Voters in Washington State’s 5th congressional district have a choice between two candidates with markedly contrasting backgrounds and skills. Joe Pakootas, a Democrat, is challenging Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Republican incumbent since 2005 and currently the 4th-ranking Republican in Congress.
This district normally votes Republican and that would seem a safe bet again, but don’t count Pakootas out. He is the closest any candidate has come to beating her in the 11 years she has been in office. Less than 11 points separated the two in a late August poll.
Pakootas has a strong background in leadership and financing. He served as Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Following that he served five years as CEO of the Tribal Federal Corporation. That corporation runs the 13 businesses the tribes own. Before Pakootas took over as CEO they were over extended, not making money, and heading toward bankruptcy. He immediately shut several businesses down, restructured them, and within nine months they had a $10 million turnaround. He is now in the final months of an 18-month position with the Nez Perce Tribe as an executive officer where he oversees several business ventures which include casinos and convenience stores.
Just recently a judgment of $8.3 million was issued against Teck Metals, Ltd. of British Columbia, Canada to pay back the Colville Tribes for the legal costs they incurred in getting the company to quit dumping massive amounts of waste into the Columbia River and onto the reservation. Pakootas and another tribal member filed that lawsuit personally in 2006 as the law is written that a tribe couldn’t sue but had to come from an individual. Pakootas was CEO at that time. “I will continue to fight for environmental preservation and clean water for everyone when elected to Congress,” he commented.
He was raised on the Colville Reservation within the 5th congressional district which stretches from the Canadian border south to the Oregon border and from the Idaho border eastward to the Tri-Cities. Like many Indian youngsters at the time, he was taken from his parents and placed in foster care. After high school, he took a job with the labor union to help his family, then attended the University of Washington School of Business and received an MBA degree. He was later given the Bradford Award from the University as the top minority businessman in Washington.
Pakootas supports a nationwide living wage and equal pay for women, affordable medical care for all, initiatives that put unemployed back to work, comprehensive immigration reform, strengthening Social Security Medicare and Veterans benefits, workers’ rights and collective bargaining. He will work to reform student loan programs; will fight to protect open spaces and water for future generations. As a hunter and gun owner he supports smart gun policies including criminal checks for gun sales.
Speaking more specifically to the Native American population Pakootas said, “Native American veterans have been ignored ever since we’ve been fighting in wars. Right now Indian Health clinics aren’t recognized. Many of our veterans can’t get services provided at our clinics and can’t get reimbursed by the Veterans Administration. The resources need to be extended to Indian reservations.”
He also discussed the public lands issue and how Republicans are pushing for privatization of these lands. “I would be protecting these public lands to be sure they are open to the public. Tax dollars pay for them. Tribes can assist because they are former Indian territories.”