American Indian Democrats meet in L.A.

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LOS ANGELES - A host of prominent tribal and public officials took the
stage at the Los Angeles Convention Center April 15 - 17 to address the
Native American Caucus meeting of the California Democratic Party.

Perhaps the biggest news of the night was the announcement by California
State Controller Steve Westly that he plans to wrest the governor's office
from Arnold Schwarzenegger next year.

"I'm going to send Arnold Schwarzenegger back to Hollywood," said Westly at
the caucus.

Westly and Schwarzenegger initially seemed to be political allies after the
GOP governor took office; California press reports quoted Republican
operatives as calling Westly Schwarzenegger's "little buddy." However,
Westly's campaign manager, Jude Barry, said recent Schwarzenegger actions
have caused his boss to break philosophically with the governor.

"He [Schwarzenegger] has taken a hard right turn," contended Barry.

Former Morongo chairman and state Assembly candidate Mary Ann Andreas
presided over her last caucus meeting and will step down from her post as
Native American Caucus chairman. She will be replaced by Cherokee tribal
member Helen Dougherty, a retired school teacher and formerly with the
California Teachers Association. Andreas, however, will remain involved
with the caucus and stay on as first vice chairman.

Also speaking to the crowd of around 150 were state Insurance Commissioner
John Garamendi as well as congressional members Hilda Solis, D-Calif. and
Joe Baca, D-Calif. Another featured speaker was California Assemblyman
Jackie Goldberg, D-L.A., who is trying for the third time to get a bill
passed that bans the use of the nickname "Redskins" as part of an
anti-mascot effort that she first tried in 2002.

Citing it as a civil rights issue, Goldberg issued a defiant statement to
the bill's opponents saying that she would continue to introduce that bill
as a matter of conviction until she left office.

The caucus voted to support the Goldberg bill as well as three other
legislative bills currently making their way through the state Capitol.
These bills include allowing tribal governments to issue tax-exempt bonds
and improving state compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Garamendi, who will also run for lieutenant governor in next year's
election, shared a personal story of how a Tuolumne woman gave him his
first informal tutorial in American Indian culture and influenced early
legislation that dealt with Indian burials.

In one of the evening's more moving tributes, Andreas paid homage to the
Red Lake Band of Chippewa, on whose Minnesota reservation a student
recently opened fire and killed nine people, including five fellow
students, and then himself. The caucus later voted to establish two
scholarships for Red Lake students.

The caucus also honored Solis for her stance against a Bush administration
proposal to cut community block grants, which for many tribes are the
foundation of their public works projects.

Baca noted his efforts that resulted in a state holiday honoring American
Indians and vowed to push for a similar national holiday.

In a later interview, Andreas reflected on her time as chairman and her
political future. She was the Democratic nominee for a state Assembly seat
last year, although she lost in the general election to Bonnie Garcia,
R-Cathedral City, who won a second term.

She did get some national attention in her run, as the first American
Indian woman to be nominated for the post by a major party, and received an
enthusiastic endorsement from current Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean
last year.

Though Andreas would not say definitively whether she plans to run for
office again next year, she did say that she would "never say never" to the
prospect.

Andreas, who plans to run for vice chairman at Morongo, said that she will
still be "very involved" with the caucus and plans to work closely with her
successor Dougherty, with whom she is friends.

"We look to [Dougherty] to bring a professional approach to our caucus and
she has been working within our party longer than anyone," said Andreas of
her successor.

Among the plans that Dougherty and Andreas have in the works are meetings
and conjoined activities with both the Women's Democratic Caucus and the
Latino Caucus. With the women's caucus, Dougherty said they plan to have a
program to introduce students to the Bill of Rights to raise awareness.

The Women's Caucus, contended Andreas, is vital to the Democratic Party:
"When women stay home, we [Democrats] lose; when they vote, we win."

Doughery retired this past year after a 40-year teaching career, initially
a K - 8 teacher who spent the last 15 of those years teaching at-risk
youths from the sixth grade through high school.

Of her predecessor, with whom she said there was a "mutual admiration
society," Dougherty had nothing but praise.

"Mary Ann set a high standard and really raised the bar; and when you raise
the bar you get a challenge, and a champion always rises to the challenge."