Dino Rossi has an interesting political legacy. He was for several weeks the Gov.-elect for Washington state. Then after much counting (and recounting) Democrat Christine Gregoire took the lead by 129 votes and was she sworn in as governor on January 12, 2005.
Since then Rossi has run for governor again, the U.S. Senate, and was recently appointed to a state Senate seat to fill out the remaining term of a member who had died.
Rossi is Tlingit. One of his first jobs was working for Bernie Whitebear at Seattle’s United Indians of All Tribes.
It’s interesting how some candidates make their tribal affiliation prominent and weigh in on issues that impact Indian Country. That would not be Rossi. But he doesn’t shy away (as many politicians do) from the conversation. It’s just not his focus. He has a fascinating background. From his transition team biography: “Dino’s mother, Eve, came from Alaska. She was half Irish, half Tlingit Alaskan Native. She’d married in Alaska and had five children, but the marriage became difficult. To get away from the situation, Eve took her kids to Seattle. For a time the family lived in public housing in Holly Park while Eve waitressed during the day and went to beauty school at night.” His mother met and married John Rossi and the family eventually moved to Mountlake Terrace. Back to the bio: “The Rossi kids were raised on a school-teacher’s salary. They didn’t have a lot of money, but their house was full of love.”
If you read his story, you’d think it was a classic liberal narrative. Public housing. Government works. But no. Rossi favors the bootstrap side of the story, a working family that raised itself up. He has always run as a conservative candidate. That said. In his Senate role he was willing to reach across party lines and come up with a deal.
I remember a Seattle P-I Editorial Board with then Sen. Rossi where he talked about the shortage of funds for higher education. But then, he suggested, book as much spending as possible on the capital side of the ledger. That’s where serious dollars could be found, he suggested. Creative.
Or as his bio puts it: “In the state Senate, Dino became a leader on budget issues. He eventually became Chairman of the Senate Ways & Means Committee – which writes the state budget – in 2003, when the State faced the largest dollar deficit in history. Dino was able to work across party lines and balance the budget without raising taxes and while still protecting the most vulnerable. Dino also focused on other issues: he spearheaded legislation to punish drunk drivers and child abusers; he worked to fund the Issaquah salmon hatchery; he secured funding for Hispanic/Latino health clinics, and he championed funding for the developmentally disabled community.”
Washington’s 8th District poses a lot of the same challenges that Rossi faced when he ran for governor; the demographics of the district (like the state) are more more diverse and liberal than a few years ago. But he enters this race with one advantage: He will be the only Republican while there will be a half-dozen Democrats. Washington has a top-two primary, but the winning Democrat will have to build name ID and consolidate support, something Rossi will already have with Republicans.
The seat is now held by Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican.
There are now seven #NativeVote18 candidates for Congress. Three Republicans, Rossi as well as Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole and Rep. Markwayne Mullin. And four Democrats, Carol Surveyor in Utah, Debra Haaland in New Mexico, J.D. Colbert in Texas, and Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols (who’s challenging Mullin). So far.
I have updated my #NativeVote18 interactive map and database, including early financial reports. (Speaking of that: I have started working on this cycle’s legislative database … if you know of candidates, please let me know.)
Haaland endorsed by Navajo Nation Vice President
New Mexico candidate Debra Haaland picked up an endorsement by Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez. He wrote: “Let’s honor the voice and rightful place at the table by electing the first American Indian woman to Congress. Deb is a champion for all citizens of New Mexico and will represent us with dignity on Capitol Hill.”
The “first” remains a powerful argument. Here we are in 2017 and Congress has never seated a Native American woman ever. As a Haaland fundraising page puts it: “Congress has never heard a voice like mine.” She is a Democrat.
Surveyor writes about her mother’s murder
On her Facebook page, Utah candidate Carol Surveyor tells a powerful, personal story about violence against women. “One has only to live on a reservation or speak to members of the communities to know that rates of missing and murdered women and girls are high. Nearly every Native family has a story of a female relative who is missing, murdered, or whose murder has gone unsolved,” she writes.
“So when my mother was murdered on November 30, 2015 four days after Thanksgiving I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t stop thinking about what were the last words I said to her, did I tell her I loved her, did she know. A week later on a Monday December 7, 2015 18 days before Christmas we buried my mother. I saw her white coffin lowered into the ground. As my mother’s bags that she use to carry with her when she came to visit were also lowered into the ground with her I felt my heart break.”
She writes: “My mother, My mother’s teachings of resilence is what got me this far.” Read the whole post.
This is exactly why it’s so important for there to be representation for all in Congress — including Native American women. We know there is a problem. We need more data and we need solutions. And that cannot be done without more voices where decisions are made.
Surveyor is campaigning as a Democrat.
ICYMI: My first audio election special is on iTunes or Soundcloud. Download here.
Thirteen days and counting. And the election issue once again is the Affordable Care Act.
A report by the Department of Health and Human Services details the rising costs for individual policies. So after two years of moderate premium increases (2% for 2015 and 7.5% for 2016) premiums are going up sharply in 2017. The is ideal for Republicans because the say this highlights why the law won’t work. So it’s an election issue. Again.
But here’s the thing. Yes, this is a problem. It needs to be fixed. But most people are not impacted, especially in Indian Country. (The problem here is that not enough young people are buying that insurance. There are many solutions to that specific issue.)
Let me explain.
The increase in premiums is only for people who buy their plans through healthcare.gov. Most people who do that get a tax subsidy as part of the deal. And most American Indians and Alaska Natives would be eligible for a subsidy in any case.
Most Americans, and most in Indian Country, do not buy individual plans. Most of us get health insurance through work.
Still other Native Americans benefit from the single greatest success of the Affordable Care Act, the expansion of Medicaid.
If you look at the big picture: More people are covered by health insurance than ever before. Most of the law is working, well, brilliantly.
But Republicans will be campaigning on a repeal and replace pledge. Except there is not now, nor has there ever been, consensus from the Right about what a replacement would look like. There is nothing behind the curtain.
One more thing: Remember that any repeal of the Affordable Care Act is also a repeal of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
Fear not. This election should bury the very notion of repeal. Perhaps then Congress will actually tinker with the law (like it does with all legislation) to make it work better. Because if you look at the numbers – all of the numbers – then the Affordable Care Act remains a success story.
Out on the campaign trail last night, Joe Pakootas had a huge crowd in Walla Walla. He wrote on Facebook: “I am the embodiment of the American dream: a minority that came out of poverty, through foster care, into a minimum wage job, turned CEO and now Congressional Candidate. The incredible support I was shown tonight, whether through each handshake, Pakootas sticker or shirt that was worn, or the uproar of applause when I took my seat, is humbling and encouraging. I never thought I would make it here, but it’s all for the people that I’m fighting. I will stay true to that when I’m in Congress.”
Chase Iron Eyes was endorsed by the Alliance for Retired Americans, a union-based advocacy group. “Could it be due to the fact that I respect my elders, that I won’t let Washington privatize social security unlike my opponent, or is it that I will lift the tax cap so that those making over $125,000 per year pay the same taxes as those making under that amount already pay,” Iron Eyes wrote on Facebook. “We need you to stand for those who invested their whole working lives laying into social security and are not seeking ‘entitlements’ as politicians say.”
Or not an endorsement. In Fargo, the Forum newspaper endorsed Rep. Kevin Cramer for re-election. The paper says he “has no serious competition. Democrat Chase Iron Eyes is running a shoestring campaign with virtually no help from his party.”
However the Forum makes an eloquent case against Cramer. “If he has a blind spot in this election cycle, it’s his near-worship of presidential candidate Donald Trump. Unlike other prominent state Republicans, who have been muted in their squishy support for Trump, Cramer is positively giddy about the New York billionaire, often acting like a cow-eye high school cheerleader who is smitten by the thuggish captain of the football team. Cramer has been too willing to set aside his oft-stated values of family, faith and decency for a heady ride on the Trump party bus.
In Minnesota, Donna Bergstrom, a Red Lake tribal member, was endorsed by the Duluth News Tribune as a “clear choice.” She is a retired Lt. Col. in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. The paper says Bergstrom, a Republican, has “a wealth of research and knowledge, strong positions, even stronger leadership experience, and an impressive resume.”
“I’m not a politician but a common citizen who is concerned over the direction of the state just like you,” she said at the paper’s candidate forum.
A question I am often asked: Are American Indians and Alaska Natives only Democrats? Of course not. There are Native Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, and Independents. Yet the data show that the vast majority of Native Americans vote for Democrats. And run for office as Democrats.
Of the active candidates on my #NativeVote16 boards there are 75 Democrats, 14 Republicans, and 4 independents (or no affiliation reported). But if you look at history, there are a lot more American Indians and Alaska Natives who have won office under the Republican banner. That list includes: Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Northern Cheyenne, who joined the Republican Party after his election; Vice President Charles Curtis; as well as the only current members of Congress, Tom Cole and Markwayne Mullin.
The Republican Party has its Richard Nixon legacy (even if it’s not talked about much these days). President Nixon championed self-determination, rejected assimilation, and returned land to its rightful tribal owners.
Today’s Republican Party platform continues to affirm Nixon’s basic framework. “Based on both treaty and other law, the federal government has a unique government-to-government relationship with and trust responsibility for Indian Tribal Governments, American Indians, and Alaska Natives,” the platform says. “These obligations have not been sufficiently honored.”
What do the Republican candidates say about issues impacting American Indians and Alaska Natives? How do they make the case for being Republican and Native?
Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Cole is perhaps the most senior and respected Republican who’s also a member of a tribe. “As an enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation, I am very proud of my heritage and the tremendous accomplishments of tribes in Oklahoma and across our country,” Cole writes on his congressional web site. “I am committed to advocating on behalf of Native Americans in Congress.”
Cole’s advocacy is routine and powerful. He was instrumental in the 2013 enactment of the Violence Against Women Act because he gave cover to Republicans who voted for the measure (and against an alternative bill). Cole has called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and, at the same time, has consistently said the United States government has “fallen behind” in its funding of the Indian health system. He often advocates for spending more on Indian health throughout the budget and appropriations process.
Indeed the area of health care is often a point of departure for Native American politicians who are Republican.
Montana state Rep. G. Bruce Meyer, who represents Box Elder in the state Legislature, voted for the expansion of Medicaid in the last session because it gave more options for American Indians. He also says that the Affordable Care Act has increased costs and the Indian Health Service has not improved as a result, including inadequate facilities, inadequate care and a lack of professionalism. “If we had all three working in tandem, if we had people qualifying for Medicaid services, and Indian Health Services, combined with the Affordable Care Act, it could work.”
But he said the problems in health care at the Veterans Administration and the Indian Health Service remain serious concerns. “I hope the affordable healthcare act could make some improvements, but so far we haven’t seen it,” he said. “I want to give it the benefit of the doubt to see if all three could work together, three sources of funding, but it hasn’t happened.”
Indeed most of the Republican candidates don’t even mention the link between the Affordable Care Act and the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Oklahoma’s U.S. Rep. Mullin says on his web site that he is “a proud Cherokee citizen,” and “one of only two Native American Members of Congress.”
But when it comes to the issue health there is only the standard Republican party lines: “I have voted over 30 times to defund, dismantle or repeal Obamacare. This terrible law imposes more mandates, more taxes and is driving up the cost of health care. Obamacare also jeopardizes Oklahoma’s rural hospitals, which are already struggling.”
Labor issues are another area where Republicans favor tribal authority over federal or state power. “It is especially egregious that the Democratic Party has persistently undermined tribal sovereignty in order to provide advantage to union bosses in the tribal workplace,” the GOP platform says. “Native communities should have the same authority as state governments in labor matters, so that union bosses and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cannot undermine the authority of tribal governments.”
Meyer says that Native Americans are naturally conservative and so it makes sense for more to join the Republican ranks. He said one of the things he’s discovered by “knocking on doors” is that the Democrats take the Indian vote for granted. “We believe in the sacredness of life,” he said. “We believe in strong families. When I am asked about the Gay Rights movement in Indian Country, I just relate it to our traditional societies and cultures … Large families, traditional families, Mother, Father, Grandmother, Grandfather, Great-grandma, Great-grandpa, uncles, aunts, were considered just like mother and father. Strong traditional families were honored and respected. But now we see a shrinking family and the nuclear family.”
He said one of the issues where he often differs with a lot of people in the tribal community is regarding “federal dole” because it hasn’t improved conditions on reservations. “I am saying, ‘let’s give the Republicans a chance, let’s see if we can develop small businesses, let’s see if we can develop Indian entrepreneurs,” he said. “I think we can develop our resources instead of white corporations and the white man do it for us.”
Meyers is Chippewa-Cree from Rocky Boy. He’s a candidate for the state Senate running in a district with a large American Indian population. His Democratic competition is former state Rep. Frank Smith, a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes.
Most of the Republican candidates make little mention of issues impacting American Indian communities (unless their district is majority Native American).
However in Duluth, Minnesota, Senate candidate Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Nation, is making reform of Indian education an issue in her campaign. She writes on her web page: “… in the State of Minnesota, American Indian students graduate at about a 49% rate, far below that of their non-Native peers. In many of the schools throughout the state, the numbers are actually lower. When education is not an expected goal or shared experience in nearly 50% of our youth, our societal foundation is weakened. Gone are the children’s options for the future of their education, for employment opportunities, and for their prospects of serving a productive role in our society.”
Bergstrom calls for “vouchers, education credits, and policies that support ‘child-focused’ learning. She says: “We must continue to look out, as cherished in Native American communities, seven generations to see how our policies and practices of today affect our future generations.”
Energy versus climate change
Most of the Republican candidates favor more energy development on tribal lands.
Alaska’s House Majority Leader, Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, praised the Obama administration for its decision to allow oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean. “I’m encouraged that the president and Interior Department have finally awakened to the reality that Shell will follow the law and do right by the State of Alaska, indigenous peoples and federal regulators,” she said. “”We hope this signals a change in the federal government’s attitude toward their own permitting system and Outside environmental interests, who don’t have the Alaskan people in mind. We’re the nation’s Arctic. We’re the nation’s energy future. It’s time for the Obama administration to let us unleash our potential and build on our decades of energy production expertise. Today is a good day.”
Jason Small is running for the Montana Senate. He’s a member of Northern Cheyenne Tribe and his central theme is the importance of coal to jobs.”Indian Reservations contain 30% of the nation’s coal reserves west of the Mississippi, an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars of energy resources,” Small testified to Congress last year. “In my opinion, coal must continue to be the mainstay in the energy mix. While wind, solar, bio-mass, and hydro energy can contribute to our national energy needs, it is clear they cannot totally replace coal as a base load power sources. I am a strong proponent for development of the rich Northern Cheyenne coal reserves.”
Small said development of coal and the Colstrip power plant “provide 3,740 jobs directly related to energy production in Montana, 3,500 in eastern Montana. An additional 2,688 private sector jobs are related. Personal income from coal-related employment is about $363 million … Colstrip employs 363 permanent workers, including 41 tribal members, one-eighth of the workforce. Others are employed by subcontractors, including during the annual overhaul when 680 are employed by North American Energy Services alone including many Navajo boilermakers. The Western Energy Mine, Colstrip currently employs 80 minorities, the majority Northern Cheyenne, nearly one-third of the craft workforce. This satisfies an original tribal goal of developing a trained work force for the day when the Northern Cheyenne would develop their own reserves.”
But the problem with coal is not just political. The international market for coal is in free-fall and more West Coast ports are refusing to be shipping centers because of environmental and climate change concerns. The United Nations has said that 80 percent of the world’s coal is un-burnable after the most recent climate change agreement signed in Paris.
Meyers said the Crow Nation is sovereign and it ought to be able to develop its own coal no matter what the state or federal government says. “The test of sovereignty is not how much we are going to be dependent on the federal government, but the true test of sovereignty is, what can we do? To create our own businesses, create our own economic viability, or own economic sustainability, that will be the true test of sovereignty.”
And what about climate change?
“I think it’s more of a political agenda than reality,” Meyers said. “There have been some scientific studies, but even those, how true are they? When you really look at the scientific evidence, how scientifically-based are they really?”
Actually, the answer is 97 percent. According to the National Space and Aeronautics Administration, “multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
Inside the caucus
In New Mexico, like Montana, being a member of the Republican Party means being in the majority. Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, Navajo, is working with a Republican initiative to expand that majority with the Future Majority Project— a program designed to recruit more Republican candidates that reflect the diversity of America.
“Representatives (Alonzo) Baldonado and Clahchischilliage will be a great addition to the Future Majority Project because both have done a tremendous job advocating conservative values to increasingly diverse communities,” said Debbie Maestas, chairman for the Republican Party of New Mexico. “They represent the future of our party.”
Republicans are hoping to recruit, train, and elect hundreds of candidates from diverse communities. That’s essential to the party in a state like New Mexico where about half the population is Hispanic and Native Americans exceed 10 percent of the population.
Clahchischilliage is an experienced politician. She’s worked as executive director of the Navajo Nation’s Washington Office, ran for tribal president, and for other state offices. She also shows that Republicans can win seats in districts that are majority American Indian (and, for that matter, majority Democrat.) Her district is 70 percent Native American. She will face another Navajo in November, Glojean Todacheene.
However there is one caveat: Both Meyers and Clahchischilliage won their races in off-year elections. The challenge during a presidential cycle, when more Native Americans show up at the polls, will be tougher simply because there will also be more Democrats voting.
Perhaps the strongest case that Republican candidates for office make to Native American voters is that they will be inside the room when the party makes decisions on American Indian issues. Meyer said he was able to convince Republicans, for example, to support tribal water compacts with the state. “We need friends on both sides,” Meyers said. “It’s good that I am on the other side of the aisle. I tell people I am out to get the best deal for American Indians no matter which party because that’s my constituency.”
The Trump challenge
There is one question that every Republican has to answer this election: What do you think about your party’s nominee for president?
Rep. Cole, who is an important voice for party leadership, says that’s not an issue. He said on MSNBC: “There is a choice. It’s a choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at this point. And, frankly, if you’re a Republican that’s a pretty easy choice. There is nobody who unites and motivates Republicans as much as Hillary Clinton.”
Then again not every Native American candidate is quite so eager to embrace Trump.
“The idea in this campaign was that no one wanted to file as a Democrat,” Blatchford said. Since then two other candidates, Richard Grayson and Ray Metcalfe, have been added to the August 16th ballot as Democrats. And the winner of the Democratic primary will go on to face at least three other candidates in the general election, a Republican, a Libertarian, and an Independent. Blatchford is Yupik and the only Native American running for the U.S. Senate. He has a resume worth considering: Mayor of Seward, Alaska, professor, owner of a newspaper chain, chief executive officer of a what is now Chugach Native Corporation, and he served in a governor’s cabinet.
“We are close to our senators. Alaska is a small state and we have lots of contact with federal officials,” Blatchford said. “If we elect a Republican Senate, you have to presume it will be anti-Indian. Why would we elect a Republican senator who will have to fight her own caucus for basic Constitutional rights? If we elect Democrats, it would be a part of the progressive agenda, it would be a part of the deal. Why would we fight from the outside, when we can be on the inside and be a part of the agenda?”
Blatchford said Murkowski must come up with a rationale to convince her own Republican caucus to support Alaska Native issues. “Donald Trump is hard to explain away. We watch what’s happening, we see it all on social media, but somehow Alaskans don’t see the connection between Lisa Murkowski and the Republican party’s leader,” he said, adding that it’s time for her to disassociate herself with Trump.
“I am connecting with the people in rural Alaska” he says, and one of the reasons is that he is championing “Native American sovereignty; Alaska Natives addressing their own problems.”
But too often, he said, the first question folks ask: “How much money have you raised? Not whether I am a Democrat, Republican, or what I believe. I have nothing.”
In a video presentation on YouTube, Blatchford said he is “not interested” in raising millions of dollars from corporations and transnational interests that have a different agenda for Alaska. “I am interested in representing you in the United States Senate, only Alaskans.”
To get his message out Blatchford relies on social media where he spends “late hours” connecting with people around the state. He said he’s also driving to as many places he can and speaking in communities reachable by road.
Blatchford said Democrats should not abandon their party. “This is a presidential year,” he said. “Why would you abandon the Democratic nominee for President of the United States who is so sensitive to minorities, the poor, and to Native Americans. We ought to grab on to her, promote her programs, and her progressive policies. I am embracing Hillary Clinton.”
Will social media be enough? We will learn the answer, at least in part, on Tuesday.
There is a hundred dollars-a-plate fundraiser planned on August 21 for Laurel Deegan-Fricke. She’s a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation and running in a highly competitive seat in Raleigh, North Carolina. Two years ago that race was decided by less than a thousand votes out of some 82,000 cast.
If you missed the fundraiser. Don’t worry. It won’t be Deegan-Fricke’s last. The “cost” of a Senate seat in North Carolina averages $173,576, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics. So if you’re not doing the math that means some 1,735 dinners. Then again Raleigh is not average. Four years ago, according to Open Secrets, candidates spent nearly $600,000 trying to win that Senate seat. Two years ago the winning candidate spent $470,000 and the losing candidate a whopping $1.1 million.
How much time do you have to spend raising money? “All day and night with less than 100 days to election,” answers Deegan-Fricke. She says she needs $500,000 to stay competitive.
Yet the issue of money is one reason why there are not more Native Americans serving in Congress, state legislatures and as governors. Of course the problem is that any “outside” candidate has an uphill climb in this aspect of representation. The fact is the system greatly favors those who are already in office. And money is one way to scare away potential challengers. In 2014 nearly a third of all Americans lived in states with an uncontested state senate race and more than forty percent in states with uncontested house races. (Previous: Hidden history of why Native Americans lose elections and what to do about it.)
There are solutions. One alternative is a system that includes full or partial public financing for campaigns. In an ideal setting, once a candidate meets the requirements to run, such as gathering signatures, and raising a limited amount, then state dollars are made available. A second system that’s used in many countries is that the political party funds its candidates. (In the U.S. it’s the opposite: You’re told by the party that you will have to raise “X” dollars before you will get funding. And usually the “X” is a big number.)
Arizona and Minnesota both have public financing options. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “a candidate for state office in Arizona must raise $5 contributions from at least 200 people in order to qualify for the program. In return, the state provides the candidate with public money in an amount equal to the expenditure limit.” States cannot require candidates to participate in public financing and that limits the program’s effectiveness because some candidates can raise unlimited amounts. I should also mention that some of the most interesting experiments right now are occurring at the local level, such as Seattle’s new approach where voters are given vouchers to send to candidates.
Wenona Benally, Navajo, who’s running for the Arizona House in District 7, said, “qualifying as a ‘clean elections’ candidate and receiving public funds helps tremendously with paying for campaign activities. However, the process for qualifying as a CCEC candidate is very time-consuming & arduous.” She said the Secretary of State reviews every donor and if it cannot verify all of the data, then the form gets kicked out.
Minnesota candidates for the Senate must raise $3,000 and House candidates $1,500 in order to receive public funds for their campaign. Rep. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Ojibwe, representing St. Louis Park and District 46, said she will receive $7,451 from public campaign financing. “I raised $50,000 for my race last year and I am trying to do the same this year,” she said. “I want to run a robust field campaign, but also want to make sure I can give money back to the party to take back the House.”
Successful fundraising is essential in any campaign.
As Rep. Flangan said: “I also think it’s important that candidates of color and Indigenous candidates are good fundraisers to demonstrate our power to folks in our caucus and in the state overall.”
Indeed that might be the most important point to remember. Yes, the challenges of fundraising are real, and a barrier to office for too many potential candidates. But if you look at the overall levels of representation, then state legislatures are where Native American candidates have been the most successful. So candidates are already raising what they need. That matters because it lays the groundwork for when more of those candidates choose to run for Congress. And “when” is the right word.
A friend writes: “Having Indian candidates for office is certainly a big plus, but their chances of getting elected is certainly reduced by these voter ID laws, in North Dakota, Arizona and Alaska.”
And those are not the only states. Indeed across the country Republican legislatures have used a variety of measures to try and shrink the number of voters, making it harder for people to exercise their right to vote. Native Americans are particularly at risk for a variety of reasons.
Monday a federal court agreed and said Native American voters were being singled out by a North Dakota voter identification law. A little background: North Dakota is the only state that does not have voter registration. From the state: “You may simply bring acceptable proof of ID and residency to the polls in order to vote.” Last year the Legislature enacted strict ID requirements that, among other things, made several forms of ID unacceptable (especially tribal IDs and university IDs).
U.S. District Judge Daniel L. Hovland said North Dakota has no history of voter fraud. However he wrote: “The undisputed evidence before the court reveals that Native Americans face substantial and disproportionate burdens in obtaining each form of ID deemed acceptable under the new law.” There is also “undisputed evidence that more than 3,800 Native Americans may likely be denied the right to vote in the upcoming general election in November 2016 absent injunctive relief.”
There are a record number of Native American candidates running in North Dakota this year. There are three statewide candidates, Chase Iron Eyes, who’s running for the state’s only congressional seat, plus Ruth Buffalo is running for the post of Insurance Commissioner and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun is seeking a seat on the three-member Public Services Commission.
Ruth Buffalo posted on Facebook: “Many Thanks to those who took courage and stood up, for ALL of us. Macigiraac!”
“Congrats to the Natives who get to Vote this year!” Chase Iron Eyes posted on Facebook. Iron Eyes said that Native Americans were targeted by right-wing politicians. “I am here to call out these extreme measures to suppress the Native Vote. People, don’t be afraid to call it like it is. Only stabile homeowners are sure to have an accurate physical address on their ID like the new law required, Indians only have PO Boxes on the Rez.”
Judge Hovland reached the same conclusion. He wrote: “One reason is that many Native Americans do not have residential addresses, and the Post Office delivers their mail to a post office box.”
Just this week courts have overruled voter restrictions in Wisconsin, Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Indiana.
But in Wisconsin the courts did not go far enough. “We have taken several steps backward on opening up the process to inclusiveness,” said Paul DeMain, publisher of News From Indian Country. “After a decade of getting Indian Country involved, registered and going to the polls we have faced a series of setback with the Republican controlled Senate, Assembly and Governor passing restrictive voting laws requiring photo ID’s with elements not provided on tribal identification, restricting early voting days, hours and the ability of independent groups to conduct voter registration. Several parts of the law have been struck down in recent days, based upon the ruling of federal judges that the laws were based less on voting integrity then they were on limiting the voting abilities of Milwaukee’s black community.”
DeMain said the court’s ruling only “struck down a limitation on the ability of local clerks to allow early voting on weekends and after hours.”
Writing in The New York Times, law professor Richard L. Hasen, said the Republican legislatures have overplayed their hand and the tide against voting rights could be turning. “The struggle is not over,” Hasen wrote, “but this wave of court decisions means that more eligible voters should get a chance to register to vote and cast a ballot in November. These votes will help elect a president whose choices for judges and justices will very likely seal the fate of voting rights (and much more) for a generation.”
Tawna Sanchez is now in the lead, by a little more than one-half of one percent, in her bid for a seat in the Oregon Legislature.
The Secretary of State reported a shift in the lead after 4 pm on Wednesday after more mail-in ballots were counted; then at 7:57 pm, when a new batch was counted, that lead was confirmed.
On Facebook, Sanchez posted: “Sorry to all of my peeps that I haven’t been giving you the play by play updates of the day. But the short version is that we are still in the middle of the closest race in Oregon – and we are winning!”
She said the county reports a batch of at least 25,000 ballots that still need to be counted and that could result in another 2,000 votes in the 43rd district. — Mark Trahant
Tanwa Sanchez is a couple hundred votes short in her bid to win office as an Oregon state legislator. According to the Secretary of State’s unofficial returns, Sanchez trails Roberta Phillip-Robbins in Northeast Portland’s House District 43.
House District 43: Source: Oregon Secretary of State; 100 percent of ballots counted.
Robert E Andrews Jr
This race had a few twists in its final weeks. The apparent winner, Phillips-Robbins, was working as a county employee who was funded by a federal contract when she first ran for the post (and, more important, raised money for her campaign).
According to a piece in Willamette Week: “Phillip-Robbins’ resignation from her county job might have satisfied the federal Office of Special Counsel, which prosecutes Hatch Act violations and in similar cases has pushed candidates to choose between their jobs and their political aspirations. But Sean Cruz, a Portland writer and former legislative staffer, is not placated. On May 9, Cruz, who has endorsed Tawna Sanchez, Phillip-Robbins’ opponent, filed a complaint with the secretary of state’s elections division.”
Phillips-Robbins said once she was informed about the violation, she resigned her job, ending the Hatch Act violation.
Oregon election officials have yet to weigh in on the complaint by Cruz.
I will post updates as they become available. — Mark Trahant
Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, endorsed Victoria Steele and serves as one of her campaign co-chairs. (Campaign photo via Facebook.) Latinos make up one out of five voters in Steele’s district.
Let’s start with an understatement: Donald Trump is not the usual Republican Party nominee for president. There is no script for the months ahead; Trump is as much a reality show as a legitimate politician. His rallies are chaotic. His issues are all over the map in terms of ideology. And he strikes fear into many Republicans running for other offices because of his rhetoric, especially about Mexicans, Muslims and women.
Nowhere does this craziness surface more than in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.
“It was an easy question for Martha McSally. Do you or do you not support Donald Trump? After ducking the question for weeks, her team finally responded … but with the ‘Washington two-step’
Martha McSally’s spokesman said this: “We’re in the middle of a nomination process, and Martha is interested in seeing that process play out. Right now she is focused on doing the best job she can to represent the people of Southern Arizona and make sure their voices are heard.”
I did not see anything in there about if she supports Donald Trump, do you?”
Now that GOP primary process is over and Trump is the presumptive nominee? McSally’s web site makes no mention of Trump. Nor is she speaking out about Trump (as few other Republicans have done).
“It feels like such good news,” Steele told me last week. “It’s either bad for Martha McSally or really bad. She’s been given many opportunities to speak out and renounce his horrible statements, what he has said about women, Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims. Her silence speaks volumes.”
Steele says it’s one thing for McSally to not endorse Trump, but she is campaigning as a “moderate” and that’s why she should call out Trump on his hateful statements.
Trump could be a significant problem in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. There are some 528,000 eligible voters in the district and of that number, more than 113,00 are Latino. That’s about 1 out of five voters. And that number could grow. Significantly. According to Pew Research Hispanic Trends report nearly 58 percent of the Latino electorate is eligible to vote. There is data to suggest that already more Latinos are registering to vote because of the fear of a Donald Trump presidency.
But the extraordinary thing about Trump is that he could also inspire other voters to register and turn out. Against him, that is. Trump has a range of controversial statements from his call to ban all immigration by Muslims to how he describes women.
So Steele is not the only Native American candidate who could benefit from Trump as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer.
Other Native American candidates impacted by Trump
Joe Pakootas in Washington state is running in the 5th district against Cathy McMorris Rodgers. McMorris Rodgers has a position similar to House Speaker Paul Ryan, saying she’s not ready to endorse the presumptive nominee. She told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that she would like to question Trump about some of the statements he has made about women in the past. (Spreadsheet, fusion table: Eight Native Americans running for Congress.)
Washington’s 5th district is about 6.2 percent Latino. But that is an underrepresented group because only about 4.1 percent are registered to vote. So a registration push could bring new voters into the process.
The numbers are interesting for the Native American candidates running as Republicans. In Oklahoma, Incumbent Representatives Tom Cole and MaryWayne Mullin are running in districts that are increasingly Latino. Cole’s district now shows 6 percent Latino voters and 9 percent of the district’s population. Cole told The Daily Oklahoman last year that Trump’s problem is “he has is he has very high negative ratings, both among Republicans and more importantly among the general electorate as a whole.”
It will be interesting to see if, and how, the Native American candidates running as Republicans defend or even champion Donald Trump.
Back to the Arizona 2nd District.
If Trump at the ticket is not good news enough for Victoria Steele, several publications have reported that McSally could be on Trump’s list for potential running mates. The Fiscal Times makes that case: “Arizona Representative Martha McSally is not only a woman but a retired Air Force colonel who flew combat missions, a triathlete and a member of the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. She could help bolster a Trump ticket’s bona fides on national security and the fight against ISIS.”
Remember the idea of Trump being bad news for McSally or really bad news?
McSally as a potential vice presidential candidate is either good news or really good news for Steele. It’s good news for her opponent to be so closely linked to Trump even is she’s not picked. And if McSally is the choice? Then Victoria Steele has only the Democratic primary to worry about in order to win a seat in Congress.
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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