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23 INDN’s List candidates won

TULSA, Okla. – President-elect Barack Obama’s victory was not the only historic moment in the general election on Nov. 4. American Indian candidates made some history of their own.

With the backing of INDN’s List – the Indigenous Democratic Network –23 American Indian candidates from 11 states and 16 tribes won state and local elections.

“This is not just an historic year for America, but for Indian country as we elected more tribal members to state and local office than ever before. In 2006, we elected 20 American Indians, and in 2008 we elected 23. Because of our efforts at INDN’s List, tribal members are engaged at all levels of government in an unprecedented manner. To shape history, you have to be willing to make it,” said Kalyn Free, Choctaw, the president and founder of INDN’s List.

Among the groundbreaking winners was Denise Juneau, Three Affiliated Tribes, who is the first American Indian woman elected to statewide office in Montana, and only the third tribal member ever elected statewide.

It was a hard-won race, Free said.

“It was a race we were especially focused on and it was very difficult. Denise faced a very hard campaign and a lot of anti-Indian rhetoric and anti-Indian scorn and a very negative campaign toward the end, so we’re super proud of her,” Free said.

Launched in 2005 during an annual meeting of the National Congress of American Indians, INDN’s List is a grassroots political organization that recruits, trains, and helps to elect American Indian candidates and mobilize American Indian voters throughout the country.

And the organization has had a resounding success during its short existence: Since the 2006 election cycle, 45 of its 65 endorsed candidates have been elected.

Juneau is the Superintendent of Public Instruction-Elect in Montana. She won 50.68 percent of the vote, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Juneau and her staff attended INDN Campaign Camp in 2007, where she was trained on all aspects of campaigning.

Two INDN’s List candidates in Oklahoma won sheriffs’ races: Bruce Curnutt, Choctaw, who won a runoff victory in August by a margin of almost 61 percent, is now sheriff of LeFlore County, and Scott Walton, Cherokee, is sheriff of Rogers County

Other Oklahoma winners were incumbent Sen. Richard Lerblance, Muscogee Creek and incumbent representatives Ken Luttrell, Cherokee; Jerry McPeak, Muscogee Creek; and Anastasia Pittman, Seminole.

But it wasn’t all wins in Oklahoma, Free said.

Among the losses was incumbent Rep. Scott Bighorse. During the week before the election an unknown organization “dumped $100,000 into Scott Bighorses’ opponent’s campaign and they went hard negative with radio ads and mailers attacking him for being a rock solid progressive Democrat and he got beaten for doing the right thing,” Free said.

Free said she was “heart sick” over the defeats of Bighorse in Oklahoma and incumbent Rep. Don Barlow in Washington.

“I’m certainly not willing to cry over spilt milk but sometimes it seems we take one step forward and two steps back. Obviously, we don’t like to lose races, but we’re particularly sad about Scott and Don. They had both just finished their first terms and they were both outstanding legislators and very effectively advocates of Indian country in the state legislature and for all of Indian country. They will be deeply missed in their state’s legislative chambers. Scott and Don have been champions of progressive causes and outstanding role models and leaders for all of Indian country. Unfortunately, they were attacked and defeated for being just that. If they stand again, INDN’s List will proudly stand with them,” Free said.

In the South Dakota State House, two INDN’s List 2007 Campaign Camp alumni, Kevin Killer and Ed Iron Cloud III, won both seats in District 27—a gain for Democrats in the state. They are both enrolled members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

In Pennsylvania, incumbent Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith, Sac & Fox, won after being targeted by Republicans. She won the seat narrowly in 2006, when INDN’s List first endorsed her, and flipped control of the Pennsylvania State House to the Democrats.

Todd Gloria, Tlingit-Haida, won his San Diego City Council race at the age of 30, becoming the youngest member on the council, and giving Democrats a 5-3 advantage.

Other INDN’s List winners were Alaska incumbent representatives Woodie Salmon, Chalkyitsik; Arizona incumbent Rep. Albert Hale, Navajo, Rep. Chris Deschene, Navajo, and Coconimo County Board of Supervisors member Lena Fowler, Navajo; Colorado incumbent Rep. Suzanne Williams, Comanche, and Rep. Karen White, Muscogee Creek; Montana representatives Sharon Peregoy, Crow, and Jonathan Windy Boy and Tony Belcourt, both, Chippewa Cree; Nevada incumbent Assemblyman John Oceguera, Walker River Paiute; Washington incumbent representatives John McCoy, Tulalip, and Jeff Morris, Tsimshian; and Wyoming incumbent Rep. Patrick Goggles, Arapaho.

Now the work begins for the next election cycle, Free said.

“We’ll try to raise money to keep the doors open and pay off some of our bills. We’ll immediately start regrouping for next year, 2009 is just around the corner. We’ll have our Campaign Camp somewhere – we do that every other year – and I expect there will be tremendous interest,” Free said.

Campaign Camp is a boot camp for aspiring candidates and campaign staff. INDN’s List brings in “the best and brightest” campaign professionals from all over the country for a four or five day intensive session to train potential candidates and campaign staffers in everything from fundraising to opposition research, direct mail, speech writing, finance and field plans, media training, and more.

“We’ll start look at tribes who are interested in hosting the camp. We’re hoping we’ll get into bidding wars with tribes who are interested in bringing the next generation of tribal leaders to their reservations for the training,” Free said.

Tribes interested in getting into the bidding war can call Free at (918) 583-6100.