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Posts published in April 2017

Extraction, waste, no jobs

trahant

A couple of years ago a tribal leader showed me an abandoned lumber mill. The company promised jobs. And, for a time, for a couple of decades, there were those jobs. But after the resource was consumed, the mill closed, the company disappeared, and the shell of the enterprise remains today.

This same story could be told in tribal communities across North America. Sometimes the resource was timber. Other times gas and oil. Or coal.

The lucky communities were left with a small toxic dump site. More often there was major cleanup work required after (plus a few more jobs). And in the worst case scenario, a Superfund site was left behind requiring government supervision and a major cleanup.

But all along, and in each case, the accompanying idea was that jobs would be a part of the deal.

There would be construction jobs to build the mine, pipeline, or processing plant. Then there would be truck driving jobs moving materials. A few executive jobs (especially in public and community relations) and, of course, the eventual supervision of the cleanup (especially if the tribal government had its own environmental protection agency.)

That was the deal. But it’s one that is no longer true. Now the resource is extracted, pipelines are built, and toxic waste is left behind … while the promised jobs are limited to the initial construction jobs.

The renewed effort to build the Keystone XL pipeline is a classic example of this shift. When President Donald J. Trump signed the executive order to approve the project he promised “thousands of jobs.” That’s true enough for the construction phase, but only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline, according to the State Department report.

Keystone, at least, is prospective jobs. New ones. But the bigger challenge for the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation and some thirty tribes with coal reserves or power plants is that new deal for resource-based plants and extraction does not create as many jobs.

The numbers are stark.

The U.S. Energy and Employment Outlook 2017 shows that electricity from coal declined 53 percent between 2006 and 2016. Over that same period, electricity from natural gas increased by 33 percent and from solar by 5,000 percent.

Coal is still a major source of energy. But it's in decline. Coal and natural now gas add up to two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S. And that’s expected to remain so until at least 2040 when the market share declines to a little more than half.

But because it's a market that's going down it means that tribes that develop coal will not share in the rewards of either major profits or in a spike in jobs.

The only hope for this shrinking industry is to export the coal to other countries (something that will be extremely difficult because so many other nations have already agreed to the Paris climate targets). As Clark Williams-Derry has reported for the Sightline Institute:

“Robust, sustainable Asian coal markets were never a realistic hope for US coal exporters: the transportation costs were too high, the competition too fierce, and the demand too unstable. So the coal industry’s PR flacks may continue to spin tales about endless riches in the Asian coal market, the financials are telling a much more sobering story: that the coal export pipe dream continues to fade away, leaving a bad hangover on the coal industry’s balance sheets and a lingering bad taste in the mouths of coal investors and executives alike.”

On top of all that, Derry-Williams points out that China’s coal consumption has fallen for three consecutive years.

And the international context is that coal is the most polluting of the three types of fossil fuels. More than 80 percent of the world's known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to meet global warming targets.

There are jobs in the energy field, but, as the Department of Energy report puts it: “Employment in electric power generation now totals 860,869 … (and) the number of jobs is projected to grow by another 7 percent but the majority will be in construction to build and install new renewable energy capacity.”

The green economy is taking over. (Trump or no Trump.)

The extractive economy (like the farm economy a generation ago) reached its peak, probably back in 2014. Oil and gas employed 514,000 people year. Today it’s 388,000. Coal and extraction related jobs peaked at 90,000 and now that number is about 53,000.

Then Indian Country’s development of coal (or not) has been the story so far in the Trump era.

Last month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a memorandum lifting restrictions on federal coal leasing. He said the “war on coal is over.” Then he quoted Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying, “there are no jobs like coal jobs.”

A day later the Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed suit. The tribe said the Interior Department did not consult it prior to lifting the restrictions. “It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne’s trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our Nation or evaluating the impacts to our Reservation and our residents,” Northern Cheyenne Tribe president L. Jace Killsback said in a news release. There are 426 million tons of coal located near the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation at the Decker and Spring Creek mines.

Meanwhile in Alaska, another coal project was put to rest in a tribal community. The village of Tyonek has been opposed to the Chuitna Coal Project. (Previously: Mother of the Earth returns to Tyonek) After a decade of planning, PacRim Coal suspended the project last month because an investor backed out. The project could be brought back to life. But that's not likely. Because coal is a losing bet for any investor.

According to Alaska Public Media that meant a joyful celebration in Tyonek. The president of the village Native Council, Arthur Stanifer said, “What it means for us is our fish will continue to be here for future generations, also our wildlife, like the bears and the moose and the other animals will be secure and they’ll be here. They’ll have a safe place to be.”

But what of the jobs? That’s the hard part. The prospects for extraction-related jobs are about to be hit by even more disruptive forces. For example in the oil fields of North Dakota one of the great paying jobs is truck driving. Moving material back and forth. But already in Europe companies are experimenting and will soon begin the shift to self-driving vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before that trend takes over because it fits the model of efficient capitalism. Self-driving trucks don’t need rest breaks, consume less fuel, and fewer accidents. That same disruption of automation is occurring across the employment spectrum. Jobs that can be done by machines, will be.

So if jobs are no longer part of the equation, does natural resource extraction benefit tribal communities?

The answer ought to include a plan where the United States government and tribes to work together to replace these jobs: Retrain workers and invest in the energy sector that’s growing, renewable fuels. But that’s not likely to happen in Trump Era.

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

A real governor’s race

carlson

A few years from now political scientists and historians may look back on Idaho’s 2018 gubernatorial election as one of the most significant, game-changing elections since Cecil Andrus knocked off
Republican incumbent Governor Don Samuelson in 1970.

It will mark 24 years of the Republican hold on the governor’s chair following the 24 years before that of Democratic hegemony under Cecil Andrus, John Evans and Andrus again. Andrus’ first election, incidentally, ended another 24 year period of Republican rule.

Might there be a pattern emerging here?

For now, though, virtually all political pundits in Idaho already concede whoever wins the GOP primary will be the next governor of Idaho. The primary promises to be one of the more spirited contests in years.

Making it especially interesting is the expected entry of Tea Party darling and Freedom Caucus conservative member of Congress, Raul Labrador, who represents Idaho’s first congressional district. He is expected to announce around June 1st and may be crowned as the “favorite” because of name id and his affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).

Incidentally, conventional wisdom speculates that former state senator Russ Fulcher, who gave Governor C. L.“Butch” Otter such a tough run for his money before narrowly losing in the 2014 primary, is just a place-holder for Labrador. Think otherwise. Fulcher ran a smart 2014 campaign, has learned from his loss and is no placeholder for anyone.

Labrador will be surrendering his safe seat to whomever wins the GOP primary here also, with conventional wisdom establishing former Idaho
Attorney General and Lt. Governor David Leroy as the early favorite.

The other complicating factor is the entry of developer Dr. Tommy Ahlquist. A multi-millionaire with friends on both sides of the political aisle, he is traveling around the state attending Lincoln Day dinners and calling the political influentials in each county to introduce himself and make his pitch.

He has one of those rare political gifts, much like Cecil Andrus has and George Hansen had - the ability to listen carefully to what a constituent is saying and do so in a manner that leaves the constituent feeling at that moment he or she is the most important person in the world. There’s no looking over the constituent’s shoulder to see if there is someone more important in the room.

Add to that his piercing blue eyes and the message is clear - he’s smart, hard-working and wealthy. He also does his homework. His “elevator speech” is short and sweet. He is campaigning on job creation, tax reform and the state taking the lead on health care reform.

Asked about the sale of federal public lands a month ago he confessed he had not yet studied the issue but promised he would. Last week a Republican lobbyist told friends they’d heard the good doc discuss the issue and thought it was as knowledgeable and thoughtful as anything he’d heard.

So where does this leave Lt. Governor Brad Little? A year ago many had already bestowed the crown on his head. Today, many are revisiting that prediction. Writing off Little would be terribly premature, however. He has traipsed all over Idaho introducing
himself, displaying his thoughtfulness on the issues and his understanding of the state. It’s Idaho retail politics at its best.

Little knows he has to differentiate himself from Otter and start talking about his vision for Idaho’s future - and he must do so without appearing to be an ingrate. He also knows he has a solid base of support that will stick with him during the primary and he will be able to raise plenty of money to finance a first-rate campaign.

Common political sense says he ought to be urging four-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to get into the race, also, which in theory would take away more from his challengers than from him.

Predictions months ahead of the 2018 G OP primary are always risky especially when there are more than three candidates in a race. Right now, though, I’d still bet that when the smoke clears Brad Little will be the GOP nominee.

Hawks take charge

mckee

Dozens of civilians, including more than 20 small children, living in the rebel held Idlib province of northern Syria, were killed by poisonous gasses – perhaps sarin – claimed to have been delivered in a Syrian air strike on the command of Bashar al Assad. The entire world is appalled, with a groundswell of outrage erupting from all quarters.

The immediate reaction of the President of the United States was to blame Barack Obama. Secretary of State Tillerson answered press inquiries with a terse “No Comment.” The only adult response came from former governor Nikki Haley, now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley, whom many thought was in way over her head, took to the floor of the General Assembly to assail the perpetrators of the heinous act, to lambaste the Russians for their probable roll in it, and to demand a full international investigation. There was a plausible if improbable claim by Russia, Iran and Syria that the gas was in rebel storehouses, set off accidently by the conventional air attack. A draft resolution, joined by Britain and France, called for a full investigation by the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the proper United Nations body charged with responsibility for such outrages.

However, without waiting for any action by the U.N., without conferring or consulting with any of our allies, without conferring with any Congressional leaders, and without any confirming evidence on the facts surrounding the tragedy to make sure we had it right, President Trump did an abrupt U-turn from an unbroken chain of campaign promises and previously declared statements of policy, and ordered a retaliatory airstrike on a Syrian airbase near Damascus. It is reported that he staffed the mission with General McMasters and Secretary Mattis but not Secretary Tillerson, indicating that consideration was given only to a military response; a diplomatic solution was not even considered.

That the attack might violate international law, be contrary to the United Nations Charter to which we are a signatory, was without authorization of Congress, and was contrary to the repeated promises made during his campaign and the first three months of his term, apparently were of no concern to the White House and its cabal of advisers.

Cost of the attack to the U.S. is close to $94 million. The unit cost of firing a Tomahawk missile from a naval resource is $1.59 million a pop, and we deployed two Navy destroyers into the Eastern Mediterranean to deliver 59 of them into Syria. Reported results include some aircraft shelters and military fortifications blown up, 17 aircraft destroyed, and some reparable damage to runways and tarmac. The airbase was back in operation within hours.

Five soldiers on the base were killed, including perhaps one Russian. Two stray missiles struck villages near the airbase, killing nine and wounding thirteen civilians, including women and at least four children.

When the news was announced, we started by exchanging high-fives and congratulating ourselves for a “proportionate” response. By Sunday morning, as the full extent of the action and the beginnings of the consequences that are going to flow started to sink in, more sobering thoughts began to surface.

Russia has cut the communications link with us in Syria that allowed the two countries to coordinate ground and air operations to avoid firing upon each other. Future operations in country will be immeasurably more dangerous until and unless this communications link is restored. No one knows yet what reaction our soldiers in Syria will encounter from individual Syrian soldiers for the U.S. airstrike – if any. The irony of the death of innocent children being included in as part of an appropriate response to the death of innocent children cannot be explained – so it is simply being overlooked; it is not being mentioned. It is uncertain what Trump’s policy is now – was this strike a one-off, not to be repeated, or the start of a new policy to be put into place in the Middle East? Secretary Tillerson says it’s nothing new, but Trump talks about “being flexible.” It is not clear what this means.

One thing is certain: our foreign policy position worldwide, our relations with Russia, our standing the Middle East, and our position with our allies will not be the same. Obama’s developing policy of cooperation and conciliation has gone out the window. There is no question that the sudden attack on Syria sent a strong message around the world to our allies and foes alike – but it is not at all certain exactly what that message was. A prominent Senator on a morning talk show characterized it as a loud “Bleep you!” to anybody who opposes us.

The hawks are back in charge and are serving notice that the U.S. is once again the world’s top cop. And judge. And jury. And executioner.

How could it get any better?

Theft of a nation

rainey

“That’s all I can stands.
I can stands no more.”

Popeye, Philosopher

For several weeks, I’ve avoided the “elephant in the room.” I’ve tried to opine about - and have fun with - a number of subjects without referring directly or indirectly to our interim President. With his name and likeness everywhere, and with his massively covered, lying bombast filling the media, it’s been difficult.

But, as in the words of the spinach eating philosopher cited above - and with precisely that feeling - “I can stands no more.”

For some weeks following the 2016 election, I tried to put a best face on the situation. I kidded myself that, sooner or later, wise and responsible heads would exercise both wisdom and responsibility to straighten out the mess and return the troll to his rightful place under the nearest bridge. They haven’t. And kidding myself is no longer providing effective mental relief.

Following the election, for many political watchers, conventional wisdom was a fear that someone in the Oval Office, with not a day of political experience, would screw up working the machinery of the job. That was quickly followed by a second widely held belief he would commit a series of major mistakes which would draw some of the Republican pros to his side to help him get a handle on things.

Neither has happened.

In the first instance, with rare exception, nearly every Trump decision made and action taken were previewed in the presidential campaign. What he’s done, most often, is what he said he’d do. Clumsy though he may be. But the executive orders, what few policy decisions there have been, appointments made and actions taken - most were foretold. The feared ignorance has been, for the most part, actions of someone with absolute determination to have his own way, regardless of both laws to the contrary and unintended outcomes. Not ignorance.

In the second instance, GOPers who could bail him out have shunned the opportunity. Some have even tried to use his ignorance and elephant-sized ego for their own ends. Evidence of that was the near unanimous and speedy Republican confirmation of his cabinet full of misfits, crooks and self-serving billionaires. The most unfit bunch ever appointed to top positions of government authority in our national history.

Additional proof of using Trump for Republican self-service came when Mitch McConnell blew aside 240 years of bipartisanship, history and tradition to put Judge Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court. There was nothing so important in the Gorsuch nomination that it required the rupture of the system of judicial - and other - appointments in the conduct of the U.S. Senate. Nothing. Feeding his own oversized sense of self-worth, McConnell has fundamentally changed how our legislative system will function for all time if not corrected.

Being four score years for the first time, I’m not sure how much of my thinking these days is due to age or other factors like predisposition. But I’ve recently had this desperate feeling we’re losing our country. That factors which seem out of anyone’s control are destroying values and traditions we grew up with and have traditionally lived by.

Advancing technology, increased scientific knowledge, new experiences, changing climate and geographic variables combine to alter conditions around us all the time. But it feels like more than that. Foundations on which this nation has stood for 250 years seem in flux - seem in danger of decay or disillusion. Traditionally unchanging factors of national pride, loyalty, fidelity, trust, sympathy, citizenship, accomplishment seem less valued and often ignored in the relationship between individuals and our current governance.

In fact, our system of government actually seems to have changed from representative to authoritarian. The idea that we elect others to represent us in matters of the conduct of state seems to have devolved into us becoming something to be ignored and “represented” only the second Tuesday in November.

This is not a time when we can afford a megalomaniac in the front office as the Syrian bombing proves. We do not want - and can’t afford - sycophants who enable an egomaniacal leader to carry out his own fantasies without defiance.

It’s been 100 days, give or take. We’re already launching missiles against another country without Constitutional authority, actively treating climate change - which can end civilization - as though it were a parlor game, denying food and shelter to millions in our nation deemed unworthy of care, threatening the quality of air, water and other resources necessary for life on this planet, denying rights of citizenship to minorities guaranteed those benefits, rewriting tax policies to reward billionaires for simply being rich, threatening the foundation of our nation’s public education system, denying national entry to diverse peoples whose ancestors built this country, using the taxpayer as a family’s personal piggy bank and more.

This is not the country I grew up in. It’s becoming one I don’t know and am growing increasingly uncomfortable living in. And those who have the power to change it seem to have no interest in doing so.

Idaho Briefing – April 10

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for March 20. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

With the legislature over, it’s time for bill signings and vetoes – some of each – and, usually, spring. That last is taking its time, as people in some places wait for flood waters to abate.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter last week plowed through the paperwork following completion of this year’s legislative session, signing dozens of bills and vetoing a few.

In an unusual public statement on April 3, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little asked Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter to sign rather than veto a bill which cleared the legislature, repealing the state’s sales tax on groceries.

Boise Mayor David Bieter and Garden City Mayor John Evans on April 6 ordered the closure of most of the Greenbelt bike and pedestrian path due to dangerous flood conditions on the Boise River. The announcement comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement of the pathway’s closure in the City of Eagle.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is approving an Idaho Power Company application to slightly reduce the rider customers pay to fund demand-side management (DSM) programs from the current 4 percent of monthly billed amounts to 3.75 percent. The company asked for an effective date of June 1, but the commission made the increase effective April 1.

PHOTO Senator Jim Risch prepares to discuss Syria on camera. (photo/Office of Senator Risch)

Water Digest – April 10

Water rights weekly report for March 20. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

A group of water users in Idaho’s Wood River Valley want the state to more tightly regulate junior groundwater users in their area, saying their surface water rights may be impacted.

The city of Thiruvananthapuram in India has responded to weakening water leels at the Peppara dam, a key source of supply, by moving to curtail water use in the city.

Alamosa city in Colorado has for years obtained much of its water supply through groundwater, via a series of wells in the Rio Grande Basin. New regulations from state Colorado state engineer, however, may restrict the city’s activities in that area, in the wake of water court decisions indicating that the city and other groundwater users have had an effect on many surface wastger rights holders. In response, Alamosa is in the market for buying water rights from other parries.

Several dozen protesters collected on April 2 near Crestline in southern California to argue against water draws by Nestlé Waters North America of mountain water supplies.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s April 2017 Total Water Supply Available (TWSA) forecast for the Yakima Basin indicates that the water supply will fully satisfy senior and junior water rights this irrigation season.

Second place heat

stapiluslogo1

Surely, candidates for lieutenant governor of Idaho have never, ever, materialized this early.

Rarely have there been so many of them. And there could be more. Probably will be.

And there are larger, structural, even physics reasons.

The last time the office was seriously competitive was in 2002, not long after state Senator Jack Riggs had been appointed to it (upon the departure of a predecessor named C.L. “Butch Otter, who had gone off to the U.S. House). There were competitive primaries in both parties, but the Republican was notably crowded, including not only the incumbent but two state legislators, Celia Gould and Jim Risch, and former gubernatorial candidate Larry Eastland, plus two other little-knowns. The contest was unpredictable enough that the winner, Risch (getting his effective start here toward the Senate), won with just 34.6 percent of the vote.

Before that, although you could point to several reasonably competitive general elections back in the 70s and 80s, you have to go back generations to find the last really competitive primary for the job, or a really large field of contestants.

But so far this year - with the filing deadline close to a year away - we’ve seen entries (apparently at least) into the race from state Senator Marv Hagedorn of Meridian and state Representative Kelley Packer of McCammon and former legislator Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls. State Republican Party chair Steve Yates may also be in.

Why all the heavy interest?

The big reason is that “light guv” is an open seat this time, since incumbent Brad Little is running for governor (in another multi-contender battle). Incumbents are notoriously hard to take out - few have in recent decades in Idaho - open positions offer the best path upward.

And there’s another reason for the interest: Ambitions (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense) get bottled up in places like Idaho, where one party dominates the offices and the office-holders decide to stay around for long periods of time. In Congress, Senator Mike Crapo has been there since 1998, Senator Risch since 2008, Representative Mike Simpson since 1998 and youngster Raul Labrador since 2010. Governor Otter is wrapping up 12 years in the job; by the time of the 2018 election, Little will have been at his post for just under a decade.

If you’re looking to move up, where do you go? Mostly, you wait for the rare opportunity of an opening.

Then too, the track record for upward mobility among lieutenants governor has been improving. Until the last couple of decades, most LGs topped out in that office (the main exception being John Evans, who succeeded to the governorship; Phil Batt went on to election as governor but only years after departing as lieutenant.) More recently the picture has changed. Incumbent Little is now a strong contender for governor. His predecessor, Risch, wound up in both the governor’s office and the Senate. The last LG before him, Otter, wound up in the U.S. House and the governorship.

Looking ahead to the contest, columnist Chuck Malloy was inclined to suggest, “With Yates in, it’s game over. He wins.” Personally, I wouldn’t throw any betting money down just yet. Multi-candidate races can get awfully unpredictable, especially over the course of long campaigns. And the high pressure surrounding those few open seats can add to the number of open questions.

Never underestimate the power of bottled energy when just enough heat is applied.

She represents

trahant

Former Montana State Sen. Carol Juneau once said that she considered state office because that’s where she could make a difference. (She is a member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Tribe but was living in the Blackfeet Nation). The year was 1998.

She was first appointed to the legislature to replace a man who left office to take up a seat on the Blackfeet Tribal Council and then she became one of two Native American members of the Montana House of Representatives. In February of 1999 she made the case to the House Democratic Caucus that Montana’s American Indians ought to have better representation, because tribal people “are citizens of the state of Montana, the same as any other citizens. I’d like to see that Indian people and Indian tribes in Montana aren’t left outside of everything.”

Today Native Montanans are not left out.

The state has the most Native Americans elected as legislators in the country, three members of the Senate and six members of the House. More than that: Montana has elected more women than any other state: Four of the nine legislators.

And though she is not currently in office, Denise Juneau (Carol’s daughter) was the only Native American woman to ever win a state constitutional office, she served two terms as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, as well as a congressional candidate.

The Montana story has a national application, too. A higher percentage of Native American women serve in state legislatures than do women nationally.

Women make up about 25 percent of state legislatures. But a little more than 40 percent of all American Indian and Alaska Native legislators are female. The numbers break down this way: There are at least 67 Native American legislators out of 7,383 seats in 50 states or nearly one percent. (If you think that’s bad: Congress only has Native representation pegged at one-third of one percent.) Of those 67 seats, at least 25 of them are held by Native American women. So another way to look at the data: There are 1,800 legislative seats held by women; that works out to a Native representation of 1.4 percent.

There is still a long way to go to reach parity with the population, but it’s much better than just about any other category in the body politic. For example: A recent report by the Bureau of Indian Affairs shows more than 570 elected tribal leaders and, in that group, just under 25 percent are women.

The Native delegation in Minnesota is eighty percent female; its own caucus. (You could even argue that women are 100 percent of the delegation because the other tribal member in the legislature, Republican Rep. Steve Green, is White Earth Ojibwe, but he rarely champions or mentions tribal issues.)

A recent article in the Minnesota Post was headlined, “Something new for the Minnesota Legislature: A caucus of first Minnesotans.” Rep. Susan Allen, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, was first elected in a special election. “Before Allen was elected in 2012, only nine legislators in state history who self-identified as American Indian served in the Legislature — all men — and most of them were elected back when Minnesota was still considered a territory,” the Post said.

Allen told the Post: “You can be a part of an institution that is predominantly white and not have to lose your identity. I can be here without having to lose my identity to do it, and previous generations, I don’t think they had that.”

The Post explained several reasons why it’s so important for a legislature to hear from Native American legislators and for those elected representatives to keep an eye out for bills that impact the Native community.

One anecdote in particular was powerful. The Post said Rep. Mary Kunesh-Poden, a Standing Rock descendent, was giving American Indian students a tour of the Capitol. She could see they were overwhelmed. “I said, come back again and again and bring other Natives to the Capitol so that you’re not nervous, so that you’re not intimidated, so that some day you’ll be sitting in this office doing the work that we’re doing,” she said in the Post. “You could almost see the light bulb go off in their head: I could do this?”

Arizona is another state where most of the Native delegation — three out of four — are women. This fits Arizona. Its legislature is third in the nation for the highest percentage of women at nearly 40 percent.

New Mexico is the only state where the male-female balance is 50/50. And five states, Idaho, Kansas, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming, have only a woman representing Native Americans in the legislature. Conversely, Colorado, North Carolina, and North Dakota have only one Native American man serving in the legislature. Alaska (88 percent) and Oklahoma (86 percent) are primarily represented by men. South Dakota has three American Indian men in the legislature and no women.

Idaho’s Rep. Paulette Jordan, Couer d’Alene, is not only the only Native American in the legislature, she’s the only Democrat elected north of Boise. She told the Spokane Spokesman Review: “How can we continue to fight for balance in the state, with the overwhelming odds?That’s part of the beauty of our connection to our ancestors. We know that they’re always walking with us, guiding us and helping us in this lifetime … the fact that we’re still here – we still have the beauty, the inner identity, our connection to everything, to the land, to the earth itself, to our relatives both tribal and non-tribal alike.”

Nearly all of the Native American women who serve in state legislatures are Democrats. 21 out of 25. But it's also worth mentioning that two of those Republican women are in leadership in Alaska and Hawaii. (Previously: Native Republicans open up a channel for discourse about Indian Country's issues.)

I don’t have the total numbers for Native Americans elected at the city and county level. Yet. (Early drafts of spreadsheets are here and here. Please do let me know who should be on these lists.)

But this much is clear: Debora Juarez, Blackfeet, currently represents more citizens than any Native woman in America (more than 90,000 people live in her North Seattle district). She was elected to Seattle’s City Council in November of 2015. In an interview with the Tacoma Art Museum she talked about her idea about the role of women: “While men were in charge of external power, women had interior, spiritual, and domestic power. They were the centers of the community.” That’s exactly how she’s approached her job on the council. She’s argued for community services from sidewalks to child car. On Juarez’ blog she reports: “In this budget I advocated for and secured $4.4 million in targeted investments in our community including improvements in human services, construction of sidewalks, and neighborhood planning initiatives. Ultimately, I achieved a 94% success rate for my specific District 5 budget priorities.”

Denise Juneau, of course, is the only Native American woman to hold statewide office (twice). She actually earned thousands of more votes from Montanans than did Barack Obama in 2012. (Previously: Denise Juneau’s eight years of promise.) She had a remarkable run even though last year fell short of being the first Native woman to ever win a seat in Congress.
In addition to Juneau, at least seven Native American women have run for Congress starting in 1988. Jeanne Givens, a Couer d’Alene tribal member in Idaho was the first. Then Ada Deer, Menominee, in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free, Choctaw, in Oklahoma, and Diane Benson, Tlingit, in Alaska, Three Native women have run in Arizona: Mary Kim Titla, White Mountain Apache, Arizona Rep. Wenona Benally, Navajo, and Victoria Steele, Seneca.

It’s so long past the time to erase that phrase, “ever” or for that matter, “the first.”

I suspect the 2018 elections will be a remarkable opportunity. It will be a referendum on President Donald J. Trump and his policies.

It’s also worth noting that Native American women have run for the vice presidency three times.

LaDonna Harris, Comanche, was on the ticket with Barry Commoner for the Citizen Party in 1980 (the year of Ronald Reagan’s landslide). This was Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders. The party highlighted the structural limits of the Democratic Party and blamed corporate America for the excess. The antidote was people power.

What’s interesting about the campaign now is that Commoner and Harris focused on environmental issues (long before the words global warming or climate change were in public discourse). Get this: The Citizens Party platform cited the role of science in managing complex environmental challenges.

“As a Comanche woman fighter, I’m proud to be a part of this party,” Harris said. “The traditions of my people have always held to the unity of the oppressed. That is why I want to show that we care about the problems of Chicanos, the Blacks, women, the elderly and the poor.”

Winona LaDuke, White Earth Ojibwe, joined Ralph Nader on the Green Party Ticket in 2000 and again in 2004. When LaDuke announced her candidacy she was asked whether a Native woman from rural Minnesota should even be considered? "I would argue yes," she said. "In fact, I would question the inverse. Can men of privilege ... who do not feel the impact of policies on forests, children or their ability to breast-feed children ... actually have the compassion to make policy that is reflective of the interests of others? At this point, I think not.”

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

Two decisions

carlson

Two decisions were made this past week that will have reverberations across Idaho. One was made in Pocatello. The other in Washington, D.C. Neither is easy to understand and a case can be made that the decisions were not necessary, that that they fall under the rubric “hope is not a strategy.”

The decision in Pocatello was made by Jeff Tingey, the athletic director at Idaho State, to force football coach Mike Kramer to announce his “retirement.” If he did not, Tingey would announce Kramer’s firing.

The forced retirement, at the start of spring football, fooled no one. To this observer it was a classless way to treat a coach who has brought respectability back to the ISU football program. And he did it while upping the student athletes grade point averages and class attendance.

Yes, he made the “mistake” of producing a winning team in four years, one year ahead of the five years he said it would take. In 2014, when ISU almost beat the league’s best, Eastern Washington’s Eagles, in their first league game, it was clear Kramer had achieved the unachievable.

That team went 8 and 4 and almost made the play-offs. Kramer was the toast of the town and the Big Sky coach of the year. The former high school coach at Colton, a bump on the road between Pullman and Lewiston, has turned three Big Sky programs around, starting with EWU in the mid-90s, then Montana State in the early 2000s, and then Idaho State.

As the 2015 season arrived, expectations on the campus, around town and among Bengal alumni soared exponentially.

Anyone who has watched a Kramer coached team knows the key to his offense is a smart quarterback with a quick read ability, a quick arm and an accurate throw whether short, mid-field or long. Unfortunately, Kramer had not been able to recruit his kind of quarterback for the following season.
To his credit, he did not blame his quarterback. Instead he deflected to himself the criticism. Tingey even rewarded Kramer for the break-out season with a contract extension. Kramer still had more to offer. He should have been given a vote of confidence for the coming season. He should have been allowed to retire gracefully at the end of next season assuming it was not consistent with his standard of success.

Bottom line is ISU will never have a better football coach than Mike Kramer.

Former ISU president Bud Davis once said the two most important decisions a university president makes are to hire or fire football and basketball coaches. He believed it was smart to hire a former head coach with a proven record rather than some hot shot phenom assistant. Jeff Tingey is going to find out just how much he should have stuck with a coach with a winning record.

The other “game changing” decision last week was made in Washington, D.C. One of the outfalls from the Freedom Caucus’ decision to vote nay on “TrumpCare” was a calling out by name the members of the Freedom Caucus, including Idaho’s First District congressman, Raul Labrador, who voted no and would not support the president.

Any hope Labrador might have landed a major position dealing with immigration reform in a Trump Administration flew out the window. Likewise, any chance he might land a lucrative job with a conservative foundation or association also flew out the window as it is unlikely they would pick someone who makes Trump see red.

Labrador could easily stay in Congress another three terms (he supports term limits of 12 years for Congress) but he is devoted to his wife and children, flies home every weekend, and reportedly is tiring of the grind and living out of his Congressional office.

Sources in D.C. and in Boise, have started to let people know he is seeking the govenorship, relying heavily on a six month old poll that gave him almost half the Republican primary vote with no other candidate busting out of the single digits.

The poll was taken though before developer Dr. Tommy Ahlquist declared his intentions and pledged to spend from his fortune one dollar more than it takes to win.

Labrador’s entry may inspire former State Senator Russ Fulcher, a friend of Labrador’s, to withdraw and turn to the Lt. Governor’s race. One thing for sure is Labrador has no intention of giving up his congressional seat while running for governor. Thus, there will be no special election.

Two questions remain: where’s he going to find the money to run and why does he even want to be governor?

Once more

mckee

What a mess. Escalation in the Middle East should have our hair on fire. Instead, our attention is focused on the fascinating machinations of the Old Fool and his minions trying to stay out of their own way, as the connections between his cohorts and Putin’s Russia continue to unravel.

The situation could be safely under the watchful eye of Secretary Tillerson, but with his undermanned and poorly resourced State Department, he is already fully occupied with a disturbing situation evolving in North Korea and a major state visit from the Chinese leader Xi Jinping due within a week. The reticent Secretary has released no details of these events or his intentions – but they both have world shaking possibilities embedded within. They have captured what is left of the imagination of the commentariat, when it is not focused on the Russian conspiracies, real or fictitious. There does not appear to be any time in the Secretary’s schedule for matters pertaining to the military situation in the Middle East.

As to the media, with these new events coming on stage soaking up all the spotlights, the U.S. involvement in the Middle East has apparently become passé, a matter of ho-hum, to be relegated to the end roundup on the nightly news and the back pages of the daily tabloids. Nobody seems interested, and nobody wants to be bothered. Nothing could be worse.

Consider: Contrary to Obama’s promises and the campaign promises of everybody, American forces are now fighting on the ground at the front lines in the Syrian siege at Raqqa, with close to 500 troops on the ground and more expected. We have become central to the Iraqi siege of Mosul, in both ground and air operations there, with over 5,000 troops in country and more expected. We have expanded our involvement in Yemen considerably beyond that of last year; drone attacks last month, for example, exceeded the strikes of last year. Increased support is expected to continue. Military operations in Afghanistan continue without let-up, which has slowed if not stopped the once-planned reduction in forces there.

All of this is being accomplished without fanfare and without any uptick in political or diplomatic planning, without any redefinition of the military mission or any end strategy in any of these areas, and without Congressional authorization. Information flow from Defense has been curtailed considerably, and from State is non-existent.

With the burgeoning influence of ISIS and Al Qaeda, Obama was being drawn into evolving events in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but was attempting to limit the actual engagement of American forces in any fighting on the ground, trying to emphasize that diplomatic solutions and political planning were the key to any significant progress in these regions. Major command decisions on all military operations, down to specific air strikes and drone attacks, were kept in the Whitehouse, in an endeavor to maintain tight control over any escalation of military operations, and to reduce civilian casualties.

Since the administration change in January, responsibility over Middle East affairs appears to have been transferred to or assumed by the Department of Defense under Secretary Mattis. The reports are that General Mattis is coordinating everything with the National Security Advisor McMaster and Secretary of State Tillerson, but since the involvement is primarily military, General McMaster and Secretary Tillerson consider General Mattis, at Defense, to be primary.

The White House has no expertise in the area of military management of operations. The Old Fool has demonstrated that he is not capable of assimilating complex details of anything beyond bumper-sticker simplicity, and he has no one on his personal staff that is any better qualified. Bannon has some military experience, but nothing in the area of foreign policy or Middle Eastern affairs. No one else comes close. Most of the Whitehouse staff positions that existed under Obama remain unfilled – and deliberately so.

The State Department under Secretary Tillerson has been severely hampered in carrying out its responsibilities by the lack of resources. The entire top-tier level of the department was either fired or resigned when Trump took office, and none of the major positions have been filled. Tillerson’s attempt to secure an experienced deputy of his choosing was derailed by Whitehouse infighting or intervention. The department’s critical positions of both deputy secretaries, all six undersecretaries, and most of the assistant secretaries remain empty. Tillerson is apparently operating the entire Department with little more than his personal staff.

This means that the U.S. involvement in the Middle East is now essentially under military control of the Pentagon and without civilian oversight. Under General Mattis’s direction, operational control of military operations below policy level has been moved forward to Central Command, and from there to subordinate units as required. The immediate result has been easier and faster airstrike and ground response. However, while there has been no change in the rules of engagement or in the requirement for consideration of civilian casualties in operational planning, there has also been a dramatic increase in the number of civilian casualties being suffered in the areas of U.S. involvement. While under the existing military conditions, the military defeat of ISIS seems inevitable, ISIS keeps evolving and the tactical considerations keep changing. The military, political and diplomatic complexities boggle.

Does history repeat itself? Reliance upon the generals was what got us up to our collective necks in Viet Nam. Secretary of Defense McNamara and President Johnson both admitted long ago that they abdicated their responsibility of civilian oversight and allowed the generals to hold sway over both military and policy decisions in Viet Nam, and that this was a huge mistake.

I do not question the capabilities or motivations of General Mattis and the military command out of the Pentagon. I have no doubt that Mattis firmly believes he has the best interests of the nation at heart. But there is truth to the adage, “Where the only tool is a hammer, all the problems become nails.”

History teaches that it is essential that there be broad policy oversight from the civilian perspective to counterbalance the military point of view. It is essential that all the tools available be out of the box and included in the planning and implementation of policy. As it stands, this important civilian counterbalance appears to be missing in the oversight structure in place over operations in the Middle East at this time. The Whitehouse does not have the capacity or capability and the Department of State does not have the resources to monitor the developing situation effectively.

The numbers are relatively small today – just as they were in Viet Nam in the middle 1960’s. But surely we recall how quickly those numbers accelerated.

What could possibly go wrong?