas, and Chase Iron Eyes.)

Let’s look at the numbers, shall we?

A survey for the Democrats Congressional Campaign Committee shows a seven-point advantage for Democrats in the generic poll (49 to 42 percent). This is a question asked every cycle, basically would you vote for a Democrat or a Republican? It’s usually close. It usually favors Democrats, slightly. (Remember more people vote for Democrats for Congress. Republicans win because of the district system.) Two years ago before the election the same question showed Republicans with a two-tenths of one percent lead. The final result: Democrats 49.2 percent; Republicans 48 percent. (Previous: Will Republicans stand by Trump? Watch congressional races).

But it’s now seven points. That’s sweep territory. And the prospect of the House of Representatives shifting from Paul Ryan’s leadership to Nancy Pelosi.

The Trump campaign has created an impossible political dilemma for Republican candidates because he’s now attacking Republicans and forcing them to stand with him or against him.

That leaves Republicans with three choices. Hide. Denounce Trump. Or continue supporting Trump as a flawed candidate.

Washington’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers picked door number three. In a statement on Spokane’s KXLY she said: “I have said all along that I absolutely disagree with some of Donald Trump’s statements – especially the video released on Friday. I will be voting for Mr. Trump because I believe that we must defeat Hillary Clinton who has a record of deliberately misleading the American people.”

Democrat Joe Pakootas  is relentless on this issue.

“Sexual assault remains a prevalent issue in our country. 1 out of 5 women and one out of 71 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. These estimates are likely very low because rape is one of the least reported crimes. Few are reported, even fewer are prosecuted, and even fewer find the rapist guilty,” Pakootas posted on his campaign web site and on Facebook. “First of all, we need to stop normalizing rape culture. This means not tolerating any talk that encourages sexual assault. We need to make sure the burden is on the perpetrator, not the victim. We need to teach individuals NOT to assault, as well as safety to victims.”

So what does Door Number Three look like politically?  According to the national survey, when Running against a Republican “who continues to endorse Donald Trump” the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 12-point advantage. Voters, especially mainstream voters, don’t like that approach.

The logic behind that spread is simple. To reach a majority, fifty percent plus one, a candidate needs consensus. A broad coalition of voters. So ignoring those who think Trump crossed the line will not accomplish that. And, at the same time, if you do denounce Trump, his hardcore supporters will not forgive you and stay home, vote Libertarian, or write in another name.

Who else is in this camp? Rep. Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, who is being challenged by Chase Iron Eyes.

In Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke also says he still prefers Trump over Clinton. He told Breitbart:  “What Mr. Trump said was wrong. There is no other way to say it. He should be ashamed. But, that doesn’t make Hillary any better a candidate. What we face everyday is a bureaucracy that’s grown out of control, a government that have become separated and is no longer held accountable to the people,” he said. “This is a unique election in the history of our country.”

Dozens of senior Republicans, including Speaker Ryan and Sen. John McCain, have distanced themselves from Trump. But that choice doesn’t inspire voters either, according to the DCCC survey. “Even against a ‘Republican candidate who never formally endorsed Donald Trump and now says they won’t vote for him’ the Democratic margin moves from a 7-point advantage to a 10-point advantage.” The reason? The survey reports only 39 percent of voters say: “That these Republicans are showing character and integrity for finally standing up to Donald Trump.”

Update: Some of the Republicans who wanted Trump to withdraw have now changed their minds and are back as supporters. At least voters know where they stand. For the moment.

Republican Representatives Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole have so far been quiet, sticking with Door Number One. For now.

These are significant numbers. In a recent  Montana poll Denise Juneau trailed Zinke by three points and another by 11 points. So a 12-point swing would change everything. Same story in Washington state. And, if Iron Eyes can get his message out, even in North Dakota.

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 – Younger voters don’t trust candidates or the system (and thus too willing give up their own power)

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Politics as unusual. A car parked at the big camp at Standing Rock. Voters, especially younger voters, are not happy with their presidential options in 2016. But if young voters don’t turnout, that could be as important as actually casting a ballot. (Trahant photo)

Will Standing Rock stir younger Native voters?

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Will young people vote in 2016? And, more important, at least for our purposes, how about the younger generation of American Indians and Alaska Natives?

Let’s explore the first question.

Younger voters are perplexing. They are, or should be, the largest group voters, some 75 million. And the data shows they are far more likely to vote for Democrats than other generations. Except there is an “except.” Young voters are less likely to vote.

In 2008 they were a key constituent bloc helping to elect Barack Obama as President of the United States. In fact, in 2004, 2006, and 2008 young voters were the majority of Democratic party votes; the most supportive group. And, according to Pew Research, in 2008 some two-thirds of those under 30 voted for Barack Obama “making the disparity between young voters and other age groups larger than in any presidential election since exit polling began in 1972.”

But after 2008, well, not so much.

A report by the Census Bureau on voting patterns said: “In 2012, the voting population 45 years of age and over increased, while the number of voters 18 through 44 years old decreased. Between 1996 and 2008, there was only a single example of an age group showing a decrease in net voting from one presidential election to the next, yet in 2012 significant decreases occurred for two age groups. Younger voters 18 through 29 years of age reported a net voting decrease of about 1.8 million, while voters between the ages of 30 through 44 reported a decrease of about 1.7 million.” The bottom line: A decrease of 1.9 million voters between the ages of 30- through 44-year-olds in 2012.

votingratesThe data backs up the idea that young people were excited by Obama’s first presidential campaign. He changed the conversation. But then the hard slog of politics, the fights with Congress, the slow pace of change, and so many compromises by Obama turned off younger voters. That’s a problem that goes beyond any single candidate. How do you convince younger voters that politics and policy are more complicated than an election slogan?

Hillary Clinton has been trying to figure out younger voters. But as The New York Times pointed out this week that’s not so easy. As a group they do not watch television and “they tend not to be motivated by any single, unifying issue, making the job of messaging harder. They are declaring themselves unaffiliated with either party at a rate faster than any other generation. They say the political process and the two-party system are unresponsive to their concerns.”

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This is true in Indian Country, too. It’s reflected on Facebook where younger American Indian and Alaska Native voters equate Clinton with the establishment and do not understand why Bernie Sanders is no longer an option. For his part, Sanders has campaigned with Clinton. He wrote in The Los Angeles Times: “My supporters and I began a political revolution to transform America. That revolution continues as Hillary Clinton seeks the White House. It will continue after the election. It will continue until we create a government which represents all of us and not just the 1 percent – a government based on the principle of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

There are even some younger Native American voters who see Donald Trump as an agent of change and worth the risk (all the while proclaiming support for Standing Rock or calling for more federal action on climate change.)

Part of the problem is that Clinton does not understand the priorities of younger voters. Recent hacked audio conversations between Clinton and high-value donors back in February explain that gap. “There’s just a deep desire to believe that we can have free college, free healthcare, that what we’ve done hasn’t gone far enough, and that we just need to, you know, go as far as, you know, Scandinavia, whatever that means, and half the people don’t know what that means, but it’s something that they deeply feel,” she said according to Politico.

That’s where the Standing Rock story comes into play.

Clinton has been silent about Standing Rock and the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute. The narrative from the camps is that she doesn’t care. I suspect the real issue is that her staff sees this as another pipeline dispute similar to Keystone XL pipeline. She was not eager to weigh in on that issue either. They don’t see this as unique moment in history when all of North America’s indigenous people are speaking with one voice.

The Clinton generation, and that includes the Obama administration, cling to the idea that we can continue to drill and transport oil the same way we have been doing it for decades. They say climate change is real, but back away from the hard decisions required to limit consumption of fossil fuels. In a lot of ways they play the same “either, or” game as the extractive industry equating oil and gas production with a strong economy (and votes). But I think younger voters would understand a call to sacrifice. A Harvard study last year found that three-out-of-four see climate change as real and caused by humans.

To my way of thinking: The single best thing Clinton could do to connect with younger voters would be to visit the camps at Standing Rock, learn from what’s going on, and take a stand. The evidence for why such an approach would work with younger voters is found across social media. When there is a report of an event, a prayer, or direct action, it spreads via social media by the hundreds of thousands. Imagine what it would mean to any campaign to collect the data from likes and reactions from that potential pool of voters.

So what about younger American Indian and Alaska Native voters? As the NativeVote.Org web site reports: “The Native youth population is growing at a rate higher than the rest of the country. Native Vote in partnerships with other youth non‐profit organizations will be working to reach out to these new and future voters. Part of this effort will include the development of a youth curriculum to encourage civic engagement and get them involved and be part of making a difference in their communities.”

But those numbers remain a promise and a concern. How many will take the steps necessary to vote?

I recently wrote this about the potential voters from the camps at Standing Rock: “Many of the water protectors arrived about a month ago and say they were willing to stay as long as it takes. That means (or it could mean) that they are residents under North Dakota law and could vote in the next election. How would that work? There would have to be some mechanism in place to certify the “new residents” either by identification or more likely by affirmation. If that is done now, then people at the camps can vote in the November election because North Dakota does not require voter registration. Imagine adding 2,000, 3,000 people or more to the voter rolls in Morton County, ND. There could even be a write-in campaign for county offices (members of the county commission are currently running unopposed). This would send a message to those in office that the people at the camps are constituents, too.”

Beyond the Standing Rock camps another potential pool of voters could come from tribal colleges.

In North Dakota there are some 3,500 tribal college students enrolled across the state, including 1,500 at United Tribes Technical College.  Residential college students can vote using a campus address (or by absentee with their home address). Either way imagine a turnout goal of 90 percent.

Across the country that’s nearly 30,000 students or 27,000 voters at 90 percent.

Then a goal of 90 percent Native youth turnout, lofty as it is, could be set for colleges and universities, tribal communities, and in urban areas. This election has a loud call to action that transcends normal politics and that’s a resolution to the Standing Rock issues as well as the next White House getting more serious about climate change action.

Will younger voters show? We don’t know. But we do know this: Older voters will be there. “Presidential elections have been dominated by voters of the Baby Boom and previous generations, who are estimated to have cast a majority of the votes,” notes Pew Research Center. And that “election reign” may come to an end this November … that is only if younger voters are present.

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 sky’s the limit for daughters everywhere

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“Hillary Clinton you accepted and my Granddaughter said take a pic and post it,” a Tweet from Margo Gray. Kori Eagleman later sat down and wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton. (Photo via Twitter)

 

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Hillary Clinton’s acceptance of the Democratic Party’s nomination for president sent a message that traveled far beyond the convention hall in Philadelphia. It was  a story told in hundreds of tweets from mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, and those who make up a larger American family. So many beautiful tweets that showed a daughter watching television at the moment Clinton walked on stage.

One second, one idea, one moment, that said so much about what’s possible.

A tweet from Margo Gray (Osage): “@HillaryClinton you accepted and my Granddaughter said take a pic and post it to her.” That she did. The world knows. Indian Country knows.

It was like that across my twitter feed. Many fathers in tears, crying about what their daughters might do. It meant so much, so many said, to see their daughter’s face and excitement for the first female presidential nominee. Emotional retweets.

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Clinton said. A line we all knew to be true.

A family story that started with an introduction from her daughter, Chelsea. “I’m here as a proud American, a proud Democrat, a proud mother and, tonight in particular, a very, very proud daughter.” Later, Clinton paid a tribute to her mother. “My mother, Dorothy, was abandoned by her parents as a young girl. She ended up on her own at 14, working as a house maid. She was saved by the kindness of others.”

As the tweets rolled past: I thought about Wilma Mankiller. She was fond about telling a story about the first treaty negotiations between the Cherokee Tribe and the United States. One of the first questions: “Where are your women?”

Mankiller said it was common for Cherokee women to be included in ceremonies and negotiations and it was inconceivable that the United States would come to a negotiation alone. How can you negotiate anything with only half your people or half a way of thinking?

“Where are your women?” That question has a new meaning when 14 United States senators told their stories at the convention. One of those women, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, was the first woman elected to the Senate. Then she went on to be the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. She was elected in 1986. The story of women in Congress parallels that of Native Americans running for and winning office across the country. First one person wins, then another, then another, and so on. “Where are your women?” is a question with a different answer every election. In state legislatures, Congress, and soon, possibly, the White House. Where are your women? Running governments.

A young man once asked Mankiller what he should call her. She was then principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and twice elected as the leader of some 200,000 people. But this young man was uncomfortable with what he called a “male” term. “Should we address you as chieftainess?” he asked. Mankiller didn’t say a word. Then, after hearing the suggestion “chief ette,” she responded. “I told him to call me `Ms.-Chief’ or `misChief.’ ”

And so it goes for a would-be Madame President. Her acceptance speech included plenty of policy — and that will be the subject of many posts going forward. But first, we need to think about the barrier that was lifted. Indeed, one of the subtexts from the Democratic Convention was about protestors who dismissed Clinton as the status quo. Perhaps in some ways. But in other ways, no. Because there is so much mischief possible in a world without ceilings.

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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