Winning the election of ideas

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Cover photo: Rep. Paulette Jordan via Facebook

 

Rethinking tribal policy at the state level

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Elections are about ideas. What should our world look like? How do tribal nations, Alaska Native corporations, and communities fit into the American experience?

Elections are about tactics. Who runs? Are there resources? (And, when I say resources, I really mean, cash money.) And, does that make it possible to win?

Elections are about power. Do you have the votes to change the world? To protect a pipeline? Or to sell coal in a world that is shifting away from fossil fuels?

Elections are about people. The people who expect the Indian health clinic to have enough money to pay for a hospital stay. Or the people that decide how medical care should be funded, and who’s even eligible.

And elections are never forever. There is always another ahead. And that’s true win or lose. If you win, get ready to defend the gains you’ve made. If you lose, pick up the pieces, and start working for the next ballot.

Let’s examine 2016 and what worked, what needed work, and what must be rethought.
At one point more than a hundred candidates were running for Congress, state legislatures, and a variety of state offices. That is fabulous. Yes, the field was narrowed after primary contests, and, of course, the general election. But the point is you gotta run to win. So many talented people from across Indian Country gave elective office a shot. (In fact, for me, the one take away from this election: We have some incredibly talented people out there. And that talent is not disappearing just because voters didn’t discover them.)

There are some extraordinary hurdles. Money is a big one. There has to be at least enough money so that the Native candidates get consideration by voters. Then again. This election was a bit odd. Money played less a role than you would think.

Chase Iron Eyes (Standing Rock Sioux) ran a frugal campaign. At one point he was basically selling t-shirts to finance his enterprise (although he did receive more money toward the end). And the result: His opponent easily won re-election with 69 percent of the vote, while Iron Eyes was stuck at 25 percent. This is not as bad as it looks because the Democrat-NPL candidate for governor only earned 19 percent of the vote. And the party’s Senate candidate: 17 percent.

What this tells me? Iron Eyes has a base of support. It’s his first run and I know he learned a lot. So a next time? Something to think about.

On the other hand, Denise Juneau (Mandan Hidatsa Arikara) broke fundraising records for a Native American running for Congress as a challenger (it’s way easier if you are an incumbent). She raised more than $2 million in an extraordinarily expensive House race. But Juneau demonstrated success. She was competitive. And that will be important in future races, too.

Indeed, the match between a well-funded incumbent and a challenger from Indian Country was true in Washington state, too, where former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas ran against Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, a member of Republican leadership.

And elections are never forever: It’s entirely possible that one of the Republicans that Iron Eyes, Juneau, or Pakootas, ran against could be recruited to the new Trump administration. And, then, well, opportunity time. North Dakota’s Kevin Cramer could end up serving in the Trump administration as Energy Secretary (or more likely, a Deputy Secretary.)

This election cycle at least 31 Native American candidates ran unopposed. Often these were reservation-based districts where there aren’t as many potential Republicans who would surface as opponents. But Rep.-elect Tanwa Sanchez (Shoshone-Bannock) was also in this group, running in Portland, Oregon, as well as Rep. Ponke-We Victors in Kansas.
Another twist this year: Districts where both candidates are Native American. There were two such districts in Montana. Sen-elect Frank Smith (Assiniboine Sioux), a Democrat, defeated Rep. G. Bruce Meyers (Chippewa Cree) in the northern part of the state. And Sen.-elect Jason Small (Northern Cheyenne), a Republican, defeated incumbent Carolyn Pease Lopez (Crow).

This was also true in New Mexico where Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage narrowly won with 5,042 to GloJean Todacheene’s 4,246 votes. Both women are Navajo.

Wyoming will have a new member of its legislator, Affie Ellis (Navajo) was elected to the state Senate as a Republican, defeating an incumbent. She posted on Facebook: “I am humbled. And honored. Thank you for all the kind words of support. We knew it would be a tough race and I’m proud of our efforts. In the end, I secured 60% of the vote and am looking forward to serving in the Wyoming State Senate.”

 

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Nine Native Americans now serve in the Montana Legislature. That’s the most in the country both in percentage terms and as a total. (Trahant photo)

Montana continues to be the state with the largest Native American caucus in the legislature, 8 Democrats and 1 Republican. Rep. Susan Webber (Blackfeet) told The Montana Standard: “We’ve been literally and figuratively the minority’s minority. I know it looks like we have a lot of people in the Indian caucus, a lot of people were elected, but in reality it should be more. But just us getting in there, from my perspective, is a real positive.”

In Minnesota the Native American caucus is also a Native women’s caucus after the re-election of Rep. Susan Allen (Rosebud), Rep. Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe), Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein (Standing Rock Sioux) and Rep.-Elect Jamie Becker Finn (Ojibwe).

And every election sows seeds of what can be. This one is no exception. In Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan (Coeur d’Alene) showed how to get elected as a Democrat in a largely Republican state. Jordan is the only Democrat elected north of Boise and the legislature will be 84 percent controlled by Republicans, a super-majority.

Jordan posted on Facebook: “We worked hard, with great diligence and incredible dignity above all else. However, while we continue moving forward after a shocking outcome, it’ll be up to us, the next generation of millennials to make a more productive change our state and country needs. We have to chalk this up as a valuable lesson learned, while challenging ourselves to be more engaged and begin organizing in all the best ways possible. I remain optimistic for my community, as I have been blessed with your support and tasked to protect our base values for another term!”

Last week’s election will require new thinking and new alliances. And that is already happening in Alaska. A new coalition of Democrats, Republicans and Independents has flipped the state House away from Republicans. The state is facing a multi-billion budget crisis. One of the Republicans who joined what’s being called the Musk Ox Revolt is Gabrielle LeDoux who told The Alaska Dispatch News, “We’re hired to do a job, and the purpose of our job is not to keep our job. It’s to actually do something.”

There are six Alaska Natives in the legislature, five Democrats and one Republican (whose race remains in recount territory).

Elections are about ideas, tactics, and power. Yet the outcomes determine policy. What choices the Congress will make, how a state chooses to implement those policies, and who gets to decide. There will be a lot of action in state houses over the next four years as the Trump administration goes about shedding federal power. This shift could mean a state-based energy policy. Or a new block grant to pay for health care, even for people in the Indian health system.

There will be challenges ahead. But remember: Elections are never final. There is always another one ahead.

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

#NativeVote16 – Indian Country was like America … only more so

It’s hard to understate how important the difference the enthusiasm gap made in this election. Bernie Sanders showed how to stir passion in voters. Hillary Clinton? Not so much. (Trahant photo from Billings rally.)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

This election Indian Country was like America. Perhaps only more so.

Most American Indian and Alaska Natives voted for Hillary Clinton. But that support was mild. There were not enough votes to make a difference in red states like Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota. Just enough votes to stay the course in blue states like New Mexico, Washington or Oregon. And, most important, not nearly enough votes in the swing states.

Hillary Clinton earned the most votes, 60, 839,922, to Donald J. Trump’s 60,265,858. But that, of course, is not the way we elect the national leader and Trump’s 290 electoral votes were more than enough to win.  What’s more: The margins within those states were such that Native American voters could not have made the difference. There would have had to be a wider coalition of voters, something  Barack Obama did so well, and Secretary Clinton did not.

A few examples.

If you look at a color-coded 2012 election map Indian Country pops out. There are bright blue pools of voters in deeply red states. Shannon County (now Oglala Lakota County) voted 93.4 percent for Obama. That’s Pine Ridge. Obama won 3/4s of the vote in Rolette County, North Dakota, which includes the Turtle Mountian Band of Chippewas.

Or next door in Montana, voters from the Fort Peck Reservation came out and led the county with 56.5 percent voting for Obama. But blue faded in the red states this election. Trump picked up 200 more votes than Mitt Romney in 2012, but the real number is that nearly 600 fewer voters went for Hillary Clinton compared to Barack Obama.

Same story in Oglala Lakota Country. Clinton won, and by a large margin, but with 500 fewer votes than Obama.

In Rolette County nearly 1,300 fewer votes for Clinton.

The red states did not change because of that, but it’s a good indication about how tepid the support for Clinton was, even in Indian Country.

This story played out in blue states, too. More than 2,000 voters disappeared in McKinley County on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

And, in swing states, such as Arizona, that slight difference, a few hundred people who did not vote here and there, added up into real numbers. In Apache County, where the majority of the voters are Navajo, 17,147 picked Obama four years ago. This election only 12,196 voted for Clinton.

Indian Country will make a difference in future elections. The demographic makeup of the country is changing fast and we are a part of that. What’s most stunning about this election is how little demographics mattered. I wrote in December: “Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates  will whip up magic and united a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters.” And that would have been true: If enough of us had been motivated to vote.

I think it’s clear that Clinton took Indian Country for granted. There was no attempt to learn and execute  what worked from the Bernie Sanders campaign. In June, I suggested the Clinton campaign appoint and promote public Native  surrogates because “there ought to be a face from Indian Country.” This could have helped build enthusiasm.

And ignoring Standing Rock was a sure way to turn off Native voters. There was probably a “let’s get past the election” conversation, although eventually Tim Kane did weigh in, but nothing changed the narrative that Clinton represented more corporate  power, not less. Supporting Standing Rock would have been the right call morally. But I can see how the politics was more complicated because union voices (and donors) wanted the pipeline to proceed.

Yet that might be the essence of Hillary Clinton and why she lost. Her campaign was a package of powerful interests trying to market itself as the voice of ordinary people. Indian Country’s answer was, yeah, whatever. Meh.

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

#NativeVote16 – Less representation, not more, but a few important wins too

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Re-elected, Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan. 

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Native American representation in Congress was 0.37 percent before the election and today it’s the same, Rep. Tom Cole and Rep. Markwayne Mullin were easily re-elected to the House.

But Denise Juneau, Joe Pakotas and Chase Iron Eyes were all defeated by wide margins in Montana, Washington and North Dakota.

The tally of statewide office holders will drop, though. Denise Juneau will end her term as Montana’s Supt. of Public Instruction in January. Byron Mallot was not on the ballot and he has another two years as Lt. Gov. of Alaska. But Henry Red Cloud, Ruth Buffalo, and Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun lost their bid for offices in South Dakota and North Dakota.

 

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Native Americans running for state legislatures did not fare better, except, I should point out there are some bright spots.

Rep. Paulette Jordan, a Democrat, won re-election in deep red Idaho.  She posted on Facebook: “While it is bittersweet to win in such a large loss both local and national, we must remain hopeful and optimistic that our vision of equality and balance will soon be achieved. Until that day comes: onward!”

And Montana Native legislative candidates won 8 seats from both reservation and urban districts. Elected were Shane Morigeau to represent Missoula, Garrett Lankford in Great Falls, and Frank Smith, Carolyn Pease-Lopez, Susan Webber, Rae Peppers, Jonathan Windy Boy and the lone Republican, Jason Smith.

Four Native women won in Minnesota. State Representatives Susan Allen, Peggy Flanagan, Mary Kunesh-Podein were re-elected, and a new voice, Jamie Becker-Finn.

Rep.-elect Tawna Sanchez in Oregon and Kansas re-elected Rep. Ponke-We Victors.

Still, Indian Country lost some races with really talented people. But elections are not forever. So expect to hear more in the future from:  Laurel Deegan-Fricke in North Carolina, Cesar Alvarez, Cheryl Ann Kary in North Dakota, Red Dawn Foster in South Dakota, Bryan Van Stippen in Wisconsin, and, Ronda Metcalf and Sharlaine LaClair from Washington.

The complete 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

#NativeVote16 – Making history, showcasing so much remarkable talent

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Washington legislative candidate Sharlaine LaClair was recently featured on the cover of a national story from Refinery29: “35 Women Running For Office you should know about!” (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

There is no question in my mind that gender is on the ballot this election.

Hillary Clinton would be the first woman ever elected in U.S. history. While the Republican nominee for president finds new ways to show his contempt for women almost every time he opens his mouth. And that, I believe, will determine the result.

When you look the Native American candidates running for all offices across the country, it’s clear that women are making history. This will be a break-through year.

Denise Juneau, as NBC News pointed out Saturday, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress. (From the state that elected the first woman to Congress.)

Juneau is the only Native American woman running for Congress but if you look back at the history of women who have tried, the list is significant. Just a few: Jeanne Givens in Idaho, Ada Deer in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free in Oklahoma, and Wenona Benally and Mary Kim Titla in Arizona’s First Congressional District. (The district with the highest percentage of Native voters.) You could add to that list two vice presidential nominees, Winona LaDuke and LaDonna Harris. Or the two Native American women running statewide in North Dakota, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun and Ruth Buffalo.

Indeed, more than 37 percent of all the Native American candidates running this election are female.  In Minnesota six of the seven candidates running for the Legislature are women. And three of the four Native candidates in Arizona.

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Of course that number is not half, so there remains a long ways to go. But a little perspective from the data. Nationally women make up about 20 percent of Congress both in the House and in the Senate. And in state legislatures women make up 24.6 percent of those bodies, a percentage that Native American candidates could exceed.

And it’s not just the numbers: It’s the resumes, it’s the talent.

Jamescita Peshlakai (who is running unopposed in Arizona for the state senate) is Navajo and a Persian Gulf War  veteran who served in the U.S. Army for eight years. She used the G.I. Bill to get her college education, eventually earning a master’s degree in history and educational psychology. She already has legislative experience, serving in the Arizona House.

On the same ballot in the same district, Benally is running again this time for the legislature and unopposed). “I am a Harvard Law School graduate. I also earned a master’s degree in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government and a Master’s of Law from the James E. Rogers College of Law,” Benally wrote on her Facebook page. She recently told the story about a meeting with Bernie Sanders. She wrote:”I thanked him for inspiring a new generation of young leaders – like me – who have picked up the torch and are seeking change at the local level. His response: ‘No, thank you!'”

This story of talent is repeated from coast to coast. It’s Tawna Sanchez in Oregon. It’s Laurel Deegan-Fricke in North Carolina. And it’s Red Dawn Foster in South Dakota. (The complete list is here.)

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Washington legislative candidate Sharlaine LaClair was recently featured on the cover of a national story from Refinery29: “35 Women Running For Office you should know about!”

The slide show included her picture and said: “Why you should know her: LaClair, a member of the Lummi Nation, would be one of four Native Americans in the Washington Legislature if elected.” Featured in that same slide show is Denise JuneauTulsi GabbardKamala Harris, and Paula Hawks. Cool company.

I can’t imagine a more difficult year for women to run or, more important, raise critical issues. Donald Trump has sunk the national discourse, especially on issues of gender, to a new low. A poll last week by Pew Research found “substantial differences in the level of respect voters think Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have for different groups in American society, and some of the widest gaps are on women, blacks and Hispanics.”

Native Americans were not included in the Pew poll, but, I would argue we would show a similar gap. In Alaska, for example, Republican Rep. Charisse Millett, Inupiaq, wrote “Donald Trump’s character has been proven beyond question to be that of a bully, misogynist, and a sexual aggressor. His comments released recently are simply further proof that he is no leader – he is part of the problem.”

As I said: There is no question in my mind that gender is on this year’s ballot.

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 pre-election note about a few lessons learned this year

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Listening to voters. Mark Trahant interviews Chase Iron Eyes, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun and Ruth Buffalo in Bismarck.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A little more than a year ago I was teaching a class and was showing students how to build a map. I blogged about it: “What kind of map? Well, it would be cool to show where every American Indian or Alaska Native is running for office. At the federal level, Senate and House, at the state level, legislatures, and important offices, such as city councils or state superintendent of public instruction.”

A few days later I was using the hashtag #NativeVote16 and trying to cover the election in a way that had not been done before. Except, I should point out, I was impressed by the spreadsheets and regular political postings from Canada’s Indigenous Politics Blog. It reported a record 11 First Nation, Metis and Inuit candidates elected to parliament. I wrote about that, too, in a piece, Five Lessons for Indian Country from the Canadian Elections. And a few days before our national election, one point from that essay still rings true:

Turnout is key. Again, as pointed out often, if Aboriginal voters had voted in previous elections there would not have been a Conservative government. Not voting is a powerful statement. It’s the same in the United States. American Indian and Alaska Natives are pretty good voters during presidential election years; then we disappear. That’s backwards. We’d have far more pull in a low turnout, off-cycle national election. Of course if we have fifty-something candidates running for Congress, that could change for the better.

And not voting remains the most powerful statement.

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A year later, a couple hundred thousand words later, I am struck by how much more there is to say. This election story is about Indian Country’s remarkable talent: People who look at what can be done. And then set out to do it.

Across the country there are more candidates, I think, than ever before. But what’s really interesting is the way that many chose to run, talking about Native American issues as a part of a discourse that every American should know.

There remains so much more to do, though. There needs to be a database of every Native American candidate, from school boards to county commissions, to legislatures, and, of course, Congress. It’s important because it’s not just names on a list, but a way to measure our success in the body politic. When we do that we maker it easier to discuss and engage in better policy options for tribal governments, or for Native people who are living on reservations, villages, and in urban areas.

We need to do more because Native American candidates don’t have the same access to public discourse. Last week I traveled across North Dakota with Chase Iron Eyes, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, and Ruth Buffalo. I asked questions in public forums. But the thing is, this should be the ordinary. This should have been happening all along by media other than me. This is how citizens get to know their leaders. Native politicans need to be included in the routine. It’s historic that three Native Americans are running for statewide office. It ought to be a big deal. It’s what we used to call, “news.”

Then the media is no longer even trying to reflect the country and its diversity. And that more than technological disruption is why media represents a failed enterprise. The country is changing rapidly. There is a new demographic reality that will require inclusion.

Native American voters are part of a growing coalition that will win the future (no matter what happens Tuesday.) My headline was: The Road to the White House is Red, Brown, Black and Young. I still think that way, but I should have added gender to the equation. All week I have been saying watch the numbers 53 and 56. Four years ago 53 percent of all ballots cast were by females. So far in early voting states that report gender, the number is 56. If that percentage holds nationwide, this will not be a close election.

I also think we need to continue to press forward on election reform. The system we have does not work. It needs to be fixed before something goes wrong, such as a presidential election that ends up in the House of Representatives instead of decided by voters. (Three pieces to consider: America and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad ElectionThe Hidden History of Why Native Americans Lose Elections (And What To Do About It); and, How Does A Country With A Rigged Two-Party System Reinvent Itself as a Multiparty Democracy. )

Another lesson I learned this year is about the power of graphics. People today consume (and share) information in new ways. This really hit me after the Iowa caucus. I took a screen shot of a precinct from the Meskwaki Nation. It went viral. I lost count, but the views were more than a hundred thousand. So from that point on I have tried to make graphics a key part of my storytelling.

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Trahant Reports on Apple News.

Some experiments did not work. I built an app (it’s still here) but it has virtually no audience. A new experiment, however, Apple News already has a significant audience. If you have an iPhone, check out Trahant Reports.

 

Of course it’s social media that makes Trahant Reports possible. I don’t have a news organization as a home. But I have found a distribution method that works for me. I post something and it travels via social media and is shared by others. Or it’s posted by other media, often as their own. Either way: I write. But I don’t control the distribution. It’s up to others. But there is a growing audience and that makes me wonder if there is a way to build a new kind of news organization, one that’s focused on policy discussions, data, and discourse.

Enough introspection. I have other stories I need to post this weekend.

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 – Driving turnout, early votes from Alaska to North Dakota

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Selfies: A get out the vote rally in New Town, North Dakota. Facebook photo via North Segment of the Three Affiliated Tribes.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Across Indian Country there are rallies, phone banks, forums, and social media pitches that are repeating one message, vote. Native American voters can make the difference in key states from the presidential race to county commissions.

And what does it matter? In a paragraph: One presidential candidate, Donald Trump, favors completion of the the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as resurrecting the Keystone XL Pipeline. He would support legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that includes increased funding for the Indian Health System as well as the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. Clinton, on the other hand, would be more of the same. She generally supports President Obama’s policies on energy, climate, and on federal-tribal relations. (Previous: Native Vote tips the Electoral College.)

And this election there are so many talented Native American candidates whose very presence makes this country better. This is why we need to vote. This is why we vote.

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Denise Juneau’s Montana get out the vote tour started on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation. (Photo via Twitter)

In Montana, Democrats, including congressional candidate Denise Juneau, include tribal nations in that last minute push. The five-day, statewide tour stretched from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Nation to across the state to Wolf Point and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes. Juneau told Montana Public Radio: “We are on this swing around the state, 17 communities we’ll be hitting all across Montana to talk to voters to know that what we stand for and know our records and that we are going to really talk about the future of this state and what it looks like and draw the stark contrasts that are necessary. I plan to hold my opponent accountable to his lack of a non-record of looking out for Montana, and win over the voters of Montana, and that’s really the excitement around this last push across the state with all these statewide candidates. We’re going to work really hard to get out the vote and make sure that when we wake up after election day the headlines read that we win.”

 

Juneau also picked up another newspaper endorsement, The Missoulian. “Montanans need a strong voice in the U.S. House who is focused on serving her constituents,” the paper said. “Let’s see what Denise Juneau can do for Montana – for our economy, our public lands and our access to health care – as our U.S. representative.”

Elections were once about turnout on at the polls. But in this era most people will vote early and that changes the focus. Juneau said she already voted and is encouraging everyone in the state to vote early. “You never know what’s going to be happening on Election Day.”

Juneau, of course, is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Tribes (and Blackfeet). The Three Affiliated Tribes have a lot going on this election with candidates running across the country. Another tribal member, Laurel Deegan-Fricke, is in a tight state senate race in North Carolina. And closer to home, citizens Ruth Buffalo is on the ballot for State Insurance Commissioner and Cesar Alvarez is a candidate for the state House of Representatives.

A Thursday rally in New Town included Buffalo, Alvarez, and a broad section of North Dakota candidates, including Chase Iron Eyes, Marlo Hunte-Beaubrun, as well as other candidates for state, regional and tribal offices.

The outreach to Native Voters in North Dakota also included stops at the United Tribes Technical College and Fort Yates. Iron Eyes and Hunte-Beaubrun are Standing Rock Sioux tribal members.

Iron Eyes posted on Facebook: “I feel good about our campaign. I love being the underdog. North Dakota is about underdogs. We are all looked over and counted out. We all meet challenges head on. We all #FaceTheStorm. Only the strong survive. I ask for the strength to Walk Without Fear. We don’t win unless you vote! It’s that simple.”

The Native Vote is critical in Arizona both in the presidential race and in the U.S. Senate race. Jamescita Peshlakai, who is running for the Arizona state Senate, posted on Facebook that “our next US Senator, Ann Kirkpatrick, is talking Navajo on KTNN. Wow. 2 years ago President Obama ended his campaign commercial with “Ahehee!” Our language can be learned by non-Navajos. If there is a will, there is a way.”

On Saturday the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona is doing a phone bank with the goal of reaching 10,000 Native voters before the election.

There is also a Native Vote rally scheduled for Election Day starting at 11:30 am in Tempe on the campus of Arizona State University.

And in Alaska the early vote is breaking records. The Alaska Dispatch News reports that 22,114 early votes have already been cast, five days before Election Day. “Early in-person votes go right into the ballot box and are counted on Tuesday, along with ones turned in at the polls,” the Alaska Dispatch News said.”Since the ballots aren’t tallied until Tuesday, there’s no real way to tell how people are voting. And it’s not entirely clear what’s driving the increased early turnout.”

On the Facebook page, Get Out the Native Vote-Interior Alaska, there is this remarkable story posted by Wilmina Daisy Stevens: “When it comes to voting, I always have to think of my mother, Hannah Paul Solomon. On the very last day that she was with us, my sister told her that she had received her GwichyaaZhee Corporation ballot. She wanted to vote it and she did. She never told anyone how she voted but she knew how important it was to vote. My sister sealed the envelope and we watched for the mailman. Once the mailman came, I said ‘The mailman just picked up your ballot, Mom. Your vote is counted.’ She had a smile on her face. Three hours later, my mom passed away. I vote because my Mom showed me how important it is to vote whether its Tribal, Corporations, City, Village, School Boards, or National: Please exercise your rights to vote. Its the only way to voice your opinion. Mahsi’ Mahsi Choo Shalak Nai.”

Five days to go.

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 – Headline of the day? ‘Native vote tips the Electoral College’

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Interactive version of this graphic is here.

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Over the years I have joked about Indian Country being included in the Electoral College. Each tribal nation should have a vote and a say about the next president of the United States. (Of course it would have to be a much larger college. But in a country of 323 million that would make a lot of sense). Plus it would be so cool to hear the reading of votes from tribal nations.

While that’s fun to think about, the way the 2016 election map is starting to take shape, and Native American voters could actually help deliver as many as 50 electoral votes out of the  538 total. That’s because six states with a significant Native population are also close enough where every vote could be the difference.

Those states on my list: Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Let’s look at the numbers.

A look at the polls shows a tight race (again). The Real Clear Politics average of polls has a Hillary Clinton lead of 1.7 percent, 47.2 percent to 45.5 percent for Donald Trump. That shows that more Republicans sticking with Trump despite what would be disqualifications in any other election year. Paul Ryan’s statement captured that discomfort perfectly on Tuesday when he said, “I already voted for our nominee.” There is no name is needed in that sentence.

But in any election what matters is who votes.

According to the U.S. Election Project more than 28 million people have already done so. And, as I have written before, one number that I am interested in comes from the three states that break down returned ballots by gender. Women, so far, have cast 56 percent of the ballots in those states, up from 53 percent from four years ago. (African Americans, on the other hand, have turned in fewer ballots than when Barack Obama was a candidate.)

North Carolina has 15 electoral votes. The Census Bureau reports that 122,000 people consider themselves American Indian and 184,000 alone and in combination with other races.

The Elon University Poll shows North Carolina in a statistical tie. “Among likely voters, Clinton has 42 percent of the vote while Trump has 41.2 percent, with 8.7 percent saying they are still undecided in the race,” the poll showed.

The poll also showed that the gender gap is shrinking, with 55 percent of women voters planning to vote for Clinton, compared to 61 percent during the second Elon Poll nearly a month ago. Men continue to prefer Trump by a 56-44 split.

“North Carolina is still very much in play for both Trump and Clinton,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon University Poll and assistant professor of political science. “The Old North State is continuing its tradition as a source of true toss-up electoral votes.”

One thing I like about the Elon Poll is that it publishes cross tabs. Most of the demographic breakdown was limited to white and black. But thirty-nine people in the poll identified themselves as “other,” at about 5.5 percent of those surveyed, but it wasn’t a big enough pool to get a sense of what the “other” is thinking.

Wisconsin polls have consistently showed a Clinton lead in the state. A recent one by Remington Research Group pegs Clinton at 46 percent, Trump at 42 percent, Gary Johnson at 4 percent, someone else at 3 percent, and 5 percent undecided. The Remington poll includes whites, African Americans, Hispanics, and the “other” in that poll is 4 percent.

Trump campaigned in Wisconsin this week and has plans to return again.

The Native vote program has been growing in the state. The Native Vote program, a partnership with Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters Institute and tribes in the state, saw turnout increase by one percent in 2012 from 2008. “But on the reservations we saw 2 percent, 6 percent, and even 14 percent increases,” the Native Vote program reported. “The Menominee reservation even reached an astounding 90 percent voter turnout, and the Lac du Flambeau and Menominee newspapers announced that they had record turnout levels.”

Polls in Nevada also reflect a dead-heat. (The average of polls show Trump with a one-half point lead.) Two Nevada tribes were successful in getting a federal court order for early voting locations and Friday nine more tribes asked for additional polling locations, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. The filing said some tribal members in remote communities had to drive 275 miles roundtrip to cast a ballot. Native Americans are about 1.6 percent of the state. But even a small percentage is important in a state that’s tied.

Arizona and New Mexico are on different paths. Both have a long tradition where the Native Vote has impacted elections.

The Secretary of State in New Mexico publishes a list of Native American precincts, detailing where the Native vote has the most numbers. But there remains a significant gap between registered voters and those who actually turnout. In 2014, some 66,000 people were registered to vote while only 26,000 cast ballots.

New Mexico, like Wisconsin, is a state where Clinton has lead for a long time, but that Trump is trying to make competitive. One challenge for the Republican is that the state’s former governor, Gary Johnson, is polling around 7 percent. Johnson was a Republican and is now the Libertarian Party nominee.

Even in New Mexico there are no polls that include Native American voters.

Arizona is a state that Democrats would like to flip, turning a reliable Republican state into a Democratic one. If that happens the coalition will include voters from tribal nations. Clinton already has a track record here. During the primary, Navajo voters picked Clinton and challenged the narrative of Indian Country’s support for Bernie Sanders by more than 17 points. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye recently endorsed Clinton and the campaign recently said there are some 25 field organizers working to bring out Native voters.

“Tribal communities have swung a lot of elections in Arizona,” Charlie Galbraith, a member of Navajo Nation and a political adviser to both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee said in Buzz Feed last week. “In an election that will be razor thin, getting out the vote in Navajo Nation could turn the state blue.”

And now, Alaska, the wild card.

A poll by Craciun Research showed a Clinton lead of four points, 47 to 43 percent, over Trump. That’s just one poll. And it defies the state’s recent history. Still. It makes you wonder.

Two key points: The Alaska Native vote and gender.

The poll identifies Alaska Native voters by geography. It cites “the unprecedented endorsement of Clinton by the Alaska Federation of Natives board. In the rural North and Northwest regions of the State, the poll shows Clinton is beating Trump by a margin of almost 5:1, 74 percent to 15 percent.

Second: “The gender gap is at levels not experienced in the recent past with women supporting Clinton by a margin of 17 percent.”

A shout out to Craciun Research. I love that the Alaska Native vote is measured. Would it be so across the land.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#NativeVote16 – A record year? Why not? (Special election week report)

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

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

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

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

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

It’s sovereignty at the ballot box.

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

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

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

Chapter one: Context

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

RecordYearFinal#NativeVote16.014.jpegChapter Two: The Presidency

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

So here are a few thoughts.

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

That image says so much about what’s possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A political history

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

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

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

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

This is where Indian Country gets short-changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 3: The People’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

There could have been a solution without controversy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Chapter Four: Shhh! Secret success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her name will be Peggy, Paulette or Winona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

One week. Lots to report.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#NativeVote16 – The Speaker campaigns in Montana, but will it help or hurt?

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Democrats need to win 30 seats for the gavel to be returned to Nancy Pelosi. Speaker Paul Ryan travels to Montana Sunday to try and unify Republicans who are divided by their own presidential nominee. (CSPAN photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

A couple of days ago I wrote that “there is one tell that’s worth watching: Where are they?” This is better indicator than polls because it shows where the candidates themselves think they are vulnerable.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will campaign this Sunday with Rep. Ryan Zinke in Billings. According to KULR News, Zinke said “by bringing in Ryan and other notable Washington leaders, he is showing lawmakers in D.C. that Montana counts.”

Not to my way of thinking. It shows that the Republican leadership is worried about losing what should have been a safe seat.

But Ryan is a fascinating choice because he highlights the Republican conflict that is Donald Trump.

There is already a move on Capitol Hill to delay the election for the next Speaker (or Republican leadership) until December. giving both sides more time to campaign. According to Fox News the Freedom Caucus had a conference call to explore alternatives to Ryan. There is a Dump Ryan movement that’s as strong as ever.

Trump supporters are angry with Speaker Ryan because they say he’s exactly what’s wrong with the Republican Party.  Talk show host Sean Hannity called Ryan a “saboteur” who “needed to be called out and replaced.” And Rep. Tom Cole said Ryan should just“go fishing for awhile.”

And that’s not even the harshest attack. A long piece in Breitbart News says Ryan and Hillary represent Washington. A picture shows the speaker with an “I’m with her” Hillary background. The piece quotes Patrick Caddell saying the Republican Party Party is “at war with their voters. They are literally abandoning their own.” Ryan, he says, wants Clinton elected. “What you have is a Bush and Clinton dynasty,” Caddell said. “And the curtain has risen on the corruption that they’re all in the same game and that ultimately they’re allies. That’s what the American people have been revolting about. I fear that the establishment’s mind doesn’t even understand that that’s what the base is revolting against.” (The head of the Trump campaign, Stephen Bannon, is a former executive with Breitbart.)

This fracture is not what campaigns want to talk about. Even if voters do. So Sunday’s campaign event will be highly scripted (it’s ticketed and a donation is required). Ryan will campaign for a generic Republican agenda, sans Trump. Zinke won’t disavow Trump, but will praise Ryan, and he won’t be asked about that contradiction.

But there is another narrative to consider: Will women voters support Zinke if he sticks with Trump (even as he holds close to Ryan)?

A letter in the Billings Gazette reflects this very issue. “I was an early supporter of Ryan Zinke for Congress. I saw a proven leader, willing to commit his skills to fix a broken Congress. I thought he would begin to guide elected officials into a more effective decision-making process,” writes Connie Wardell.  “When I heard the tape revealing Trump’s explicit thoughts about women and bragging of his ability to rape women and get away with it, I expected Zinke to be one of the first to renounce his endorsement of Trump. When he refused, I realized that I was wrong in my first impressions of Zinke.”

Ryan’s answer has been to avoid Trump and campaign for Republicans. But Zinke still supports Trump, but, as he told Montana’s Daily Interlake, “You can’t defend Trump. He’s un-defendable … not that that makes Hillary [Clinton] a better candidate.”

A recent poll for Lee Newspapers by Mason-Dixon polling shows that women in Montana already favor Clinton. “Among women voters polled, 44 percent said they would cast their ballot for Clinton and 39 percent for Trump. That’s only a five-point difference, although the margin of error could mean the actual figure is a little higher and therefore more in line with national polls – or even lower and therefore more unusual by comparison.” (The pollster said they didn’t think that would translate down ballot. But they had little evidence.)

But this poll was done a couple of weeks ago and Trump’s gender deficit is getting worse. As a piece in FiveThirtyEight said: “We could be looking at the largest gender gap in a presidential election since at least 1952: Men are favoring the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, in typical numbers, but a historically overwhelming share of women say they will vote for the Democrat, Hillary Clinton.”

And in early voting, so far, women are voting in greater numbers than in 2012. In Georgia, North Carolina, and Louisiana, 55.8 percent of the returned ballots are from female voters. (The national average was 53 percent four years ago.)

Ryan and Zinke won’t be talking about that, of course. The mission will be to show a unified Republican Party. As if.

And Denise Juneau need not say a word.

Twelve days to go.

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