Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Native American Candidates in U. S. Elections


Reprinted with permission from Indian Country Media (edited for space)

Countdown. There are now less than 100 days until Election Day. That means little time for campaigns to reach every possible voter or to raise money to get their message out.

The elections are 100 days away and there are far more than a hundred stories. Stories about candidates. Stories about races where the Native vote can make a difference. Stories about registration drives -- and making sure that Native Americans have access to ballots.

And stories about the last flurry of primary contests. Let’s start with that.

The Kansas primary goes national

Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk, is running for Congress in Kansas third congressional district. This race has taken on national implications as sort of a fight between establishment Democrats and Bernie Sanders. In the minds and tweets of many Sanders supporters, Davids is not progressive enough. This is a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and Davids’ best case is that her record and ties to the district make her the ideal candidate come November. This seat is now held by Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican.

Year of the Native Woman

No matter what happens after the 100-day mark this has already been an historic cycle for Native American women running for office. There are top tier candidates for Congress, statewide office, legislature, and even more running for corporation commissions, county offices, and city posts.

The first Native women to run for Congress, Jeanne Givens, Coeur d’Alene, in Idaho in 1988, and Ada Deer, Menominee, in Wisconsin in 1992, created legacies that are very much a part of the landscape today.

Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, the Democratic nominee for governor in Idaho, has said Givens is a mentor. And in Wisconsin, Arvina Martin, Ho Chunk, is challenging the party establishment in her bid for Secretary of State. That is exactly what Deer did in 1978 running for the same office.

Better elections

There are three Native American candidates for secretaries of state, the chief election officer (four if you count Bryon Mallot, who as Lt. Gov. is the chief election officer).

First, Wisconsin. That state’s primary is also August 14 and Martin is running against an incumbent who has been on the job as secretary of state for 35 years, Doug La Follett. Martin’s father is a Stockbridge-Munsee tribal citizen, while her mother’s father came from Greece. The two other candidates for Secretary of State are Alexandra Fredericks in South Dakota and Gavin Clarkson in New Mexico

Frederick is Lakota. At a recent candidate forum she made the case for a more secure system. She is “carpooling” with Wayne Fredericks, Rosebud, who is running for the state’s public utility commission. They were both nominated at the state Democratic party convention.

Clarkson, Choctaw, was the pick of Republican party leadership as the nominee for Secretary of State after a previous candidate dropped out. He lost the primary for Congress in the second congressional district.

Rise of the third-party candidates

One thing new this cycle is the rise of the third-party candidates. More Native Americans are running for office as independents, on the Green Party ticket, as a Libertarian, or without any party affiliation.

There are two candidates for Congress as independents. Ray “Skip” Sandman running for the 8th congressional district in Minnesota and Henry John Bear running on the Green Party ticket in Maine. Sandman is Ojibwe and Bear is a citizen of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

In Minnesota, Sandman is campaigning to stop a mine (and a pipeline). He said the PolyMet copper-nickel sulphide mine is a “highly toxic form of mining into the fragile, water-rich ecosystem of northern Minnesota. The toxic effects of this proposed mine places corporate interests over the health of our communities.”

Across the country there are at least six Native American candidates running for legislatures on third party tickets. They are:

Sara Mae Williams, Tohono O’odham, Green Party, Arizona House.

Adrian Owen Wagner, Blackfeet, Green Party, Montana House.

Aaron Camacho, Prairie Band Potawatomi, Green Party, Wisconsin Senate.

Rob Edwardson, Tlingit-Haida, Independent, Alaska House.

Katie Nepton, Montagnais First Nation, Libertarian, Michigan Senate.

Cristine Ives, Colville, No party affiliation, Washington House.

Two would be governors, Paulette Jordan and Andria Tupola

Of course, Paulette Jordan has already done something that no other Native woman in the history of country has done; she’s the Democratic nominee for the governor of Idaho. But she brings so much more to this race than just that. She also represents the mindset of a generation, a millennial. This is now the country’s largest age cohort.

Oklahoma’s runoff primary election

Several states require a majority - fifty percent plus one - for both the primary and general elections. So when there are a lot of candidates, that pretty much means there will be a second election. Oklahoma’s runoff primary is August 28.

There are two Native American candidates for Congress that will be in that race. Jason Nichols, the mayor of Tahlequah, is running for the House in the 2nd District, and Amanda Douglas is a candidate in the 1st congressional district. Both are Cherokee citizens and Democrats.

There are two more candidates for statewide office on the August ballot. Kevin Stitt, Cherokee, a Republican candidate for governor; and Ashley Nicole McCray, Absentee Shawnee and Lakota, for state corporation commission. She missed winning the primary outright by less than one percentage point.

Stitt told the Muskogee Politico Survey that as governor he will represent the entire state when it comes to tribal gaming compacts.

McCray has consistently challenged the orthodoxy of Oklahoma as an oil and gas state.

Two incumbents, Reps. Markwayne Mullin and Tom Cole will be on the November ballot. Both are Republicans and are currently the only tribal citizens serving in Congress.

New Mexico making history

Debra Haaland won the party nomination for New Mexico’s House seat but she still must win the bid from the district voters in November.

Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, recently told Albuquerque voters that it’s time to abolish the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE.

Native values as a campaign message

Kaniela Ing, Native Hawaiian, is calling for a new era of Democratic leadership. In his ad he says it’s easy to blame Trump and Republicans for the problem, but Democrats are also to blame because of ties to the corporate establishment. The end of his ad is in the Hawaiian language.

Utah’s James Singer, Navajo, is also running on a platform focused on millennial values.

Then there’s Alaska

Alaska politics run on a different track. Four years ago, Bryron Mallott, Tlingit, was the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor. But he left the ticket (with the party’s blessing) and he joined the independent ticket of Bill Walker. They won and four years many expected a repeat path, Republicans versus an independent and a Democrat.

But former U.S. Senator Mark Begich tossed his hat into the ring shortly before the filing period ended. So, Alaska voters will have a three-way choice among a Republican, still to be determined, Begich, and the independent Walker.

There is an additional twist: Begich’s running mate is Debra Call, Dena’ina Athabascan, and a member of the Knik Tribal Council and the Cook Inlet Tribal Councils.


Sharice Davids, a former MMA fighter and White House fellow, won the Democratic nomination in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District in Tuesday’s [8/7/2018] primary, setting up a November matchup with GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder in a swing district.

Davids has a chance at becoming one of the first ever Native American women to serve in Congress, alongside Deb Haaland, who won the primary in New Mexico’s 1st District earlier this year and is almost assured a victory in November. Davids would also become one of the only openly lesbian members of Congress.

She defeated progressive labor lawyer Brent Welder, who had the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and history teacher Tom Niermann, a relative moderate with the backing of local elected officials, to win the primary.


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