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Posts published in September 2015

Obama in Alaska

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President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska was inspiring. I eagerly watched everything I could see online: The official restoration of the name Denali, his powerful words on the climate, his visits to Resurrection Bay, and his interaction with Alaska’s Native communities. I especially loved the Yup’ik dancing (and the president showing his moves).

But there is one story that’s missing from the national accounts of the president’s visit: the role of tribes in determining Alaska’s future. The president himself referred to this debate in several ways. The first mention was in his statement to tribal leaders when he said: “My administration also is taking new action to make sure that Alaska Natives have direct input into the management of Chinook salmon stocks, something that has been of great concern here.” Then a few sentences later he promised to follow up on “everything from voting rights to land trusts.”

Those last two words are the story that needs to be told. The president’s language was a bit off. It’s not land trusts, but land into trust. This issue goes far beyond the status of land; it’s about the nature of sovereignty in Alaska. It’s complicated but basically there are two competing narratives that need to be resolved into a single story.

One version says that tribes ceased to exist when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (or ANCSA) became law in 1971. This story says that Alaska is the primary vehicle for all government in Alaska. The state sets the rules for education, law enforcement, land use, etc., etc.

But there is another reading of this history. This narrative says ANCSA was primarily a land settlement act. It did create a different structure, such as establishing Native corporations, but it did not end the right of Native people to determine their own future.

This second story arc began shortly after ANCSA. As a Native American Rights Fund attorney Robert Anderson said in 1973: “….our work in Alaska is really on the cutting edge of Indian Law. We are establishing for essentially two hundred tribes, that they are recognized on the same level as those in the lower forty-eight (states) and that they have all the powers and authority.”

That story has multiple chapters that include the recognition of those tribes by the federal government, the push for Native hunting and fishing rights as well as the management of fish and game, law enforcement, and the most recent episode, a debate about land into trust. It’s this last issue that’s hot right now and worth a state and national conversation.

A few days before the president’s visit, Alaska’s new governor pursued an appeal that would prevent the Interior Department from taking land into trust, thus creating “Indian Country.”

The case involves Native villages Akiachak, Chalkyitsik, Chilkoot Indian Association, the tribe in Haines, and Tuluksak. These tribes seek to govern on issues ranging from law enforcement to zoning. The same powers held by other tribes. Indeed, the recognition (and expansion) of tribal authority was one of the main recommendations by the federal Indian Law and Order Commission, a bipartisan presidential and congressional task force.

But that’s unacceptable to Alaska. Simply put: The State wants to block tribal sovereignty.

As the state itself said:

“When the federal government takes land into trust, it holds it for the benefit of an individual Alaska Native or a Tribe. It is the federal government’s position that this land becomes Indian country—a legal status that can be likened to an Indian reservation. Currently, Alaska has only one reservation—the Metlakatla Indian Community’s reservation on the Annette Islands Reserve. Indian reservations are generally exempt from state jurisdiction, including taxation, except when Congress specifically authorizes such jurisdiction.

“If lands are put into trust in Alaska, the exact scope of federal, state, and tribal powers on trust lands would be played out as specific factual scenarios develop. Alaska would retain some civil and criminal powers over trust lands because Alaska is a P.L. 280 state. But generally, the federal government has the power to manage tribal and individual land that it holds in trust. The federal government will potentially have powers to approve and cancel leases of tribal trust land; as well as to govern the leasing of mineral resources (including oil and gas), regulate certain fishing activities, manage timber resources, issue grazing permits, and deal with certain water rights and irrigation matters on trust land. And Tribes have jurisdiction over civil and regulatory matters occurring on trust land. Gaming can occur on certain trust land in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

This is twisted. The state fears tribal authority. Then, this is not a new position. The one constant theme from the past four decades is that Alaska favors litigation over negotiation. And, when Alaska Natives win, the state appeals until every avenue is exhausted. This is a tired approach.

Indeed, since the Interior Department announced rules in December 2014 the state hasn’t had a formal consultation process about lands into trust, held public hearings or even set up informal town halls. This was the ideal time for a conversation about the future. (The state says it’s still talking. That’s rich. While we’re suing you, let’s negotiate, ok?)

What’s particularly disappointing about this chapter is that the new governor, Bill Walker, promised a different ending. I had a conversation with him during a public forum at the University of Alaska Anchorage last August where he said tribal-state relations would improve. And that’s been mostly true. The governor has been fantastic on many issues,especially the expansion of Medicaid. But on this big one, the future of tribes in Alaska, well, it’s back to court.

This is the story that the rest of the country needs to hear.

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. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

First take

Parts of the Northwest finally have been getting some rain; in our neighborhood, some amounts - no more than moderate, but we'll take what we can get - have fallen. But not everywhere has been so blessed, and a good deal of the region has remained bone dry. So when the Washington Department of Ecology send out a warning-styled note about the possibility of dist storms, it merited some attention. The image here comes from just two year ago, in eastern Washington. Here's some of what Ecology said: "In 2013, three exceptional storms in Kennewick created high winds and excessive amounts of blowing dust. During these storms, Kennewick’s air pollution levels exceeded the national air quality standard. The Washington Department of Ecology has developed a report showing the dust storms were uncontrollable events. Ecology will submit the report to the Environmental Protection Agency and ask to exclude the high-pollution levels from calculations used to determine if the area exceeded standards." - rs

First take

Our writer Barrett Rainey sent this in this morning - the updated world population clock from the Bureau of the Census, which has all sorts of interesting data. You can get a sense of it with the graphic here; the actual thing is at the Census site. Scanning through, plenty of points of interest, including how close India is getting to overtaking China as the most populous country. And the reminder that Canada is the top recipient of our exports. - rs

When friends compete

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There’s an old political saying that when asked to choose between two good friends running for the same office, the answer is, “I’m with my friend.” That means you’re not about to choose, nor are you going to say who you might opt for in the privacy of the balloting booth.

One might even contribute the same amount of money to each campaign. Such a stance risks the loss of both because they’d rather that you choose, but the smart and prudent person stays neutral.

If Bruce Reed is anything, he is smart and prudent. The Coeur d’Alene native and 1978 Coeur d’Alene High graduate went onto Princeton, graduating with honors in 1982, thence onto Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, and obtained an MA in English Literature. Despite being a rather quiet and unassuming person his classmates could tell he was destined for good things.

A family friend, Tony Stewart, a professor at North Idaho College for many years, and a co-founder along with Bruce’s parents, attorney Scott Reed and State Senator Mary Lou Reed, of north Idaho’s Human Rights Foundation, would play tennis with the younger Reed. If Stewart was the least bit late he would find Reed patiently waiting but also always reading a book.

Early in his public career Reed encountered presidential politics as his services were sought by two young and intelligent senators, Tennessee’s Al Gore and Delaware’s Joe Biden. Reed had gone to work for Gore as a speechwriter in 1985.

As the 1988 election drew closer Biden asked Reed to work for his 1988 presidential bid. Reed was astute enough to ask Gore whether he planned to run. When told by Gore that he was going to run Reed politely declined Biden’s offer without burning any bridges and did work on Gore’s 1988 campaign.

In an amicable parting he left Gore in 1989 to work for the Democratic Leadership Group in 1990, where his talents and ability soon caught the eye of young Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. He joined Clinton’s successful campaign for the presidency in 1992 and when Clinton won Reed went to work first as a deputy domestic policy advisor, and two years later as the chief domestic policy advisor.

His relationship with both Clinton and Gore remained strong and in 2000 he left the White House for two months to help Gore with his debate preparation. Despite being close to the seat of power one seldom saw Reed quoted. He preferred to remain in the background and did not play the game of being a “high placed source” for the media.

When 2008 rolled around Reed’s loyalty to the Clintons’ trumped all others and he supported Hillary’s bid for the presidency. Once elected president, Illinois Senator Barack Obama let bygones be bygones and named Reed to be the executive director of the Simpson/Bowles Commission, a group of distinguished elected officials as well as private sector folks charged with restoring fiscal sanity to a budget process gone awry and with curbing excessive federal spending.

Reed, by all accounts, did a masterful job of helping hammer out a decent, doable set of compromises that could, if adopted by Congress, have met the challenge the commission was given. Following this Reed accepted an invitation from old friend Joe Biden, now Obama’s vice president, to become Biden’s chief of staff, which he did for two years.

Reed has many talents, one of which is to look down the road and over the horizon. It is fair to speculate that unlike many in the political game Reed saw the real possibility of being caught in the middle between friends with Mrs. Clinton again making a bid and his friend and current employer, the vice president, also deciding to run.

Reed’s answer, like the old political saying, is not to choose between friends. On November 13th, 2013, he announced he and his equally talented wife, Bonnie (Also a Coeur d’Alene High graduate), were leaving the nation’s capitol for Santa Monica where he would be the president of the Ely and Edythe Broad Foundation whose primary purpose is to facilitate meaningful reform in public education.

It was a wise move by a loyal soldier. My personal preference would have been for him to leave his job with Biden to run for the Democratic presidential nomination himself. At 55 years of age he’s at the right age to take on the rigors of the office. It’s time for the baby boomer generation to step aside and pass the torch to the next generation. Mrs. Clinton, Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden - all will be in their 70’s should they take the oath in Janaury of 2017. Candidly, that’s just too damn old.

First take

If I took a job at a burger joint, and then discovered I was allergic to grease, the next moral and ethical step would be clear. It wouldn't have to do with the employer: Grease is part and parcel of that kind of business, there's really no getting around it. No, the rational next step would be for me to quit. If I can't do the job, then I owe it to the employer - and, hell, even to myself - to acknowledge as much and resign. Same applies to Kim Davis. She is the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk whose office dispenses marriage licenses but who has refused to provide such licenses to same-sex couples, the United State Supreme Court notwithstanding. She says that she cannot, that it is "a Heaven or Hell decision." And added, "I never sought to be in this position, and I would much rather not have been placed in this position.” The first is her opinion, no doubt deeply held to the point that she feels she cannot violate it. Fair enough. The second contention is not true, however: She sought to become county clerk; she was not forced into it. The job of the county clerk (and county clerk jobs coast to coast are very tightly circumscribed by law and rule) specifically includes provision of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This is not an insoluable equation: If she feels she cannot do the job, then she ought to quit the job. Right away. - rs (photo by Tom Ventura)

GOP and IPO tickets

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The GOP’s state office dry spell makes this summers weather look like a monsoon. Nonetheless, the GOP is still considered the opposition party in Oregon. Even though it hasn’t put up much opposition in statewide races in the last 10 years. In fact, it’s been 30 years since there has been a Republican Governor.

But could the Democratic favorites be challenged in statewide races this year? Possibly, but it may not be the GOP that presents the Democrats biggest challenges.

For Governor, the only GOP candidates who have announced an intent to run for State offices are Dr. Bud Pierce a medical doctor who has never held elective office who has announced for Governor. And Jeffrey Gudman, a Lake Oswego city councilor who announced his interest for the office of State Treasurer and has started raising money(though less than $10,000 so far).

No Republican has announced their candidacies for Secretary of State or Attorney General. And, given the last several election cycles, serious GOP candidates may be hard to come by given the dominance of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile rumor has it that Sen. Betsy Johnson (For Governor) and Bend City Council person/ former State Senator/CPA / Lottery Commissioner Chris Telfer (For Treasurer) could end up at the top of the ticket for the new major Party – Independent Party of Oregon. A moderate experienced current State Democratic Senator and a moderate experienced former Republican State Senator is an impressive ticket.

Ms. Telfer has already registered as an IPO member so doesn’t have to announce her candidacy until March, 2016. However, Sen. Johnson is (as far as I know) still a registered Democrat. She would have to register with the IPO by September 10th to be eligible for the IPO nomination so she needs to make a decision in the next two weeks. If she does re-register as an Independent it would be a pretty good indication that she is going to seek the IPO nod for Governor. Though she could re-register but not announce her intent until later. But de-registering from the Democratic Party is a serious matter. You don’t leave fight club.

Another possible sign that Sen. Johnson is going to run as an Independent would be Ms. Telfer’s announcement of her candidacy for Treasurer. Having Johnson and Telfer at the top of the IPO ticket would provide more gravitas to the IPO nomination so would benefit both. And since it would be an historical event, and both Ms. Telfer and Sen. Johnson have a plenty of history here in Oregon to mine, an IPO ticket of Johnson/Telfer should provide the media with a lot of story lines and content. Because frankly, there is little GOP news to cover and little DPO intrigue (Except in the Secretary of State race, which according to The Oregonian Editorial Board is shaping up as a race involving Valdemort, Darth Vadar and Marie Antoinette.

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First take

I last visited Alaska almost exactly 30 years ago, and drove with a friend from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Along the way we came to the park that included Alaska's, and the United States', highest peak. It was commonly referred to locally as Mount Denali. (At the time I had for some reason a hard time remembering the name.) The name came from a native phrase roughly meaning The Great One, and Alaskans seemed to like that, and it took on currency from the time the state began so referring to it years before I visited. Alaskans have since. Former Governor Sarah Palin referred to the mountain as Denali when she delivered her departure speech. So President Barack Obama's declaration in Alaska this week that the federal government now considers it to be "Mount Denali" should settle pretty easily, even if the peak formerly known as Mount McKinley - named for the 25th president, William McKinley, who never visited Alaska - is now a cause taken up by Ohio Republicans, whose state was the long-ago president's home. "Disrespectful," said one member of Congress. But you suspect that the move toward respect for the state and its natives are more likely to prevail. - rs