#NativeVote16 – Still loving Obamacare, elders, and new round of endorsements

Joe Pakootas speaks to voters in Walla Walla, Washington. (Photo via Facebook)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

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.”

More endorsements.

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.

And that direction will be settled in 13 days.

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 – Cole, Mullin win; Fewer Native voices in Oklahoma Legislature


The only two members of Congress who are Native American both survived their primary challenges Tuesday.

Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a Chickasaw, easily defeated his Republican challenger winning  more than 71 percent of the votes cast. “I just want to thank the voters,” Cole told The Ada News. “It’s nice to know people support me, and I look forward to running a vigorous race in the fall.”

Markwayne Mullin, who’s now serving his second term in Congress, had a tougher Republican primary. His opponent, Jarrin Jackson, was endorsed by former Sen. Tom Coburn. One of the campaign issues was whether or not Mullin would stick with a pledge to retire after three terms. He won the primary with 63 percent of the vote.

Nationally there are eight Native Americans running for Congress.

The Oklahoma Legislature did have the largest Native American caucus of any state. There are 19 members in the current legislature. However several members were not able to run again because they reached the state’s term limits. Paul Wesselhoft, for example, could not run again and he was a founding member of the legislative caucus. He’s also a legislator for the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. “The most serious misunderstanding of tribes and tribal government by my fellow state legislators is their misconception of tribal sovereignty,” he said on his tribe’s web site. “They do not realize that tribes want to be self-sufficient and autonomous. Somehow they see this as an attack or an encroachment on state sovereignty. I am constantly educating legislators that both entities can exercise sovereignty without destroy the sovereignty of the other.”

My list of Native American candidates who earned a spot on the November ballot include:

— Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D, Claremore, Cherokee;

— Rep. Mark McBride, R, Moore, Citizen Nation Potawatomi;

— Rep. Cory Williams, D, Stillwater, Cherokee;

— Rep. Dan Kirby, R, Broken Arrow, Muscogee;

— Rep. William Fourkiller, D, Stilwell, Cherokee;

— Candidate Dennis Purifoy, D,Yukon, Choctaw

–Candidate Scott Fetgatter, R, Okmulgee, Choctaw;

— Candidate Sooner Davenport, Independent, Yukon, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Kiowa and Navajo.

Two candidates who did not make the November ballot include LaRenda Morgan who posted on Facebook: “I congratulated my opponent Mickey Dollens last night and wished him Good Luck. I have no hard feelings towards him. I don’t really know him but we’ve had friendly interactions anytime we saw each other and we smiled & shook hands last week when I seen him out while I was campaigning. I haven’t forgotten my teachings.” Brenda Golden wrote on her Facebook page: “After having a day to decompress, I wanted to express how thankful I am to have had the support and showing of love by so many people who wanted to see me get elected to state office. It truly moved me and warmed my heart …”

A final thought: Many successful politicians lost their first contest. It takes a lot of heart to run for office, especially when you try and represent so many missing Native American voices.

— Mark Trahant