#NativeVote16 – Six seats Native candidates can win to flip Congress

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Former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas is running for the House of Representatives in Washington’s 5th district. (Campaign photo)

 

Mark Trahant

TrahantReports.com

Indian Country is a key voting bloc in the Democrat’s campaign to win more House seats. Sort of.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is focusing on 19 seats that the party thinks it can win from Republicans, labeled as the “Red to Blue” campaign. Three of those seats have a signifiant number of Native American voters.

This is good news for Democrats who are competing in these districts because it should mean there will at least be seed money from a national network of donors. (Previous: Trahant Reports on the challenge of funding a congressional campaign.)

The most important seat on the Democrats’ list is Montana where Denise Juneau is challenging Rep. Ryan Zinke. Montana is an ideal state for a Democratic pickup. Montana’s demographics are changing and there will be a lot of ballot and fundraising chaos should the Republicans nominate Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. And, Native Americans already have a good turnout track record during presidential years.

Another House seat on this list is Nevada’s 4th district where former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, Walker River Paiute, is a candidate. (He still must win a primary.) This district is almost 15 percent Native American.

DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan, a New Mexico Democrat, told Politico that “House Democrats are on an offensive and will pick up these seats in 2016, and these effective, hardworking and diverse candidates are the foundation of our success this year.”

In a normal election cycle, a focus on two seats with Native candidates would be a good thing as part of a diversity foundation.

But this year I think Democrats could do more. A lot more. There are congressional districts that could get a huge boost from a strong Native American candidate. One of the best things that the Liberal Party did in its sweep of Canada’s election was recruit strong Aboriginal candidates. (If you want to see how powerful that was in one image, check Adam Scotti’s official picture of Justin Trudeau asking Jody Wilson-Raybould to be the nation’s Attorney General.)

Where this DCCC list most conflicts with the principle of diversity is Arizona 1st congressional district. (Even though it’s already represented by a Democrat, the seat is still a target because it’s expected to be so close). This district is the most Native in the country — more than 22 percent and growing — and it’s time for Native representation. One. Who. Can. Win. The Democrats should be recruiting star candidates from tribal government, academia, or business. In an election cycle where outsiders are being rewarded by voters, this is a “ya’ think?” moment.

Instead Democrats have chosen Tom O’Halleran, a former Republican legislator, turned Democrat. Wonderful. That should excite folks across Indian Country.

Two other districts with Native candidates are not on the list. Probably because they are considered long shots at this point. True. But this will not be a normal election year.

Those districts are Washington’s 5th district where former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas is running again; and Arizona’s 2nd district where Victoria Steele, a Seneca, is polling well but lacks money. Both Steele and Pakootas face primary challengers.

I would add one more seat to any target list: Alaska. Rep. Don Young is vulnerable even if that doesn’t show up in polling. And, like Arizona 1st, it’s time for an Alaska Native to represent Alaska. Democrats should be relentless in their recruiting (and that actually should be easy) and make certain that any candidate has enough money to be competitive. There are so many talented Alaska Natives who could win. (Note to Democrats: Do I need to put a list together for you? Or will you do your homework yourself?) It’s time.

The DCCC says this is only the first list. There will be more down the road. The sooner the better.

In case you are counting: There is a total of six seats where American Indian and Alaska Native voters could make a difference. When the goal is to win 30 seats, that’s not bad.

There has never been an election with more opportunity for Indian Country. Why? Because we are the ultimate outsiders. And in 2016 that’s the winning hand.

 

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 – Making climate change an election issue

 

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Twitter post from  Nov 29  This morning Indigenous people gathered to offer a sunrise ceremony before the start of the COP21.  

On Facebook the Indigenous Environmental Network is posting regularly from the Paris conference. A recent post said: “Yesterday, on November 29th the Indigenous Environmental Network organized a healing ceremony in front of the Bataclan theater before thousands gathered to participate in a human chain action in the streets of Paris. 

“It was a beautiful ceremony featuring Indigenous youth speakers from North America, the arctic, and the pacific islands. Our delegations always see it as a necessity to have prayer before any large action. We offered kind words, song, and calls for climate justice and peace.”

 

How much will climate change cost?

It’s a budget line that will have to grow fast

 

MARK TRAHANT

TRAHANTREPORTS.COM

The world’s leaders are in France over the next couple of weeks to debate what ought to be done about climate change. Organizers say the United Nations Conference on Climate Change is “crucial because the expected outcome is a new international agreement on climate change, applicable to all, to keep global warming below 2°C.” Any deal would be based on a nation by nation approach, so it would be up to each country to figure out how to reach their own climate goals.

That’s the word from the United Nations. But in the United States, climate change, or global warming, highlight a deep political division between most Democrats and most Republicans. The conservative National Review put it this way: “Republicans have already made it clear that the Senate will not ratify any agreement Obama makes requiring either steep, economy-killing, greenhouse-gas emission reductions or climate payoffs to developing countries.”

What if we could vote on the choices ahead? What if climate change (and the alternative courses) could be presented on a ballot? Unfortunately that’s not likely to happen because of the politics of geography. Geography trumps politics: Some of the Republicans facing re-election in states like Maine or Illinois are closer to the Obama administration than their own party. And, in states like Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota, there are few Democrats keen on a climate referendum. Most Democrats in energy states run on the pretense that the country doesn’t have to make hard decisions about jobs and the environment.

Take the Keystone XL pipeline debate as an example. A story in The Montana Standard said Montana’s two most prominent Democrats, Governor Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, were unhappy with President Barack Obama’s recent decision to deny a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. “I’m disappointed with the President’s decision. After dragging his feet for years on the Keystone pipeline, the president missed an opportunity to strengthen America’s energy security,” Tester said. “This decision prevents more good-paying Montana jobs and ensures that we continue to do business with hostile countries in the Middle East.”

But as the president pointed out the United States cannot lead the world on climate change issues and develop projects such as Keystone XL. “Now, the truth is, the United States will continue to rely on oil and gas as we transition — as we must transition — to a clean energy economy,” the president said. “That transition will take some time.  But it’s also going more quickly than many anticipated.  Think about it.  Since I took office, we’ve doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas by 2025; tripled the power we generate from the wind; multiplied the power we generate from the sun 20 times over.  Our biggest and most successful businesses are going all-in on clean energy.  And thanks in part to the investments we’ve made, there are already parts of America where clean power from the wind or the sun is finally cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.”

The president said Monday the United States is ready to lead on climate change and called for a 32 percent reduction in U.S. carbon emissions by 2030.

But while wind and solar power continue to grow, so does the production of oil and gas. A recent op-ed by Sen. Jim Inhofe in The Tulsa World pointed out that oil production is now 97 percent higher in Oklahoma than it was just five years ago. Inhofe is right: During Obama’s watch, the United States has become OPEC used to be, the world’s largest oil and natural gas producer.

Inhofe is a consistent critic of climate change action. The Washington Post reported that he may attend the Paris talks as a “one-man truth squad.”

On the Senate floor Inhofe called the UN meetings “an upcoming international spectacle” and “we should not only be questioning the science but also the intentions and promises each country is making.” He said the president could not commit the United States to any action because “not only does the president not have the backing of the U.S. Senate and the American people, but outside groups are finding that the president’s method to achieve these reductions through climate regulations – primarily the Clean Power Plan – is faulty.”

But the debate in Congress — and in Paris, for that matter — is mostly about the science of human contributions to global warming. Tribes and Alaska villages face a different problem: the actual, on the ground, impacts of climate change.

Last February, Interior’s Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Kevin Washburn testified that tribes are already experiencing “the impacts of a changing climate including drought, intensifying wildfires, changes in plants and animals important to subsistence and cultural practices, impacts to treaty and trust resources, and coastal erosion and sea level rise.”

Washburn said climate change will be costly, some $50.4 million (a $40.4 million increase over 2015) for science, infrastructure and other costs that will be required.

“Tribal lands, particularly in the West, on the Coasts, and in Alaska, are on the frontline of climate change, yet many of these communities face immense challenges in planning and responding to the far-reaching impacts of climate change on infrastructure, economic development, food security, natural and cultural resources, and local culture,” Washburn said. “Some communities are already experiencing increasingly devastating storms, droughts, floods, sea-level rise, and threats to subsistence resources. Strengthening access to information and resources, including technical and financial assistance to address the combined and cumulative effects, are among the highest priorities for supporting climate change adaptation and resilience. Examples of projects that may be funded include training, studies, scenario planning, natural resource and infrastructure projects, public awareness and outreach efforts, capacity building, and other projects.”

This kind of spending will not be an easy sell to a Congress that wants to dismiss climate change as wacky science. But extreme weather will not be so easily shunted aside. States At Risk, a new report says states (and therefore tribes) are not ready for the risks associated with climate change.

“Extreme weather will be even more extreme in the future and preparedness plans that fail to take this into account will fall short, perhaps tragically so,” the report found. “As put by the nation’s top climate science agency, NOAA, ‘…communities would be well-served to look beyond the range of past extreme events to guide future resiliency efforts.’ Failing to prepare today will only increase response and recovery costs tomorrow. Since the 1980’s, $1 billion disasters in the U.S. have nearly tripled, from from fewer than three a year to more than eight, adjusted for inflation.”

This is how the election debate will change — even in pro-energy states. First, start with the idea that the number of jobs is already shrinking because of inexpensive oil, so it will be much easier to be critical of industry (both for companies’ environmental and safety practices). And, second, there is now the growing issue of cost. Climate change is going to be expensive and the impact of extreme weather is a cost that taxpayers cannot avoid. No matter what happens in Paris.

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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Chart via Whitehouse.gov

#NativeVote16 Canada’s new government and the music of elections

Events in Canada this week show why elections matter. Yes there will be better policies put in place: Perhaps a return to government-to-government relations with First Nations; more federal investment in Indigenous education; and, a serious, nationwide probe of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. All those things show a government moving in the right direction.

But there is something else: tone. The music of elections.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the message that Aboriginal Canadians are significant intellectual contributors to Canada’s political discourse. Trudeau’s appointments, his first day of images, really set a high bar for what hope elections can stir in communities, including those representing First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

Most of us are surrounded by a narrative that says real shared power takes a long time. We have to move slow, methodically, bringing people along.

But that’s not what happened in Canada. Trudeau’s appointments were like a lightening bolt. In one instant the cabinet of Canada is representative of gender, of region, and, of Aboriginal people. When he was asked, “why?” about gender, the prime minister replied, “because it’s 2015.”

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde told the CBC that Trudeau’s appointments begin a “new era of reconciliation.”

“I was very impressed with the opening ceremony, but even more impressed that out of eight aboriginal members of Parliament that were elected, two have made it into cabinet,” said Bellegarde. “It sends a powerful statement about inclusion and it sends a powerful statement about the reconciliation that is going to be required in rebuilding a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.”

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The new minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould shows how a government can match diversity with extraordinary talent and experience. Much has been said about the attorney general’s role as a regional tribal chief and as an advocate for reconciliation with Aboriginal people. But she’s also been British Columbia crown prosecutor. The fact is she’s extraordinarily well qualified for this post. Wilson-Raybould is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation and a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of the Kwakwaa’wakw and also known as the Kwak’wala speaking peoples. When she was a child, her father said it was her goal to be Prime Minister.

That same richness of experience is true for the new minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Hunter Tootoo. Yes, he is Inuit and has a track record on issues such as economic development or housing. But he also was Speaker of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.

The Tyee in Vancouver quoted Aaron Hill of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society saying Tootoo’s appointment could mean a “seismic shift” in Canada’s approach to First Nations fisheries.

Imagine what these kinds of appointments would be like in the United States: A leader of a fishing tribe named to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Or a tribal judge or attorney as the next United States Attorney General. Lightening bolt.

Canada, of course, is a different political system. Cabinet members must also be elected Members of Parliament. Here it would mean getting elected to Congress before you could be Interior Secretary. (In fact that opens an interesting debate about Canada’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. In the U.S. system, it would be unthinkable for the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary Indian Affairs to not be a tribal member. And in Canada there has never been a native leader in that post.) Yet even with the political differences in Canada there is a shared sense of optimism after an election. Every government starts off with hope and the excitement of possibility of making people’s lives better.

And there is one more thing. Native Americans, like Aboriginal Canadians, are poised to have better representation in an imperfect democracy. To have a voice in the affairs of a country, the whole country. That voice started when fifty-four Aboriginal Canadians ran for federal office. That voice was confirmed when ten of those candidates won. That voice will only get stronger and clearer in the years to come.

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

Why 2016 is the ideal election for a Native presidential candidate

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, could add American Indian issues into the presidential campaign debate.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, could add American Indian issues into the presidential campaign debate.

Nevada will be the first state where Native voters weigh in

MARK TRAHANT

The first ballots for the 2016 presidential election will be cast in a little more than seven months. That means between now and January there will be a rush of candidates, a winnowing of those who fail to raise money or attention, and, if we are lucky, a philosophical and practical debate about the challenges facing the United States.

In an ideal world that discussion would include American Indian and Alaska Native concerns. But that never happens (unless you read between the lines).

So the Democrats — Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and the newest entrant, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (who once was a “liberal” Republican) — campaign on issues ranging from protecting and expanding voting rights to switching the U.S. to the metric system.

And the Republicans? Well, just listing the candidates is kind of like making sure you get all the names right when reporting about a school play. There are so many, you’re bound to miss someone. But here goes (in order of recent polling by Real Clear Politics): Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Dr. Ben Carson, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Donald Trump, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. And that’s only the 15 “major” candidates. So in order to make noise in that large a field some of those would-be presidents rode Harley’s across Iowa this weekend, revving up their engines and their rhetoric. Hardly the right atmosphere for a discussion about tribal sovereignty.

The early primary campaign season is not ideal for a serious discussion about Indian Country’s issues. The election calendar starts with Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in late January.

Nevada will be the fourth state to vote — and the first state with a significant tribal population. There are more than thirty reservation communities, urban residents, and a total Native American population of about 1.6 percent. More important, Nevada remains a caucus state. So if a large number of Native Americans show up in the right locations, well, all bets are off. (Only 33,000 Republicans voted in the last Nevada caucus out of some 400,000 G.O.P. voters.)

And what if there was a Native candidate as a draw? This ought to be the year to make that so.

A Native American candidate could take advantage of a nasty, undemocratic (but legal) structure. The law allows secret donors to spend unlimited sums of money to benefit a single candidate. So what if a few of the wealthy tribes, and, yes, I do mean casino tribes, raised a lot of money for such a super PAC? (Even though the money cannot go directly to a candidate, it still has been used to boost candidates. In 2012, for example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was on the receiving end of more than $15 million from casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife.)

Coming up with a super PAC candidate from Indian Country is a tough sell for Democrats. Even though there are many folks who could (and should) be candidates, there are too few with a large enough political footprint. And taking that much money from a single source runs against what many grassroots type candidates believe anyway.

But on the Republican side, there is someone who has that credibility right now, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a member of the Chickasaw Tribe.

Cole is as conservative as his Oklahoma voters yet he is often the voice of reason in the House of Representatives. He’s said that new revenue — meaning taxes — might be needed to get past the sequester and that repealing the Affordable Care Act might not be possible as long as a Democrat is in the White House. This alone distinguishes him from the other fifteen Republican candidates running for president.

He’s championed tribal sovereignty and was a key player in the House vote for the Violence Against Women Act. Let me be clear here: Cole fits the orthodoxy of the Republican Party. He supports pipeline construction and increasing oil and gas production. Cole also wants less federal spending and votes for budgets that would have negative impact on tribal communities. But for a Republican primary, and for a Republican candidate, Indian Country would still come out ahead, if he were running and raised the issues in Indian Country that call out for a larger debate.

The down side of a Cole candidacy is that he would have to give up his seat in the House — and his seniority and influence. That’s probably too high a cost for an improbable presidential quest. But this might be the year to try something outrageous.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

Writing day.


Working on post about Congress’ budget and potential impact on Indian health programs that are linked to Affordable Care Act.

Budget resolution does not require Democrats nor the signature of President Obama.

Native American youth and a million lines of code

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have lunch with youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at We The Pizza/Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C., Nov. 20, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have lunch with youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe at We The Pizza/Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C., Nov. 20, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Investment in Native youth equals a million lines of code

MARK TRAHANT

No child grows up hearing — or asking — for numbers. Instead the four words, “tell me a story,” are the ones deeply embedded into our human software. And that will never change. But the power of numbers, the importance of data, is growing exponentially and becoming essential to how we understand larger narratives.

Then this is not new. The use of statistics, counts, numbers, all have always been a part of how we tell stories. Buffalo hide paintings are great examples from another century. Pictographs recorded people, buffalo, soldiers, villages, and meteor storms. The data was recorded.  Then we did the same things with ledgers, books, computer tapes, and a couple of decades ago floppy discs, CDs, and thumb drives. Today we carry more data capacity in our phone than we ever had in our offices and homes. And what’s on that recording? IBM once estimated that the content of all of human history totaled some 5 exabytes (or five billion gigabytes of information). Now we produce that many videos, pictures, and words every couple of days.

We need more useful numbers — and this is one of Indian Country’s great challenges in an era of both austerity and transparency. In 1900 the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget was $8.2 million. It took nearly 80 years before that funding level topped a billion dollars. Then the first $2 billion was  in 2001. Last year $ 2.6 billion. And the Obama administration’s current request is for $2.924 billion. (I am working on a history of Indian appropriations — more on that soon.)

So I have been thinking about these numbers in the context of the recent narrative about Native youth. The stories themselves are inspiring, starting with the president’s visit with young people in North Dakota, followed by the recent meeting at the White House. As First Lady Michelle Obama put it: “So we all need to work together to invest deeply — and for the long-term — in these young people, both those who are living in their tribal communities … and those living in urban areas across this country. These kids have so much promise — and we need to ensure that they have every tool, every opportunity they need to fulfill that promise.”

This is where the numbers and the story intersect.

A commitment to invest deeply and for the long-term requires serious cash and resources. The president’s budget matches that rhetoric with a budget request of $1 billion to promote Generation Indigenous, an initiative designed for Native American youth. “In today’s global economy a high quality education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a prerequisite to success,” the Interior Department said. “President Obama set out a vision for a 21st century education system grounded in both high academic standards and tribal values and traditions. Making advanced education opportunities available for tribal members is a high priority for tribes, who see education as the path to economic development and a better quality of life for their communities through an educated and skilled tribal member workforce.”

Today’s Native youth are perfectly cast for this initiative. Even on remote reservations or Alaska villages this is the digital native generation. They have grown up collecting more data on their phones — music, Facebook posts, video and photographs — than any other generation in history. They grow up connected to other Native youth across the country making deep digital friendships with dozens, even hundreds of other Native American youth. That’s new. It’s exponential.

I also think about the digital opportunity ahead for young people who live in a remote community. You can live anywhere in the world and produce videos for YouTube. Or write computer code. In 1971 a Unix computer had a couple hundred thousand lines of code. Today the software for a modern car has more than 90 million lines of code. That’s a lot of jobs for young people who have the right skills. And why not Generation Indigenous?

Of course that means Congress will have to actually appropriate the kind of dollars to make youth a priority. Not just a story, but a future that’s bolstered by real numbers.

Mark Trahant serves as the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.