Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Trahant”

Jordan and a changing Idaho

trahant

Can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? The New York Times (and so many others) have already answered that question with an almost certain, nope.

“In a state that Donald J. Trump won by more than 30 percentage points and has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990, the Republican primary is almost certainly where Mr. Otter’s successor will be chosen,” The Times said.

The Times is not alone. That’s the conventional wisdom. Idaho is, after all, one of the most Republican states in the country. There is not a single Democrat who has been elected to any statewide office in the past couple of decades. And a Native woman, a young woman at that? Nah. Case closed.

But Jordan is not a conventional candidate. And this is not a routine election year. And Idaho has a history of sharply reversing course (ok … you have to go back a century for that one).

Let’s look at the numbers. Nearly 195,000 voters picked a Republican in the primary election and only some 66,000 voted for any Democrat. That seems daunting at roughly 3 to 1. But it will be closer than that in the general election. A lot closer. Four years ago the margin was 15 percentage points, 54 percent for the Republican to 39 percent for the Democrat. So the issue is how to get from 39 percent to 50 percent, plus one. To do that Jordan will need to win over at least 70,000 voters.

The most important thing for Jordan to do, she’s already doing. And that is to make Idaho cool and smart. (This is where the national attention helps.) On election night the music of Drake singing “God’s Plan” filled the room. Later supporters posted a video of Jordan dancing. Cool.

“The video of her speech to supporters in the Boise bar is revealing,” writes Dean Miller. “That is a very savvy, very disciplined Gen X politician, singing along to hip-hop lyrics, greeting workers with attention, holding weirdos at arm’s length with generous caution and immediately reaching out to all Idahoans. Her skills and instincts are top-notch.” Miller is the former editor of the Idaho Falls Post-Register and a longtime observer of politics in the Gem State.

Jordan also has the ideal message for the voters who are new to Idaho politics, especially those who have moved to Boise from other cities across the West. More than 75,000 people alone moved to Idaho last year (that includes families, but it’s still a huge number).

Idaho is increasingly a technology state. Consider this bit: “In one year Idaho saw a 44.9 percent increase in job postings related to emerging technologies, including the Internet of Things, smart cities, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality, and blockchain. “While these positions accounted for a small percentage of total tech job postings, it indicates where organizations are headed with the technology investments,” reported Cyberstates in 2018.

Idaho’s tech sector is already responsible for some $6.1 billion in the state’s economy, the report said.Tech’s impact on the Idaho economy ranks third behind manufacturing and government. (Bigger than agriculture.) There are some 51,900 tech workers in the state with an average wage of $87,740. (Compared to the state’s average annual private sector wage of $40,290.)

The tech world has no use for the old school — and that includes politicians. It’s about inventing the future, not repeating routine slogans about social issues, border walls, or even extractive energy development.

This gives a reason for people who are Republicans to vote for a Democrat. Jordan speaks the language.

Jordan can also sell the technology industry to rural Idaho and Indian Country. Most of the technology jobs are in Boise. Jordan can make the case for creating jobs in northern Idaho, tribal communities, and telecommuting and other jobs that would work in rural Idaho.

Another reason why Jordan could be competitive is that she is exciting. People want to be around her. That is especially important for attracting new voters to the process. Four years ago less than 60 percent of the voting age population cast a ballot. The higher than number, the better Jordan’s chances.

This is challenging in a mid-term election. Idaho young people, like those across the country, are more likely to vote in a presidential election year. Two years ago the share of voters under 29 years of age was nearly 15 percent of the electorate. But four years ago, during the last governor’s election, the share of young voters was only 8.2 percent. Again, the higher the number, the better Jordan’s chances.

A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows a marked increase in the number of young Americans who indicate that they will ‘definitely be voting’ in the upcoming midterm elections.

“The big picture: 37 percent of Americans under 30 indicate that they will ‘definitely be voting,’ compared to 23 percent who said the same in 2014,” the study found. “Young Democrats are driving nearly all of the increase in enthusiasm; a majority (51 percent) report that they will ‘definitely’ vote in November, which represents a 9-percentage point increase since November 2017 and is significantly larger than the 36 percent of Republicans who say the same.”

Indian Country is important in this regard too. Native American voters are only about one percent of the population, but among young voters, the number climbs to 3.3 percent. That might seem small, but it could be a good reflection of voter engagement.

Support from Indian Country is essential for Jordan to raise enough money. It’s how she gets her message out to voters. So far Jordan has collected more than $367,000 in contributions. Some of her largest contributors have been tribes, including her own, Coeur d’Alene, as well as other tribal nations in Idaho, Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce and Kootenai. She also received support from tribes from across the country.

One potential pool of voters for Jordan is foreign-born citizens. A study by the Partnership for the New Economy said Idaho was home to almost 34,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote in 2014, including an estimated 14,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered.

“Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by roughly 208,000 votes in 2012. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries,” the report said.

The challenge for Jordan is to reach these new groups and serve the core Democratic constituency. But that’s what election coalition building is all about. She has to make sure to reach union workers, make inroads into Mormon counties (most likely by finding strong surrogates who are LDS) and basically round up every Democrat, independent, and enough Republicans to put her over the top.

Once again, the higher the turnout number, the better Jordan’s chances. And there is a flip side to that idea: Republican turnout could be down across the country. If the country senses a landslide for the Democrats in the House, a lot of regular GOP voters might not show up. This is particularly acute in North Idaho because it’s on the Pacific time zone and TV viewers will have already seen the wave while they are still voting.

So can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? Yes there is a path. And now she can run against The New York Times who has already told her she can’t win. Conservatives will love that. Idaho has a history of defying the odds. Frank Church, a liberal Democrat, won a Senate seat when he was only 32 years old. And Democrat Cecil Andrus won the governor’s chair four different times. Church’s strength was his intellect. Andrus was a great storyteller. And Jordan owns cool.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports (Crossposted at Indian Country Today.)
 

A convincing win

trahant

Paulette Jordan won a convincing primary victory in her bid to be the next governor of Idaho. She convinced more than 60 percent of Democratic voters that her progressive message would work in November.

“I am so moved by the strength and determination of our Idaho voters today. Their voices were heard loud and clear — our vision for a more prosperous future lies with the progressive values embodied by this campaign,” Jordan said in a telephone call to Indian Country Today. “Our communities have spoken, and now we must unite as never before to move onward together.”

Jordan said she is “honored by the widespread support received from my relatives throughout Indian Country.”

“This is a huge step for us and I’m excited to be on this journey with all of you. This is a great indicator of where we as indigenous progressive leaders in rural states can help lead our communities,” Jordan said.

Already some dismiss Jordan’s chances going forward. The New York Times described the race this way: “In a state that Donald J. Trump won by more than 30 percentage points and has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990, the Republican primary on Tuesday is almost certainly where Mr. Otter’s successor will be chosen.”

When asked how she will convince voters in a state that is overwhelmingly Republican, Jordan laughed, and said, “we’re about to find out.”

Then again Idaho is a state that did once elect Democrats. Former Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus won the governor’s office four times, the last time in 1990.

The formula? “Connectivity,” Jordan said. “It’s about connections to the land and people.”

Jordan also is already bringing new voters into the process, young people. A tweet Tuesday before the vote captured that very idea. “Today I became a #firsttimevoterand my first vote ever went to the one and only @PauletteEJordan,” wrote Taylor Munson.

The turnout in the Democratic Primary was remarkably high. The Idaho Statesman reported in the state’s largest county, Ada, officials scrambled to supply enough ballots. “I am super curious to see what actual turnout was for the Democratic Party, because we were certainly overwhelmed by it today,” Ada Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane told The Statesman.

In addition to Jordan’s messages about her rural values, her outreach to younger voters could also be the key to reversing the Republican hold on Idaho.

Jordan defeated a well-funded candidate, A.J. Balukoff who used his own personal wealth to fund his campaign. She also defeated the Democrats establishment, most of the elected party officials endorsed Balukoff (who had been the party’s nominee four years ago). Balukoff was gracious in his defeat. He said he would work hard to elect Democrats.

So that’s another first. Jordan easily erased a substantial gap in campaign funding.

This is history. Jordan is the first woman to ever win a party’s gubernatorial nomination in Idaho.

She also made history because Kristen Collum is her running mate. It’s the first time two women have run together to lead Idaho.

See previous coverage: Making news, making history, and breaking rules. Idaho’s Paulette Jordan announces an all-female ticket

Then this is going to be an election of firsts and making history. Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, is now the first Native American woman to ever be a major party’s nominee for governor. Get used the phrase “first ever” is going to pop up a lot between now and November.

On Facebook, Seahdom Edmo posted: “I am watching this with my daughter. I said, ‘look she is a Native woman running for Governor, do you want to be Governor?’ She said, ‘no, I want to be President.’ Paulette, you are inspiring all of us!”

Cross posted on Indian Country Today. Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter Follow @TrahantReports
 

An attack on Medicaid and more

trahant

The Trump administration is supporting a major policy shift on Indian health programs which could result in a loss of millions of dollars and sabotage treaty rights.

A story in Politico Sunday raised the issue. It said “the Trump administration contends the tribes are a race rather than separate governments, and exempting them from Medicaid work rules — which have been approved in three states and are being sought by at least 10 others — would be illegal preferential treatment. ‘HHS believes that such an exemption would raise constitutional and federal civil rights law concerns,’ according to a review by administration lawyers,” Politico said.

The new policy on Medicaid work requirements “does not honor the duty of the federal government to uphold the government-to-government relationship and recognize the political status enshrined in the Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, and other federal laws, said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “Our political relationship is not based upon race.”

“The United States has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans,” Mary Smith, who was acting head of the Indian Health Service during the Obama administration and is a member of the Cherokee Nation, told Politico. “It’s the largest prepaid health system in the world — they’ve paid through land and massacres — and now you’re going to take away health care and add a work requirement?”

Medicaid has become a key funding stream for the Indian health system -- especially in programs managed by tribes and non-profits. Medicaid is a state-federal partnership and public insurance. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid eligibility, but the Supreme Court ruled that each state could decide whether or not to expand. Since the expansion of Medicaid some 237,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in 19 states have become insured.

Officially Medicaid represents 13 percent of the Indian Health Service’s $6.1 billion budget (just under $800 million).

But even that number is misleading because it does not include money collected from third-party billing from tribal and non-profit organizations. In Alaska, for example, the entire Alaska Native health system is operated by tribes or tribal organizations and the state says 40 percent of its $1.8 billion Medicaid budget is spent on Alaska Native patients. That one state approaches the entire “budgeted” amount for Medicaid.

Other states report similar increases. Kaiser Family Foundation found that in Arizona, one tribally-operated health system reported that about half of visits were by patients covered by Medicaid in 2016. And, an Urban Indian Health Program, reported that its uninsured rate at one clinic fell from 85 percent before the Affordable Care Act to under 10 percent.

Those Medicaid (and all insurance) dollars are even more significant because by law they remain with local service units where the patient is treated (and the insurance is billed). In Alaska more than two-thirds of those dollars are spent on private sector doctors and hospitals through purchased care for Alaska Native patients. And, unlike IHS funds, Medicaid is an entitlement. So if a person is eligible, the money follows.

A recent report by Kaiser Health News looked at Census data and found that 52 percent of residents in New Mexico’s McKinley County have coverage through the Medicaid. That’s the highest rate among U.S. counties with at least 65,000 people. “The heavy concentration of Medicaid in this high-altitude desert is a result of two factors: the high poverty rate and the Indian Health Service’s relentless work to enroll patients in the program,” Kaiser reported. Most of McKinley County is located on the Navajo and Zuni reservations.

Kaiser Health News said Medicaid has opened up new opportunities for Native patients to “get more timely care, especially surgery and mental health services. It has been vital in combating high rates of obesity, teen birth, suicide and diabetes, according to local health officials.”

However the growth of Medicaid is resulting in unequal care for patients in the Indian health system. The benefits in some states, including those that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, are more generous. Other states not only refused to expand Medicaid and have been adding new restrictions such as requiring “able-bodied” adults to have their Medicaid eligibility contingent on work.

But the Indian health system -- the federal Indian Health Service and tribally and nonprofit operated programs -- are in a special case because there is a 100 percent federal match for most services. So states set the rules, but do not have to pay the bill. (Medicaid is often the second largest single item in a state budget behind public schools.)

Medicaid is the largest health insurance program in America, insuring one in five adults, and many with complex and long-term chronic care needs. The Trump administration and many state legislatures controlled by Republicans see Medicaid as a welfare program. While most Democrats view it simply as a public health insurance program.

Work rules are particularly challenging for Indian Country. Unlike other Medicaid programs, patients in the Indian health system will still be eligible to receive basic care. So stricter rules will mean fewer people will sign up for Medicaid and the Indian Health Service -- already significantly underfunded -- will have to pick up the extra costs from existing appropriations. That will result in less money, and fewer healthcare services, across the board.

A letter from the Tribal Technical Advisory Group for Medicare and Medicaid said American Indians and Alaska Natives “are among the nation’s most vulnerable populations, and rely heavily on the IHS for health care. However, the IHS is currently funded at around 60 percent of need, and average per capita spending for IHS patients is only $3,688.” The latest per person cost for health care nationally is $10,348 (totalling $3.3 trillion, nearly 20 percent of the entire economy).

The tribal advisory group said it is “critically important” that there be a blanket exemption for IHS beneficiaries from the mandatory work requirements.

A report in September by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives on Medicaid already work, yet continue to face high rates of poverty. It said over three-quarters of American Indians and Alaska Natives are in working families, but that’s a gap of about 8 percent compared to other Americans (83 percent).

The Trump administration’s characterization of tribal health programs as “race-based” is particularly troubling to tribal leaders because it would reverse historical precedence.

A memo last month from the law firm of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “has ample legal authority to single out IHS beneficiaries for special treatment in administering the statutes under its jurisdiction if doing so is rationally related to its unique trust responsibility to Indians. Under familiar principles of Indian law, such actions are political in nature, and as a result do not constitute prohibited race based classifications. This principle has been recognized and repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court and every Circuit Court of Appeals that has considered it, and has been extended to the actions of Administrative Agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services even in the absence of a specific statute.”

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a Shoshone-Bannock tribal citzen. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Cross posted on Indian Country Today.
 

The Paulette Jordan math

trahant

A couple of weeks ago I was driving across the border into Idaho from Montana. I stopped the car and took a picture of the “Welcome to Idaho” sign. I thought: It would be cool if that sign read, just under the Idaho greeting, Paulette Jordan, Governor.

Jordan, Coeur d’Alene, is running as a Democrat in what is perhaps the reddest, most Republican state in the country. So it’s an impossible task, right?

No. Let’s do the math.

The first part of that equation is done: Running. So many talented people survey a political campaign and then, for whatever reason, pass. But the inviolate rule of politics is that you must run in order to win. So that is a huge step.

Jordan is one of seven Native American candidates running for statewide office and one of two Native women running to a lead a state, (something that has never been done before.) She will be the first of those candidates to face voters and she will need to win a contested Democratic primary on May 15. A date that’s coming up fast.

One of the most important reasons for Native American candidates is the aspirational aspect. It’s a way for young people to see a future, (one that is far more important than just politics.) During a recent trip to Fort Hall, and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Jordan took time out to visit the students. She also met with community members where she said on KPVI 6 that the issues that “tribes push forward are good for everyone, all of humanity. So when we talk about education in tribal communities, it's the same for Hispanic communities, it's the same for every single district up and down this state.”

Jordan is running against A.J. Balukoff, who, unlike Jordan, can use his own wealth to fund his campaign. (Something he has already done to the tune of $175,000.) Four years ago Balukoff was the Democratic nominee for governor and lost by a wide margin.

Idaho has an odd primary. The Republicans limit their ballots to anyone except those who publicly claim party membership. But anyone who is “unaffiliated” or independent can pick up a Democratic Party ballot on election day. Because Idaho is such a conservative state, most voters sign up with the Republicans. Four years ago more than 155,000 voters did just that, while only 25,638 voted in the Democratic primary.

This is actually an advantage for a candidate like Jordan. She only needs to find a few thousand votes (my bet is there will be more interest than four years ago.) So, let’s say that means the primary winner will earn at least 25,000 votes. That’s a plausible number in a season where nontraditional candidates are getting a second and third look.

There is only one county in Idaho that regularly votes for Democrats: Blaine County. That’s Sun Valley, Ketchum, the Wood River Valley. Think lifestyles of the rich and famous. Hillary Clinton had a two-to-one margin over President Donald J. Trump in Blaine County. Jordan must do well here.

Votes from Idaho’s five reservations could help, too. The numbers are small, but if they are one-sided, say 100, 200, 300 votes to a handful, it could give her an edge. Especially in a primary.

Jordan should also poll well with younger Democratic voters and with Hispanics. These two constituent groups are growing in numbers and importance. Well, sort of. Idaho is a young state: There are more people under 18 than any other demographic group. And younger voters from 18 to 25 are a relatively small cohort at roughly 155,000 people. But in the last elections this group increased its turnout rates, so there is a potential upside. Hispanics now account for 12 percent of Idaho’s population and, according to Pew Research, are some 80,000 eligible voters (far more than what would be needed in a primary election.)

The math is there. It’s possible.

What about Jordan’s message? Is she connecting with primary voters? That’s a much tougher call. She has to reach voters in a state with two time zones and a distinct geographic divide. I often joke that Idaho is the only state with three capitals: Salt Lake City, Spokane and Boise. Each major city has its influence over regions of the state.

Recently Jordan’s team made a rookie mistake adding the word “ever” to an email about her being the only Democrat elected in North Idaho. This took away from an important message: Jordan won re-election to the Idaho House two years ago in a terrible cycle for Democrats. Her campaign convinced voters who would not normally vote for a Democrat. This should be said over and over as a reason why Idaho Democrats should vote for Jordan.

And after that? The toughest hill to climb come after the primary. Jordan would then need to make her case to Idaho’s deeply conservative Republican voters. But if there is ever a year to do just that, it’s this one.

But first the May 15 primary is coming fast. That’s a hurdle that Jordan needs to clear first.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter: @TrahantReports (Cross-posted on TrahantReports)
 

Road ahead for TR and ICT

trahantlogo1

Many years ago Richard LaCourse and I would sit around and toss ideas about what the perfect Indigenous newspaper would look like. LaCourse, at the time, was trying to create a new publication in Washington, DC. Imagination was his currency.

What was possible?

LaCourse had a lot of experience answering that question. He had helped build the American Indian Press Association. He had edited or written for several tribal newspapers, including his own, The Yakama Nation Review. He launched a one-person crusade to raise the standards of Native American journalism.

I even remember the first time I heard him do that. It was on Feb. 24, 1977, at a workshop in Spokane. A workshop speaker was telling tribal editors that they worked for tribal councils and should slant the news accordingly. LaCourse stood up. Angry. Shaking his finger. “Are you aware of the 1968 law that guarantees freedom of the press in Indian Country? Indian newspapers should be professional, straight reporting operations, and your assumptions about cheerleaders for a point of view has nothing do do with the field of journalism. Why are you making this presumption?”

I am thinking of Richard LaCourse as we begin Indian Country Today’s third chapter. The goal is to build on the legacy of LaCourse—as well as from the first two chapters of Indian Country Today. The publication was founded by Tim Giago in South Dakota in 1991 and was followed by the ownership of the Oneida Nation of New York.

It’s hard to think of a better word than legacy, actually. The word is from the 14th century Latin legatus, an ambassador, envoy, a deputy sent with a commission. A century later the word had shifted and become associated with property, a gift. Both definitions fit. The gift is all of the work done before. The commission is the tasks ahead.

Indian Country Today is now owned by the National Congress of American Indians—but we will act independently. We are creating a framework to ensure that. But our primary task is the same as LaCourse’s vision: Professional, straight reporting that tells stories about Indigenous people and our nations.

I’d like to thank the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) for engaging in this experiment. It would have been easy to say, “well, no.” Especially when the challenges of independence are factored into that equation. The NCAI has a long history of working with the Native press (even while our missions are different.) One of the great journalists of her generation, Marie Potts, a Maidu, and editor of California’s Smoke Signals best writing in Washington while on working on a fellowship with NCAI during the late 1960s.

The best way I know how to demonstrate our independence is to produce solid, thoughtful journalism. Every day. So there is a lot of hard work ahead. (And we will need some time to make this so.)

What does this mean for Trahant Reports? For the time being I will cross post on Trahant Reports and Indian Country Today sites. I have a lot of material I am working on for the elections ahead, Indian health, and other policy issues. So more, not less.

And Indian Country Today is back in business and we are ready to serve.

Our goal is to hire a team in Washington, create (and fund) reporting fellowships around the country, and build capacity for freelance contributors. We want to be partners, not competitors, with tribal newspapers, public media, and web publishers.

I have been teaching journalism for the past seven years and I am always telling students that this is a time of great opportunity. The digital world means that we can reach our audiences instantly. We can communicate ideas. We can explain a complicated process. We can expose wrongdoing. Or write a story of pop culture that makes us smile.

We can invent a new kind of news organization, one built on the currency of imagination.
 

A messaging document

trahant

Budgets are statements: This is what "we" care about. It's money that reveals priorities. The "we" could be, and ought to be, the country. Or the "we" could be a presidential administration that's not really equipped to govern. So there will be lots of stories this year, like last year, about the Trump's administration's desire to cut federal Indian programs, wipe out public broadcasting, end student loan forgiveness, wreck Medicaid and Medicare, food stamps, housing programs, and generally just about every federal program that serves poor people.

As Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney told reporters: “This is a messaging document."

And what a message: Rich people face tough times so they deserved a huge tax cut. Poor people are poor because of their own failures. And more money is needed for a wall that's not needed, for the largest military in the world, and the Republicans no longer believe that deficits matter.

But Mulvaney has a different version. Here is what he says are the messages.

"Number one, you don’t have to spend all of this money, Congress. But if you do, here is how we would prefer to see you spend it," he said. "And the other message is that we do not have to have trillion-dollar deficits forever."

Ok. So the action is in Congress. Even Republicans on Capitol Hill know that this budget cannot be. It's chaos as numbers.

Perhaps the best line of nonsense was written a line written by the budget director to House Speaker Paul Ryan saying domestic spending at the levels Congress has already approved would add too much to the federal deficit. That's funny.

For this budget to become law (and override the current spending bill) the House and Senate would have to agree to a budget. That's unlikely. As I have written before there are lots of votes against any budget but not enough votes to pass any budget. A budget resolution would allow the Senate to move forward with a spending plan with only Republican votes (and even then only one to spare). But unless the rules change (which President Trump wants) the Senate needs 60 votes for regular appropriations bills. That means a lot of compromise before federal spending.

The most popular part of the president's budget is infrastructure spending. But most of his plan would be funding from state, local, and tribal governments. That's a problem. Congress will not be eager to follow this approach, especially in an election year. Members of Congress love announcing new roads and other projects. It means jobs back home.

It's telling that in the White House statement on infrastructure tribes are not mentioned (something that was routinely done in the Obama White House).

Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, wrote: "Our infrastructure is broken. The average driver spends 42 hours per year sitting in traffic, missing valuable time with family and wasting 3.1 billion gallons of fuel annually. Nearly 40 percent of our bridges predate the first moon landing. And last year, 240,000 water main breaks wasted more than 2 trillion gallons of purified drinking water—enough to supply Belgium."

So the Trump administration's answer is to fund this with local government dollars because, as Cohn puts it, "the federal government politically allocated funds for projects, leading to waste, mismanagement, and misplaced priorities. The answer to our nation’s infrastructure needs is not more projects selected by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C Instead, the President’s plan designates half of its $200 billion for matching funds to stimulate State, local, and private investment."

Another thing for a broken Congress to fix. If the votes are there. In theory that should be easy. This is an area where Republicans and Democrats agree (actually anyone who looks at the crumbling state of infrastructure can figure this one out). But in this Congress? We shall see.

At the State of the Indian Nations Monday, National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel said: "Native peoples are also builders and managers of roads and bridges, and other essential infrastructure. These projects are often in rural areas. They connect tribal and surrounding communities with each other, and the rest of the Nation. Tribal infrastructure is American infrastructure. In 2018, NO infrastructure bill should pass, UNLESS it includes Indian Country’s priorities."

Back to the budget as a messaging document. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says this budget "violates the spirit of the bipartisan agreement that congressional leaders negotiated just a few days ago." That's going to make it much more difficult to come up with the next agreement in Congress (unless the law is ironclad, stripping the administration of some of its governing authority).

The budget assumes that Congress would repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with a block grant formula. The votes are not there for that. It's fantasy.

The current bipartisan agreement "calls for adding $2.9 billion per year over the next two years to the discretionary Child Care and Development Block Grant, boosting this key federal program to help make child care affordable for low- and modest-income parents. But the budget reneges on that and proposes essentially flat funding for the program. The Administration’s blatant dismissal of a major bipartisan agreement on which the ink is barely dry may make bipartisan agreements harder to reach in the future," the budget center reports. "And then, in years after 2019, the budget calls for cuts of unprecedented depth in non-defense discretionary programs even though that’s the part of the budget that contains many federal investments in long-term economic growth. By 2028, funding for non-defense discretionary programs would fall 42 percent below the 2017 level, after adjusting for inflation. Indeed, by 2028, total NDD spending, measured as a share of gross domestic product, would be at its lowest level since Herbert Hoover was president."

To me that's the key point. Domestic spending, the programs that serve Indian Country, are already dropping and have been for a long time. All domestic discretionary programs add up to about 4.6 percent of the budget -- and federal spending on Indian Country is a tiny fraction of that.

And, as the budget center points out, that means Trump budgets would actually "go below the 2019 sequestration levels, which Congress just agreed is too low to meet national needs."

The messaging document (the budget, remember?) has another problem. It's based on assumptions that are even more of a fantasy than repealing the Affordable Care Act. The budget assumes a 3 percent growth rate this year and 4 percent next year. So lots more people earning more and paying more income taxes (since corporations will be paying less). Not. Going. To. Happen.

Even economists think this is nonsense. The crackdown on immigration, for example, is shrinking the economy, not growing it. And the Congressional Budget Office projects a long term growth rate of just under 2 percent. Last year the economy grew at 2.6 percent, below what Trump said would happen and even below the consensus of economists.

This 2019 budget will accomplish one thing: It will serve as a mile post for the fall election. Republicans can make the case for defense spending and, I suppose, that they used to be against deficits. And Democrats will make the case for protecting health care and other domestic priorities.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
 

Tribes social clubs or governments?

trahant

I was at an event in Seattle recently and listened to Slade Gorton talk about the future of the Republican party in Washington at the Crosscut Festival in Seattle last week. Washington state is changing and the GOP runs the risk of being irrelevant (as is now the case in California elections). And, Washington, like California, has a top two primary. So it’s a challenge for Republicans to win a spot in the general election. In the last Senate election, for example, the “top two” finalists were both Democrats.

Gorton, who just had his 90th birthday, was once considered a moderate in Republican circles. That’s no longer the case. It’s true he is not a “loyal” Trump supporter. Then that’s not an easy species to find in Washington state. But he does support the GOP congressional agenda. So moderate he is not.

Of course Gorton did not talk about American Indian or Alaska Native issues. Even though that’s what we in Indian Country remember. Actually it’s too bad for Republicans. The party is shrinking, in part, because it does not recognize the changing nature of the country’s demographics. Then that’s been true for a long time. I remember talking to a former GOP party leader, Gummy Johnson, more than twenty years ago who wanted to position his party as a supporter of Treaty Rights and tribal governments. The Gorton wing of the party would never have let that happen.

Gorton (and his ally on the Supreme Court, the late William Rehnquist) had a nuanced view of tribal governments. These two men used their legislative and judicial powers to try and undercut federal Indian law and treat tribes as social clubs. Tribal membership was not citizenship but a special privilege. So tribal authority, the power of government, could only be applied to tribal members (and even that was subject to any limitations set by Congress). The legal theory for this nonsense was the implied divestiture doctrine, the secret but steady erosion of tribal governments.

Sen. Gorton has moved on to other issues. He’s an expert on national security, and, as I learned the other night, on rebuilding the Republican brand. (Or not. Because he argues there is an ebb and flow and Republican ideas will come back again in Washington with major change.)

I was thinking of Slade Gorton's ideology in the context of the Stop Disenrollment campaign that will be posted across social media on Feb. 8. It’s being led this year by Alaska Native actor Irene Bedard. “The movement is poised to raise indigenous social consciousness again this year — in what might be its final year given the growing sense that disenrollment is declining nationally,” said a news release. “Prominent Native Americans like author Sherman Alexie, former U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, rapper-actor-entrepreneur Litefoot, film director Chris Eyre, fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail, and Olympic Gold Medalist Billy Mills headlined the 2016- and 2017-campaigns.”

What does Slade Gorton have to do with disenrollment? It’s an extension of the idea that tribes are social clubs and that membership is exclusive. That’s a different narrative than a government with citizens. Great nations grow. Great nations want all the talent that can build a better society. (Hint: This idea has applications to the immigration debate, too.) Great nations don't kick out their relations.

To me, tribal citizenship is the key. Thumb through history and some of Indian Country’s greatest leaders: Washakie, D’arcy McNickle, and many, many more could have been on the wrong side of history had there been a narrow debate about disenrollment and membership.

Are tribes exclusive clubs? No. The answer is always the framework of government.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
 

To a canon of stories

trahantlogo1

Indian Country needs a canon of stories. A collection of Memory that every child knows growing up. A reference guide to our shared history -- as well as a reminder about what the fight is all about. I can think of so many stories that belong in our historical catalog: The real-life adventures of Crazy Horse, Chief Joseph, Brant, Chief Seattle, Geronimo, Susan LaFlesche Picotte, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Forrest Gerard, and the decades-long fight for the return of Blue Lake.

There are so many other stories that must be told. Mary Katherine Nagle's new play, "Sovereignty," does that.

(photo/Opening night: Mary Kathryn Nagle author of the play, "Sovereignty." Arena Stage photo.)

Nagle is Cherokee. She's a nationally acclaimed playwright, an attorney and a partner with Pipestem Law. She's also director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program.

"Sovereignty" is a huge deal. It's now at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. Think of it this way: It's a Native narrative on the nation's stage. All too often we get excited when see a movie or a TV show that has one Native American character worth remembering. That's cool. But we should really get excited about a work of art, in this case a play, when the author, the cast, and often the audience is Native. (That is something that Nagle has done often. Her play, "Sliver of a Full Moon," is a good example of that last idea, writing for a Native audience. The inside story.)

Back to the play. "Sovereignty" tells two Cherokee stories, one historical, one modern. The first story is about the Cherokee Nation in the tribe's homelands and the actions of Major Ridge, John Ridge, Elias Boudinot (a nephew of Ridge) and Chief John Ross (as well their fictional descendants). This was a time of war: The state of Georgia was determined to remove the Cherokees one way or another. The state's military, the Georgia Guard, was evil, violent and determined to remove the Cherokee people from their homeland. The Supreme Court had ruled in favor of the Cherokees but the government of Georgia ignored that. The state's primary mission was annihilation.

01Sovereignty_5234
Opening night: Mary Kathryn Nagle author of the play, "Sovereignty." (Arena Stage photo)
Nagle is literally an heir to this story. This is her family. Or, as Nagle recently said, "One hundred and eighty five years ago, the federal government sitting in Washington, D.C., sought to eradicate the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation ... At a time when many in the United States have been hurt and threatened by polarization and prejudice, I believe we can find healing in understanding how my grandfathers, and all of our Cherokee relations, survived one of the most polarizing episodes in American history."

It was polarizing episode because the story is about Indigenous survival. And different ideas about how to make that so.

Nagle does such a great job of working the law into her plays -- and "Sovereignty" is no exception. The concept of tribal sovereignty is a recurring theme. When I saw the play, I overheard a couple remark about how sovereignty as a living, modern concept. Perfect.

But there is another angle for Indian Country and why I think this story must be in our canon; the power of dissent. So much of our history of leadership is about vision and consensus. Most of the great tribal leaders in the 19th and 20th century were successful because they conveyed their ideas to their tribal community and were able to get people to work together. As Vine Deloria Jr. wrote: "In every generation there will arise a Brant, a Pontiac, a Tecumseh, a Chief Joseph, a Joseph Garry, to carry the people yet one more decade further."

But not always. Every once in a while it's the voice of dissent; the leader challenging consensus that carries the people forward. There are two great stories about why dissent is so important to Indian Country: That of the Ridges and Lucy Covington's fight against termination. (She followed around a pro-termination Colville tribal council at public events to counter their narrative and then stirred up support for new leaders.)

I have my own take on the Ridge story, mostly through the framework of Elias Boudinot (who is in the play) the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix. "As the liberty of the press is so essential to the improvement of the mind, we shall consider our paper, a free paper," Boudinot wrote in the first issue. "The columns of this newspaper shall always be open to free and temperate discussions on matters of politics, religion, and so forth."

It's impossible to have a temperate discussion in a time of war. The head of the Georgia Guard, Col. C.H. Nelson, told Boudinot that he could not be prosecuted under Georgia law, but if the reportage about the Guard did not cease, Nelson would tie him to a tree and give him a sound whipping.

Boudinot responded with a series of editorials on the Guard and freedom. Boudinot wrote: "In this free country, where the liberty of the press is solemnly guaranteed, is this the way to obtain satisfaction for an alleged injury committed in a newspaper? I claim nothing but what I have a right to claim as a man— I complain of nothing of which a privileged white editor would not complain."

The Cherokee leadership -- led by Chief John Ross and the National Council -- had its own issues with The Phoenix leading to Boudinot's resignation. Ross was determined to remain in Georgia no matter the cost. One of those provisions would have been absolute Georgia authority over the Cherokee Nation. "Removal, then, is the only remedy—the only practicable remedy," Boudinot wrote in a letter to Chief Ross. "What is the prospect in reference to your plan of relief, if you are understood at all to have any plan? It is dark and gloomy beyond description. Subject the Cherokees to the laws of the States in their present condition?"

This is the sovereignty part of the story. The Ridges and Boudinot argued for a future Cherokee Nation. That meant signing the Treaty of New Echota and setting the stage for what became the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. Major Ridge knew the price of this dissent. He said at the time: "I have signed my death warrant."

Nagle's play captures those powerful themes but it also does something that only an artist can do. She brings the Ross and Ridge families back together. She shows through the power of story how we're all in this together. Still.

Sovereignty is at the Arena Stage through Feb. 18.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
 

A Congress that cannot govern

trahant

This federal shutdown fight has been brewing for years. And it's complicated because there are several different Congressional factions; think of them as mini-political parties, that have different goals in the budget process.

Remember this: The Republicans are in charge. This process could have been resolved within the caucus -- if the GOP leadership had the votes. And that's the main problem. There is not enough votes for an affirmative solution. So much easier to say "no." (The House did pass their version with the support of the so-called Freedom Caucus. But several Senators in the Republican camp are still not on board because the solution doesn't send enough money to the military while others are not happy with another Continuing Resolution or any additional spending.

Democrats have not had much say in the government since the election of Donald J. Trump as president. Senate leaders have used budget rules designed to pass legislation with 51 votes. But this short-term spending bill does not qualify. So for once, Democrats have a say. There are three things on their "must" list. They want domestic spending protected (remember, one GOP faction wants deep cuts into government spending). They have been successful doing this with every Continuing Resolution so far because the alternative is the Budget Control Act and that would require deep cuts to the military (as well as domestic programs). Democrats also want funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP. That is a huge program for Indian Country (along with Medicaid) pays the health care costs for more than half of all American Indian and Alaska Native children in the Indian health care system.

The CHIP program is in the House Continuing Resolution. But, as the National Indian Health Board posted yesterday, the House bill "does contain a 6-year reauthorization for the Children's Health Insurance Program but does not include the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. This is a huge miss. The Special Diabetes for Program for Indians expires March 31. The ideal solution would be for the Senate to include both CHIP and the diabetes program in any deal that's made with the White House.

The final sticking point for the Democrats is protecting the people who brought to this country as children. The Trump administration wants a solution to include money for a wall -- even full funding for that project -- as well as an increase in enforcement. Tough sell.

But as I mentioned all of this has been brewing. Instead of having a full debate about these divisions, Congress has been saying it will deal with it later. This is later. (And even then don't be surprised if a deal just moves this down the road.)

Ideally this will force the Congress into a real debate. Big picture stuff. Yeah, right. I know, but I had to write it anyway.

Of course Indian Country (and the economy) will be hit hard if this shutdown lasts very long. Lots of families, both government employees and contractors, could lose a paycheck.

The problem is we really don't know exactly how the Trump administration will manage this particular closure.

During the last government shutdown, 21-days that started on December 16, 1995, and continued to January 6, 1996, all 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties," according to the Congressional Research Service. The last time around furloughed employees were eventually paid. Eventually.

All told Standard & Poor's estimated the U.S. economy lost $24 billion last time around.

The Indian Health Service and the Department of Interior posted planning memos in September about what is expected to happen. Basically: Many BIA employees will be furloughed, except for those that work in public safety or who are managers. However the Bureau of Indian Education will largely continue working, especially those who work with schools and children.

Former Indian Health Service Director former IHS director Dr. Michael Trujillo told Congress that the government closure “caused considerable hardship within Indian communities. One result of staff furloughs was difficulty in processing funds for direct services and to contracting and compacting tribes so the delivery of health services could continue. Those staff that continued providing health services were not paid on time. Threats to shut off utilities to our health facilities and even to stop food deliveries were endured. We reached a point where some private sector providers indicated that they might not accept patients who were referred from Indian Health facilities because of the Federal shutdown.”

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports
 

If you thought 2017 was challenging

trahant

The first year of the Trump era has been challenging: The administration and the Congress sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act and radically redesign one of the nation's best public health insurance programs, Medicaid. That plan failed. And I'll come back to that point shortly.

But first: Congress did move forward with its other agenda item, to rewrite the tax code and reduce the amount of federal income taxes that most pay. And the two key words here are income tax. That's important because most people pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes. The Joint Committee on Taxation looked at the numbers a couple of years ago and found that 80 million tax filers that earn $40,000 or less pay no federal income tax and many even get cash refunds. But we pay $121 billion in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Even those families who make between $40,000 and $75,000-pay three times as much in payroll tax as in federal income tax—nearly $190 billion of the former and just $64 billion of the latter. The total income for a household has to exceed $100,000 more before income tax is a bigger cost than payroll taxes. Bottom line: Wealthy people get a tax cut.

The big winner in the tax bill, however, is business. The new law sharply drops what corporations and small business pay in federal income taxes. The Tax Policy Center calculates that savings at nearly three times as much for business owners in 2019 as for people who whose primary source of income is wages or salaries. The Tax Policy Center found that all households would get an average 2019 tax cut of about 1.6 percent of after-tax income (roughly $1,200). Those who make most of their income from wages would get a tax cut of about 1.5 percent of after-tax income, or about $1,200. But owners of pass-through businesses such as partnerships and sole proprietorships would get an average tax cut of 4.3 percent of their after-tax income (about $4,300).

It's important to note that corporate taxes have gone up in recent years, but are not at historically high levels. During the 1950s corporate taxes were 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

One way Congress looks at business taxes is to account for "pass through" taxes. So if you earn money as, say, a freelancer. Then you can deduct expenses on another form. This process could be useful to a few people in Indian Country. If you do work that could be considered a "business" (and make enough to pay income taxes) make sure that you are set up as a business because you will pay less tax under this new law.

So lots of people -- and especially companies -- will pay less in federal taxes. And the federal treasury will have a lot less funding as a result.

"The tax bill will provide a bonanza to the most well-off Americans and profitable corporations, even as it leads millions of Americans to lose health coverage and ultimately raises taxes on many low- and middle-income Americans," writes Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. "And, faced with criticism that the tax bill will swell budget deficits, President Trump and House Republican leaders have made clear that one of their top priorities for 2018 will be to use the fast-track budget “reconciliation” process — the same process they used to pass the tax bill — to cut assistance programs that aid millions of struggling families, to try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut Medicaid, or both."

The process of reconciliation means that budget cuts next year could pass the Senate with only 50 votes -- all Republicans. That's awful. But the good news is that even might be a huge hurdle for Republican leaders. The problem is that the Republican majority is not sure what it wants. Some members want more money for the military and are willing to work with Democrats (who want money for domestic programs to make that so). Others want stark budget cuts; sequester times X. Others just want to find a deal of some kind, something that governs the country.

We already know these divisions are deep because the Republican-only majority has been unable to pass a budget for 2018 (which started October 1). The government is running on a temporary spending bill that expires Jan. 19. Right now the House is working off a funding level that would significantly increase defense spending and slight reduce domestic programs. The Senate is basically working off last year's budget.

That's all well and good for now but remember the pressure will increase to balance the budget as the cost of the tax legislation is calculated. As the National Congress of American Indians said: "The current tax reform legislation amounts to little more than a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next ten years. This deficit increase will inevitably create pressure to cut federal programs and services that are extremely important to tribal communities. Deficit-financed tax cuts that lead to austerity budget cuts would affect all Americans, but would disproportionately impact American Indians and Alaska Natives who rely on federal funding of the trust responsibility as well as social programs."

Congress is governing at two and three week intervals because there are not enough votes to pass a real budget. And that's not a good sign going forward because the budget only gets more complicated next year because of other issues that Congress has been avoiding.

Happy New Year.