#NativeVote16 – Two weeks to win, time to distort, and far more visibility

Rep. Paulette Jordan meets with a Northern Idaho constituent. (Facebook photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

We’re two weeks away from an election and most of us have the same question: Who’s winning? We look at the latest polls, check our favorite web sites often, and try to read between the lines.

But there is one tell that’s worth watching: Where are they? The candidate location shows where the candidates need to be to round up that last important tranche of votes. Are they looking for a win, campaigning for a mandate, or resigned to a loss? Hmm. So Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both in Florida. Clinton wins there and it’s over while Trump needs Florida, period.

Speaking of favorite web sites, here are a few. Travel tracker maps where the candidates are that day. And, for the latest polls, Real Clear Politics. The most useful number is the average of polls because it’s a good way to increase the size of the pool and add a perspective over time. The current average shows Clinton with support at 48.3 percent, Trump at 43.2 percent. (Also reporting the “live betting odds of 84 percent for Clinton, 16 percent for Trump.) Other places to peek: FiveThirtyEight, the Upshot, Daily Kos, The Fix, and Talking Points Memo.

A story in Talking Points Memo is particularly worth watching. “It is only one poll, as they say,” writes Josh Marshall. “But this ABC poll may be a big deal. See this not as something that is happening but a sign of a possible trend which, if backed up by other polls over the next two weeks, could be the story of the 2016 election.” He cites an ABC that shows: “The share of registered Republicans who are likely to vote is down 7 points since mid-October.”

That would be huge.

Of course no election is a sure thing. Trump has been saying this will be a Brexit election, one where the anger of British voters about the European Union did not show in polls. But there are differences. However, as The Guardian notes, America’s voting system makes this less likely. “A simple majority of the national popular vote was enough to rewrite Britain’s relationship with Europe, but US presidents are required to win a majority of electoral college votes, which can be decisively achieved with a series of wins at the state level. In 1984, for example, Ronald Reagan secured 97.6% of the electoral college votes with 58.8% of the popular vote, because Walter Mondale lost every state except Minnesota.”

And Democrats have the edge (even before Trump) in the Electoral College because so many large states, such as California or New York, are not competitive.

One challenge for any candidate is the last minute pitch by opponents who distort the record. A Facebook campaign is attacking Idaho’s Rep. Paulette Jordan as anti-Second Amendment. Her sins? She didn’t fill out a survey from a gun-rights organization and she voted against a “constitutional carry” bill that would have ended restrictions on concealed weapons. But, and this ought to be huge, she voted for a measure that did just that. Only in cooperation with the local sheriff. That bill became law and Jordan was one of only two Democrats to vote yes.

But the very idea that the Idaho legislature is anti-gun? Right. But a promotion from AmmoLand for Jordan’s opponent, Carl Berglund, says he has answered the “survey with 100% pro-2nd Amendment answers and has long been a proponent of constitutional carry.”

On Facebook, Jordan said “representing the people means listening to the people, which is why I always maintain an open door policy for all the great folks in our district.” She and her team have been knocking on thousands of doors hearing what people are saying.

Two weeks to go and it’s the end of newspaper endorsement season.

Laurel Deegan-Fricke, who’s running for the state Senate in North Carolina, earned an endorsement from the Raleigh News and Observer. This is good. The paper said it could endorse the incumbent but he “has drawn an exceptionally appealing candidate in Democrat Laurel Deegan Fricke. A native of North Dakota and the daughter of a Native American mother, Deegan-Fricke will make fairness in taxation and budgeting a priority. We offer her our endorsement. Deegan-Fricke, who has lived in Wake County for 14 years, is founder and CEO of the National Coalition of Native American College Placement Services.”

And Denise Juneau picked up another newspaper endorsement. The Montana Standard said: “Juneau is aiming for a place in history. She is trying to become the first woman Congressman from Montana since Jeannette Rankin, and the first Native American woman ever to claim a seat in the U.S. Capitol. Usually, as a freshman congressman, very probably with the minority party, she would be utterly invisible. But her pioneer status would give Juneau far more visibility than most. We believe she has earned that chance, and that she would make Montanans proud with her service.”

Far more visibility. That’s exactly what’s needed across Indian Country.

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 story is far from over: What’s next for Bernie Sanders?

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Vermont casts 22 votes for its senator, Bernie Sanders. A minute later, Sanders asks the rules be suspended and that Hillary Clinton be nominated by acclamation. And so the Bernie Sanders’ chapter comes to an end. The question is, “what’s next?”

Let’s explore this from a couple of different points of view.

What’s Sanders’ story going to be? What’s he going to do to advance causes that are progressive? And, more important for my readers, what will he do to improve life in Indian Country?

It’s interesting to explore what happens to senators after they run for president. Most disappear. Some fifty senators have run and lost (only Obama has won the office in recent times) so the “what’s next?” question is actually the norm.

One candidate who came up short was George McGovern from South Dakota. His landslide loss to Richard Nixon did not define his legacy because he recruited so many young people to his cause. Bill Clinton is a beneficiary of the McGovern campaign. McGovern, like Sanders, was not particularly interested in Native American issues before his presidential campaign. But in 1972 campaign McGovern called for the complete restructuring of the Bureau of Indian Affairs either as a White House program or as a cabinet-level agency.

Ted Kennedy is a another example of how someone can build a progressive legacy after his failed White House bid. “Freed at last of the expectation that he should and would seek the White House, Mr. Kennedy devoted himself fully to his day job in the Senate, where he had already led the fight for the 18-year-old vote, the abolition of the draft, deregulation of the airline and trucking industries, and the post-Watergate campaign finance legislation,” The New York Times wrote in his obituary. “In the years after his failed White House bid, Mr. Kennedy also established himself as someone who made “lawmaker” mean more than a word used in headlines to describe any member of Congress.”

Imagine what Sanders the “lawmaker” could do. He could be the architect for many new initiatives, better Indian health or education funding, or, basically taking the best of the Democratic Party Platform and making is so. This is what he told Deborah Parker on a live Facebook feed this afternoon: “We are very proud of the work that Deborah as done (writing the platform) … and we will make sure that the language is implemented.”

It’s clear that Sanders travels to Indian Country changed him. His observations and experiences are bound to stir reform. As Jane Sanders also told Parker today: “He didn’t win the presidency, but he’s a senator.” And now, perhaps, a lawmaker. A lawmaker that will be most effective if he has an ally in the White House.

There is one more thing I would like to see Sanders do: Invest his time and considerable fundraising ability in helping elect five Native American Democrats to Congress. He could especially make a difference in the next few days by raising money for Victoria Steele in Arizona and Joe Pakootas in Washington state. These two candidates have primary elections in August. Both would make great members of Congress (and allies for any Sanders’ legislative agenda).

Ideally Congress is only the start. What about a Sanders’ grassroots movement that supports Native progressive candidates for legislatures, county commissions, and city governments.

What about Sanders’ supporters? (Some of whom continue to maintain they will never support Hillary Clinton. Several are even posting how disgusted they are with Sanders for giving up too easily.) So the options are: Don’t vote in November; vote for Donald J. Trump; vote for a third party candidate; or vote for Clinton.

Staying home and voting for Trump are essentially the same option. A Trump presidency is not the same as Clinton.

Three stark differences:

* Clinton would tip the scales toward climate action; Trump would favor oil, gas and coal.
* Clinton would boost Indian health programs and Medicaid expansion; Trump promises repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.
* She would build on the legacy of President Obama; Trump promises a rollback of the past eight years which he calls a failure.

On top of all that: There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court and conservatives would be eager to reshape abortion law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and tribal jurisdiction.

What about voting for Jill Stein and the Green Party or the Gary Johnson-Bill Weld Libertarian Ticket?

Philosophically that makes a lot of sense. I’d really like to see third parties be included in the presidential debates and the national conversation. This country ought to have more than two governing parties. But how do you get there and how does it impact the prospect of a Trump presidency? The fact is only two parties are at present competitive. It’s a wild card vote. In some states, say, Montana, or Utah, it could help Clinton pull off a surprise win. But in Florida or other swing states it’s really an unknown about where the votes would come from (Trump or Clinton). Down the road this is one of those structural electoral problems we need to fix. Our vote should count if we go Green. But not in 2016.

Sanders said as much today. He’s quoted in The Washington Post saying, “If we were in Europe right now, in Germany or elsewhere, the idea of coalition politics of different parties coming together — you’ve got a left party, you’ve got a center-left party, coming together against the center-right party. That’s not unusual. That happens every day. We don’t have that. We have and have had [two parties] for a very long period of time — and I know a little bit about this, as the longest serving independent member of Congress.”

Will  the people who followed Sanders do that once again. Most will. Some won’t. (My first question to those who say, #neverhillary is where do you live? In some states you really do have a free vote. But in a swing state? No.)

So there the Democrats have a nominee — and it’s not Bernie Sanders. Yet he has chapters to add to his story.

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 – Libertarians as the ‘normal’ alternative to the Democrats

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the nominee of the Libertarian Party. (Creative Commons photo provided by Nick del Castillo.)

Mark Trahant / TrahantReports

Let’s explore two questions: First, will a third party candidacy matter in the 2016 presidential election? And, if so, what does that mean for the Native American vote?

The first question ought to be easy to answer because the arc of history says no. Democrats and Republicans have owned the presidential field since the mid-19th century when the Whig Party collapsed.

The Whigs were an unlikely coalition that included citizens opposed to Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal policies. Yet in order to win, or so they said, the Whigs nominated generals who were famous as Indian fighters, General Zachary Taylor or “Old Rough and Ready,” and finally, General Winfield Scott, whose earned nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers” wasn’t  exactly the warrior image a politician is eager to project. The Whig era reflects the irony of U.S. politics. On one hand there was the Democratic Party that championed Jackson’s criminal treatment of Native people and, on the other, a party that rejected Jackson’s removal policy, but nominated as its standard-bearers, soldiers who made their name killing Indians.

Gen. Winfield Scott. 1861. Image. Library of Congress

George Wallace and the Dixiecrats

There is a consistent theme that emerges when you look back at the history of third-party movements. The movements are most successful when the two major parties are realigning. That’s exactly what’s occurring with the Republican Party today.

The other consistent theme: The third party rise is often associated in a time when hate is also on the rise.

After the Whig Party ceased as a national political force most of its southern members created the Native American Party. Of course not that Native American Party. American Indians and Alaska Natives were not citizens. Indeed, the party later became the American Party and was often referred to as the “Know Nothings.” The party platform included provisions that “Americans must rule America … and to this end native-born citizens should be selected for all State, Federal, and municipal offices of government.”

After the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, many Southerners again went the third party route in 1968 supporting former Alabama Gov. George Wallace and his American Independent Party. That party championed racism and segregation. Wallace was the last third party presidential candidate to win states, five of them, and 45 electoral votes.

Wallace’s strategy is what’s important to think about in a 2016 context: The primary objective of a third-party run is to deny the other two candidates 270 electoral votes. If that happens, the House of Representatives decides the election, not the voters. (Previous: America and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Election.)

One more point of context: That 1968 election was one where the Republican Party realigned. Richard Nixon recognized the importance of Southern white voters and made them a key GOP voting bloc. (Before Wallace the South was the base of Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party.) As Kevin Phillips wrote in his book, The Emerging Republican Majority, Nixon played the “Southern strategy” with “wedge” issues such as affirmative action that would pit the white working class against African American voters.

It’s the fallout of this strategy that’s one reason why the Republican Party is splitting today because its southern base has evolved to become even more intolerant on a host of issues such as civil rights and voting. And that’s what makes 2016 so extraordinary: It’s now the Republicans with Donald Trump as their party nominee that’s almost the platform of the Know Nothings or George Wallace. “Make America Great Again!” would have been a familiar theme.

Candidates with practical experience governing

This weekend the Libertarian Party nominated two former governors to champion their cause in this election. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (who was the party’s candidate four years ago is running with former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld.

These two candidates are different from the Libertarian routine (I know, this is Johnson’s second run) because their message will be about experience. In a way they will be asking voters to ignore Libertarian purists and move their party to the center. That’s a tall order. Because they have to convince their own party members about the value of the center and they have to recruit disaffected Republicans as well as a few Democrats. 

Johnson’s reputation as a governor was frugal. He brags about the number of bills he vetoed as governor. In his first race for governor, he was supportive of New Mexico’s tribal gaming industry and received nearly $250,000 in campaign donations from tribes. He signed gambling compacts with the tribes shortly after taking office.

The Libertarian Party is a mix of conservative and liberal issues. Like the Republicans, the party advocates a significantly smaller government. But it’s also to the left of Democrats on the legalization of marijuana and other drugs. Johnson has also dismissed Donald Trump’s immigration policy as racist and says his call for a wall on the Mexican border only leads to taller ladders.

Johnson said he wanted to run this time around with Gov. Weld because he thinks the pair can win or at least participate in the coming presidential debates. (Candidates must poll at 15 percent or better to be included.)

The two can call on traditional Republican sources of funds, ranging from Mitt Romney supporters to the Koch Brothers. They basically will make the case that they are not crazy like Trump. And they can point to their records as former governors.

Johnson is polling at around 10 percent and the Libertarian ticket will be on all 50 ballots (compared to about 20 states for the Green Party.)

So will Johnson-Weld matter? Can they win any states? That’s a good point to explore the role of Native American voters.

Donald Trump is not a traditional Republican and his very presence changes the electoral map. He could, for example, be a contender in Rust Belt states where there are a lot of white, working class voters. As The New York Times put it: “Mr. Trump’s best play for the White House is to cut a swath through the Rust Belt, flipping states traditionally won by Democrats that harbor large numbers of the white working-class voters who have welcomed his hard line on immigration and trade.”

But travel into the West and it might be a different story. Montana Sen. Jon Tester won re-election with only 48.56 percent of the vote. The Libertarian candidate for Senate, Dan Cox, earned 6.56 percent of the vote. And that percentage represents a smaller number than Native American voters.

So a state normally not be in play for Democrats, Montana, could be up for grabs. And Montana is one of the best states for Libertarians. Several other Western states where the Libertarian message could win votes include Arizona, Nevada, and even Alaska

But Libertarians are hoping to do better than that. Many see 2016 as the year when it becomes the alternative party to Democrats. And, if history is a guide, the Libertarians could have a remarkable year. There is a major party realignment occurring and one campaign spews messages of hate rather than optimism (just compare the speeches of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump if you want proof.) That’s a theme from the past.

No one could have predicted the Libertarian presidential candidate to be a representative of normal. Especially a party campaigning with a ticket comprised of former governors who have  practical experience actually running governments. It will be interesting to see if there message gets out and connects with voters.

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 / TrahantReport





#NativeVote16 – Donald Trump is good news, or really good news, for Native Democrats


Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, endorsed Victoria Steele and serves as one of her campaign co-chairs. (Campaign photo via Facebook.) Latinos make up one out of five voters in Steele’s district.


Latino voter registration is growing fast

Mark Trahant


Let’s start with an understatement: Donald Trump is not the usual Republican Party nominee for president. There is no script for the months ahead; Trump is as much a reality show as a legitimate politician. His rallies are chaotic. His issues are all over the map in terms of ideology. And he strikes fear into many Republicans running for other offices because of his rhetoric, especially about Mexicans, Muslims and women.

Nowhere does this craziness surface more than in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District.

Victoria Steele is no longer running against incumbent Martha McSally. Now she’s running against the Trump/McSally agenda. (Previous: Six Native Candidates can Win to Flip Congress. And: How little dollars could turn the world of politics upside down.)

A recent Steele campaign email put it this way:

“It was an easy question for Martha McSally. Do you or do you not support Donald Trump? After ducking the question for weeks, her team finally responded … but with the ‘Washington two-step’

Martha McSally’s spokesman said this:  “We’re in the middle of a nomination process, and Martha is interested in seeing that process play out. Right now she is focused on doing the best job she can to represent the people of Southern Arizona and make sure their voices are heard.”

I did not see anything in there about if she supports Donald Trump, do you?”

Now that GOP primary process is over and Trump is the presumptive nominee? McSally’s web site makes no mention of Trump. Nor is she speaking out about Trump (as few other Republicans have done).

“It feels like such good news,” Steele told me last week. “It’s either bad for Martha McSally or really bad. She’s been given many opportunities to speak out and renounce his horrible statements, what he has said about women, Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims. Her silence speaks volumes.”
Steele says it’s one thing for McSally to not endorse Trump, but she is campaigning as a “moderate” and that’s why she should call out Trump on his hateful statements.

Trump could be a significant problem in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. There are some 528,000 eligible voters in the district and of that number, more than 113,00 are Latino. That’s about 1 out of five voters. And that number could grow. Significantly. According to Pew Research Hispanic Trends report nearly 58 percent of the Latino electorate is eligible to vote. There is data to suggest that already more Latinos are registering to vote because of the fear of a Donald Trump presidency.

But the extraordinary thing about Trump is that he could also inspire other voters to register and turn out. Against him, that is. Trump has a range of controversial statements from his call to ban all immigration by Muslims to how he describes women.

One recent Gallup poll shows that seven-out-ten women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump.

So Steele is not the only Native American candidate who could benefit from Trump as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer.


Other Native American candidates impacted by Trump

Joe Pakootas in Washington state is running in the 5th district against Cathy McMorris Rodgers. McMorris Rodgers has a position similar to House Speaker Paul Ryan, saying she’s not ready to endorse the presumptive nominee. She told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that she would like to question Trump about some of the statements he has made about women in the past. (Spreadsheet, fusion table: Eight Native Americans running for Congress.)

Washington’s 5th district is about 6.2 percent Latino. But that is an underrepresented group because only about 4.1 percent are registered to vote. So a registration push could bring new voters into the process.

The numbers are interesting for the Native American candidates running as Republicans. In Oklahoma, Incumbent Representatives Tom Cole and MaryWayne Mullin are running in districts that are increasingly Latino. Cole’s district now shows 6 percent Latino voters and 9 percent of the district’s population. Cole told The Daily Oklahoman last year that Trump’s problem is “he has is he has very high negative ratings, both among Republicans and more importantly among the general electorate as a whole.”

And Arizona’s 1st Congressional District has almost as many Latino voters as Native American voters, 17 percent to 22 percent. (Previous: Big money targets Arizona’s first congressional.) And that’s likely to be an added factor in the November election. Bad news for any Republican, including Shawn Redd or Carlyle Begay. Neither Redd nor Begay have any references to Trump on their web sites.

It will be interesting to see if, and how, the Native American candidates running as Republicans defend or even champion Donald Trump.

Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate to Donald Trump. (Campaign photo)

Back to the Arizona 2nd District.

If Trump at the ticket is not good news enough for Victoria Steele, several publications have reported that McSally could be on Trump’s list for potential running mates.  The Fiscal Times makes that case: “Arizona Representative Martha McSally is not only a woman but a retired Air Force colonel who flew combat missions, a triathlete and a member of the Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees. She could help bolster a Trump ticket’s bona fides on national security and the fight against ISIS.”

Remember the idea of Trump being bad news for McSally or really bad news?

McSally as a potential vice presidential candidate is either good news or really good news for Steele.  It’s good news  for her opponent to be so closely linked to Trump even is she’s not picked. And if McSally is the choice? Then Victoria Steele has only the Democratic primary to worry about in order to win a seat in Congress.


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

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





#NativeVote16 – The Road to the White House is red, brown, black and young

Screenshot 2015-12-13 13.46.41

The final Electoral College tally in 2012. President Barack Obama won re-election with 332 electoral votes to Republican Mitt Romney’s 206 votes. This is how to think about 2016: Which states will be in play? Which candidate can build the winning coalition? (National Archives graphic.)


Confused by the 2016 presidential campaign?


It’s easy to get confused by this year’s campaign for president. If you get information from watching television or from Internet rumblings, you might think Republicans are driving toward a massive victory. And why not? Donald Trump packs thousands of people into every one of his rallies and the television ratings for G.O.P. debates are ginormous. So this must be the Republican year, right?

The problem with that narrative is that it misses the demographic shift that’s been occurring in America.

Fact is any Republican candidate for president starts off in a deep hole. To win a candidate will have to erase a structural deficit. Sure, it’s possible, but it’s also growing more unlikely because of the tone coming from the 2016 campaign so far. Why the deep hole? 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 Reagan’s landslide. He won with the support 56 percent of white voters in 1980. “But in 2012, when non­white 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. Without a total brand makeover, how can Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pect to pre­vail with an even more di­verse electorate in 2016?”

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 0.5 percent for whites. “Even more diverse than millennials are the youngest Americans: those younger than 5 years old. In 2014, this group became majority-minority for the first time, with 50.2 percent being part of a minority race or ethnic group,” the Census said. So in 13 years the majority of new voters will be people of color and in twenty-five years a majority of all voters.

The GOP’s demographic challenge

The Republicans have a long term problem.

“Based on estimates of the composition of the 2016 electorate, if the next GOP nominee wins the same share of the white vote as Mitt Romney won in 2012 (59 percent), he or she would need to win 30 percent of the nonwhite vote,” Dan Balz recently wrote in The Washington Post. “Set against recent history, that is a daunting obstacle. Romney won only 17 percent of nonwhite voters in 2012. John McCain won 19 percent in 2008. George W. Bush won 26 percent in 2004.”

It’s important to remember, however, that presidential elections are 50 separate state elections that determine the electoral college vote. So ignore every poll you see that compares one Republican versus one Democrat.  Instead think: Which states?

And it’s in these state contests where the American Indians and Alaska Native voters are becoming more important, especially as part of a coalition.

Nevada is a good place to start examining these trends. In 2012, Nevada voters were about 65 percent white. Next year’s voters are projected to drop to about 60 percent. So it will be possible to build a winning coalition made up of  some white voters (a third or so) plus significant majorities from Latino, African American, Asian American and Native Americans.

Other states where such coalitions are possible: Alaska, Arizona, Wisconsin, and, eventually, Oklahoma.

The web site Five Thirty Eight has a nifty electronic interactive calculator that lets you project election scenarios. What happens if more minority voters turn out? Think landslide. More important: Break down the Republican constituencies and see where that party’s strength comes from. “Whites without college degrees are now the bedrock of the Republican coalition: They voted for Mitt Romney 62 percent to 36 percent in 2012,” Five Thirty Eight reports. “However, their share of the electorate is rapidly shrinking: They skew older and more rural, and we project that their share of the national vote will fall to 33 percent in 2016, down from 36 percent in 2012. Nonetheless, they still factor heavily in battleground states such as IowaNew HampshireOhio and Wisconsin.”

What’s striking about this election so far is that the Republican candidates are not trying to build a coalition with minority voters, young voters, or even 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. Most millennials lean toward the Democrats, but even those who say they are Republican see the world very differently than today’s Republican candidates. Pew Research Center found: “The generational divisions among Republicans span different dimensions of political values. Some of the most striking generational differences within Republicans concern social issues like homosexuality and immigration, but younger Republicans are also less conservative when it comes to values related to the environment, role of government, the social safety net and the marketplace.”

So as we enter 2016 it’s important to discount the news coming from the campaign. It’s going to be a crazy year with all sorts of scenarios possible ranging from fights at the conventions to third-party runs. Sure, it’s even possible, that one of the Republican candidates will whip up magic and unite a coalition of voters. But that would take words designed to reach consensus with the new majority of voters. There will be another GOP debate Tuesday. (I will be live tweeting.) Watch and see if even one candidate recognizes that the road to the White House is red, brown, black and young.

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










Omnibus: Budgets, a Native voice in Seattle, and eyes on Montana

Seattle City Council candidate Debora Juarez (campaign photo)
Seattle City Council candidate Debora Juarez (campaign photo)

** Updated, Oct. 30. **

Omnibus is a Latin word that means “for all.” In legislation it means cramming everything into a bill that you think can pass. That’s exactly what the House did with its two-year $80 billion spending bill. That bill lifts caps from the Budget Control Act, or the sequester, and it raises the debt limit until March 2017. The Senate passed the measure early Friday morning. This bill awaits President Obama’s signature to become law.

The best part of this bill is that ends distractions such as defunding Planned Parenthood until after the election. The worst part of this deal is that the spending details still have to be written. As What it does not do, however, is push actual government dollars out the door to pay for discretionary federal programs—including major health, education, and science initiatives—after December 11, when the temporary funding measure passed at the end of September expires. Under the terms of the deal, members of the House and Senate appropriations committees will have until that December deadline to choose exactly how to spend according with the broader framework.”


The politics of this deal (and another House action) are stunning, but, unfortunately, probably only temporary. More Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans. So the Leadership picked a bipartisan course. That happened again with individual members who used a parliamentary measure to bring the Export-Import Bank up for a vote.

The Senate still has to weigh in on the Export-Import Bank and there is no indication when that debate will occur or if the votes are there to pass it. Folks who want to shrink government want this international financing program to go away, calling it corporate welfare. Supporters say that the competition is from other countries and failure to re-establish the bank will put U.S. interests at a disadvantage.

Of course any budget that passes with more Democrats than Republicans is considered awful. The new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said the process stinks. But the bill will make it easier for Ryan to govern his caucus because it takes away the threat of government shutdowns and general chaos. Ryan’s goal will be to unite the Republicans so what ever measures come forward next will be debated within the party caucus and then sent to the floor with more unity. So Democratic votes will not be needed. At least that’s the theory. We will see if it works.

Critics of the spending bill (including those Republican candidates in Wednesday’s debate) say this shows how government spending is out of control. The problem with that argument is the numbers. The deficit is shrinking. What’s missing from the discourse is that the United States has a long-term spending problem. Not a budget crisis. The Congressional Budget Office says, “This year’s deficit will be noticeably smaller than what the agency projected in March, and fiscal year 2015 will mark the sixth consecutive year in which the deficit has declined as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) since it peaked in 2009. Over the next 10 years, however, the budget outlook remains much the same as CBO described earlier this year: If current laws generally remain unchanged, within a few years the deficit will begin to rise again relative to GDP, and by 2025, debt held by the public will be higher relative to the size of the economy than it is now.”

Congressional Budget Office snapshot of federal spending.
Congressional Budget Office snapshot of federal spending.

So the question remains can Congress, can the next president, can the public, think long term?

My goal for this blog is to make it a “for all” place for politics in Indian Country. To that end, I will be posting more press releases, op-eds, and other material from campaigns. I’d like to see a roundup of candidates across the country running in races large and small.

One important race that I have neglected to write about is from Seattle. Debora Juarez is a candidate for Seattle City Council. She’s a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, grew up in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and is running for a seat on neighborhood issues. That means things people care about: more sidewalks, better bus service, and affordable housing.

Juarez happens to be also extraordinary well qualified. This is what The Seattle Times said about her in its endorsement editorial: “In a crowded field, Debora Juarez stands out. She has lived in the district for 25 years while building an impressive résumé as a legal-aid lawyer, a King County judge, a Native American affairs adviser for two governors and a Wall Street investment adviser. She currently is counsel for Northwest tribes in a respected law firm and is a member of the Blackfeet tribe. She would bring intellectual rigor and ideological independence to the council.”

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Of course great candidates make all the difference in elections. They bring experience and poise to the campaign. That’s why so many eyes are watching Montana right now. The only Native American to hold a statewide office, Denise Juneau, is considering a run for the U.S. House. She’s currently Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and a member of the Mandan and Hidatsa Tribes. She grew up in Browning on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Two years ago there was a lot of interest in Juneau running for an open U.S. Senate seat. I thought it would have been an interesting race, but it would have been a long shot. The problem is the type of voters Juneau would need only vote in presidential election years and that race would have been a low-turnout election. So she opted to stick with the job she loves, running public education.

But Juneau is now at her term limit. Her schools’ job will end. And since it’s a presidential year, the House seat is awfully tempting. It’s a  seat that can be won. (It’s how Jon Tester won.) Stay tuned.

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

Updated chart: Republican candidates and the issues that impact Indian Country

Trahant Reports live tweeting Thursday. Look for #Native&Afraid


Naked and afraid? Sixteen Republican candidates compete to survive


Presidential Debate season begins on August 6


What do you do with sixteen candidates? It’s a thorny problem for Republicans. Why’s that? Because right now one of those candidates, Donald Trump, is loud enough to drown out all the other “major” candidates.

Wouldn’t it be fun if the nomination contest was more like a basketball tournament? Then top-seeded Donald Trump would battle 16th seed Ohio Gov. John Kasich a battle of ideas. Or how about dropping the bunch in the jungle Naked and Afraid. We could even start voting and eliminate a candidate every week, until it’s just the Republican versus a Democrat.

Enough. Back to the chaos. And Donald Trump.

As The Washington Post put it on Sunday: “For yet another week, Trump talk dominated the Sunday morning political shows, with several devoting roundtable discussions to his disruption of the GOP presidential primary and at least two of his GOP rivals using their clashes with him in recent days as a means of securing interviews on the shows — during which they continued to clash with him.”

On August 6 in Cleveland the first debate is set, an opportunity to raise serious issues. As if. It’s more likely that it will be Trump versus the other nine candidates tossing one liners back and forth.

Of course American Indian and Alaska Native issues don’t get attention this early anyway. Usually that happens late in the campaigns, during the general election, when a position paper is released that outlines the candidate’s official policy. That’s too bad. It would be good to press candidates from both parties about how they see treaties, the federal-Indian relationship, and the management of federal programs that serve Native Americans.

Then again it’s pretty clear where most stand. The Tea Party wing of the Republicans — Trump, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul — would dramatically cut federal spending. Paul has even called for the elimination of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and drastic cuts at the Indian Health Service. If any of this happened, the Sequester would be the Good Old Days.

Even a self-described serious candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, suggests its time to reshape government. A few days ago in Tallahassee, he said that as governor he used a hiring freeze to shrink state government. He suggested the same approach would work in Washington where only one employee could be hired for every three who retire or leave government service. Bush also said it ought to be easier to fire federal employees. “There are a lot of exemplary employees in the federal government, but they’re treated no better than the bad ones,” he said. “The bad ones are almost impossible to effectively discipline or remove.”

Candidate Kasich was chairman of the House Budget Committee when President Bill Clinton declared the “era of big government is over.” That suited Kasich then. And now. One proposal at the time was to “reinvent” the Bureau of Indian Affairs with a block grant program. “The reinvented Bureau of Indian Affairs would provide block grants, rather than engaging in the direct provision of services or the direct supervision of tribal activities,” the House proposal said. This “would reduce the central office operations of the BIA by 50 percent and eliminate funding for the Navajo and western Oklahoma area offices. It would eliminate technical assistance of Indian enterprises, through which technical assistance for economic enterprises is provided by contracts with the private sector or with other Federal agencies.” Congress would have ended direct loans and reduce loan guarantees.

The Republicans running for president all share contempt for the Affordable Care Act (and most don’t know that would include the provisions of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.) All are also supportive of more development, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, and generally dismissive of any action to limit climate change.

I don’t know. I’m still partial to a Naked and Afraid competition.

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.