Election update: Rancher, businessman, and, yes, absolutely, a career politician

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Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Last year about now I was pretty much writing all politics all the time. Indian Country had so many good candidates to offer. Interesting resumes. Better ideas. Campaigns that led to a few wins. A few more losses. And that’s life.

This year I am pretty much writing about health care policy all the time. The Republican plans are so bad — and especially for Indian Country — that they ought be dismissed as dangerous nonsense at every opportunity. As I have written before there is a conservative approach to health care. None of the current proposals are that; they are only a destructive force. (More about that after the Senate releases it latest attempt to reach a 50 vote majority.)

Of course there is also a connection between campaign politics and policy. We’re almost a year away from the next House and Senate election and we’re just starting to get a look at the candidates who will be making policy.

And it turns out there is news.

In Oklahoma, Democrats swept two state legislative seats this week in districts where Donald Trump won handily last year.

One of the seats in the Tulsa area had been held by Rep. Dan Kirby, Creek, and a Republican member of the Native American caucus. He resigned in February following allegations of sexual harassment by staff members. Kirby’s seat was won by a retired teacher, Karen Gaddis (who lost to Kirby in November by 12 percentage points). This had been a safe Republican seat.

A state Senate election (also stemming from a sex scandal) was won Tuesday by a Democrat in the Oklahoma City area.

Oklahoma is one of the most Republican states in the country. So it’s huge to see such a significant shift in a special election. (Unless, that is, it’s just those sex scandals and not the Trump factor.)

One person who ought to be especially concerned by these two election results: Rep. Markwayne Mullin.

Mullin won 70 percent of the vote in his third re-election bid in 2016. Mullins, a member of the Cherokee Nation, first ran in the Tea Party-inspired wave in 2012. He ran against too much government, a repeal of Obamacare, and a silly promise to limit his time in office to three terms.

Now he’s running for his fourth term and some prominent conservatives are unhappy. Former Sen. Tom Coburn told Oklahoma’s KFAQ radio that it was sad because this “nice young man … has drunk the Kool-Aid in Washington.”

It’s funny and prescient. Mullin’s ads said: “A Rancher. A Businessman. Not a politician.” Mullin can hardly say that now. It’s like the great line in the movie “The Candidate” when young Bill McKay is elected governor and his father (who was a governor) tells him: “Bud, you’re a politician.”

Even the story changed. In his early ads, Mullin talks about term limits as an answer to the problem of being an insider in Washington. But in his video explaining why he’s running again, Mullin said — after much prayer — that he’s changing his mind for family reasons. “I’m not hiding from that because we did say we’re going to serve six years, and it was out of true concerns,” he said. But that’s ok now. The family is doing great.

And, like every politician before him, the voters really need him. Just him. Especially during this era of Donald Trump (that is … if the era even lasts until the next election).

Mullin has been the congressional voice for the Trump version of a Native American policy. He praised the Dakota Access Pipeline project and was critical of tribal leaders for opposing it at a hearing in February. “What do you consider meaningful conversations between government-to-government?” Mullins asked Chad Harrison from Standing Rock. His reply was great: “An actual dialogue, perhaps.”

But while Mullin complained about the power of Standing Rock to slow down the Dakota Access Pipeline, he says he’s all for increased powers of tribes to develop such energy projects. The president should “provide tribes with the resources they need in order to best decide how their land should be developed,” he said. How. Not if.

Then perhaps that gets to the actual dialogue part. Or lack thereof.

Mullin supports the House health care bill that would wreck the Indian health system. Then Mullin does not see it that way. In a May Q & A published by the Miami News-Record he said flat out that Republican plans will not hurt the Indian Health Service. “The American Health Care Act (AHCA), which the House passed on May 4th to repeal and replace Obamacare, makes no changes to Indian Health Services (IHS). In addition, the spending bill passed to fund the government through September funds IHS at a rate of $5 billion – an increase of $232 million from last year’s levels. I anticipate the native people of Oklahoma will welcome both of these things.”

Excuse me. But as I’ve been reporting (often) Medicaid is a significant funding stream for Indian health. And the House bill (and its Senate twin) destroy that whole infrastructure.

He told his constituents that no one who has health care will lose it because of the Republican plans. He said emergency rooms cannot turn people away. Seriously. That’s a health care plan? Mullin told the Tulsa World: “We think the federal government is going to solve all of our problems, but let me ask you, how is (that) going?”

That explains a lot. Mullin was against the Violence Against Women Act (which will need to be reauthorized by Congress next year) including the provisions that recognize tribal judicial authority.

Back to politics. If there is a voter groundswell of Trump opposition — even in Oklahoma — then Mullin’s re-election race could become interesting. The right candidate could push him on the left while Coburn and other conservatives will question his integrity from the right.

But who will challenge him? I’d like to see a candidate from one of the tribes. Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District is 17 percent Native American and it’s 65 percent rural. That’s two constituent groups that will be deeply impacted by Republican health care plans. There is an issue to run on here. (Not to mention that Coburn, who once held this seat, will campaign against Mullin. And the Trump chaos.)

We’re a little more than a year away from the next election. So this is the time to sort out who’s running from Indian Country, who should be running, and to pass on those candidates who regularly vote against Indian Country. I’d add Mullin to that last list.

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

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

 

A seat at the table? Claudia Kauffman launches bid for Seattle Port Commission

 

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Sen. Claudia Kauffman speaking in Seattle. She is a candidate for Seattle’s Port Commission. (Photo via Facebook.)

 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

It’s such a simple thing: Every citizen should have a voice at the table when decisions are made. It’s a powerful notion because no democracy can sustain itself unless all of its people, all of those who have a stake in the outcome, are included.

But that idea remains illusive. And never more important.

What does a seat at the table look like? It means more Native Americans win election to office as governors, members of Congress, U.S. Senators, mayors, county commissions, judges, members of state legislatures, and, yes, why not, even the White House. Indian Country deserves more of a voice, both in terms of fairness and as elected representation that’s based on our share of the population. Wait. That’s fairness, too. (Previous: Indian Country wins with more representation in the states.)

Then there are elected offices that we don’t think about, yet are important, and by definition, are that seat at the table.  Claudia Kauffman is running for such a job, Commissioner for the Port of Seattle. This is a $650 million a year public business that manages Seattle’s seaport, airport, and a portfolio of real estate. It has its own police and fire departments. Tribes and native people are impacted by port decisions ranging from  cleaning up rivers and salmon habitat to regulating oil drilling rigs that berth in Seattle on their way to Arctic waters.

Kauffman is Nez Perce. She is the first Native American woman who was elected to the Washington state Senate a decade ago.  (Previous: She Represents: A survey of Native American Women who have been elected to office.) She also works for the Muckleshoot Tribe as the Intergovernmental Affairs Director. One of her tasks in that role is distributing $1.3 million a year to more than 200 local schools, churches and not-for-profit organizations. She’s also been a trustee at The Evergreen State College and on the board of visitors at Antioch College.

Kauffman grew up in Seattle’s Beacon Hill as the youngest of seven children. “I come from a family with a long history of giving back to the community,” Kauffman says on her web site. “A family with strong and well grounded values and connection to our community, our environment, and our future. I will work to bring trust back into government, to provide leadership in the direction of the Port of Seattle, and bring family wage jobs.”

A couple of years ago Kauffman told the port commission that it could use her perspective as a working mother, a small business owner, and a community leader. “My record of public service includes working closely with state, federal and tribal governments, which I believe, makes my experience unique and beneficial to the Port of Seattle Commission,” she wrote. In the state Senate Kauffman said she worked on transportation, international trade and economic development. “I led the Senate in the successful passage of the MicroEnterprise Development in which we funded training for small business owners … my work with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe provides critical connections, understanding and perspective.”

In her campaign brochure, Kauffman said she will build on her tribal contacts and strengthen ties with the 29 tribes in the state. Tribes “are large employers,” Kauffman said. “In 2010, they paid $1.3 billion in wages and purchased $2.4 billion in goods and services.”

This will be a challenging race. She’s running for Commissioner Position One, against a well-funded incumbent, John W. Creighton III. Also on the August primary ballot will be Ryan Calkins and Bea Querido-Rico. (This is a non partisan election for voters of King County, Washington.)

Creighton is the longest serving port commissioner and one of the commission’s best fundraisers.

But Kauffman is no stranger to that world. She raised nearly $300,000 in her bid for the Senate and she was one of those candidates who worked incredibly hard knocking on every door at every opportunity. She also has a political organization — a network of people who are willing to work extraordinarily hard to win an election.

This is what a seat at the table looks like.

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 landslide? That would be great news for Native challengers

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

What does a landslide look like? And, more important, what would that mean for Native American candidates?

First: Hillary Clinton is peaking at the ideal moment. And, at the same time, Donald Trump’s campaign is imploding. He had a bad week, a poor debate, and he’s out of time to change the conversation. But more important than all of that there is no Trump organization, people on the ground methodically reminding people to vote. Instead of running a campaign designed to build a winning coalition, Trump chose to defy math and narrow his base of support.

One hint at what’s to come on Election Day is found in the data of early voting.

According to CNN, working with a data company, Calalist, says more than 3.3 million Americans have already voted. And based on demographic profiles, Democrats are stronger now than they were four years ago in North Carolina, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

“Democratic early turnout has stayed steady in North Carolina compared to 2012, while Republicans have dropped by about 14,500. In Nevada, Democrats have a smaller early voting deficit today than they did at this point in 2012,” CNN reports. “And Democrats are slightly ahead in Arizona in the early vote so far, though they are lagging Republicans in the tally of how many Arizonans have requested ballots.”

The U.S. Elections Project publishes the most comprehensive collection of data, a spreadsheet of early voting statistics from across the country. Already there are some interesting numbers (spreadsheet here). North Carolina breaks down returned early voting ballots by gender and 56 percent of them so far are from women. In 2012 53 percent of the state’s electorate was female. 

To put that number in perspective: Across the country women were 53 recent of the total electorate in 2012 and were the key bloc for President Obama’s re-election. A three percent increase would produce a landslide.

We don’t know the break down by gender in other states but there is data about the number of ballots received.

In Montana, where Denise Juneau is running for Congress, requests for early ballots are up by 15 percent from four years ago. As of 310,990 ballots have been mailed or requested and 43,639 have been returned.

And, in North Dakota,  there have been 67,837 requests for ballots and 25,662 people have already voted (including me.) Chase Iron Eyes is a candidate for Congress, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun is runnng for the North Dakota Public Service Commission, and Ruth Buffalo is on the ballot for the state’s insurance commissioner.  They are running on the Democratic-NPL ticket.

South Dakota did not have early voting in 2012, but it’s now available, and 48,564 ballots have been requested. Henry Red Cloud is the Democratic candidate for Public Utilities Commissioner.

There are no early voting numbers for Washington state (where most people vote by mail) or in the Oklahoma congressional districts. (Republicans Tom Cole and MarkWayne Mullin are in seats that are not competitive.)

Back to my lede: What would a landslide mean for the Native American candidates? If women vote in higher percentages than in 2012 that would be really good news for Juneau, Joe Pakootas in Washington, and for Iron Eyes, Hunte-Bueaubrun and Buffalo. Would it be enough to erase a Republican advantage? That remains the open question.

But a presidential landslide could be a factor. What happens is that some voters like to be associated with victory, so they switch to the winning teamside. And, at the same time, other voters are disillusioned and just stay home. That really impacts down ballot races. (Northern Idaho often has this problem because networks “call” the state when the polls close in the Mountain time zone while there is still an hour to vote in the Pacific time zone.)

Of course not every presidential election results in a down ballot landslide. Ronald Reagan’s 1984 landslide did not flip the House and Republicans picked up 16 seats.  Democrats would need 30 to control the House.

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