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John Thune; PART TWO

WASHINGTON - In an exclusive interview with Indian Country Today,
Republican John Thune provided his views on a range of national and Native
issues. In this conclusion Thune offered his thoughts on economic growth in
Indian country and beyond.

Indian Country Today: Some indicators suggest that economic growth is just
around the corner, but job creation doesn't seem to be getting the message.
How do you assess the health of the national economy?

Thune: "I think part of the problem, we're not spinning off jobs as we
otherwise would be in an economy that is growing, is that part of it's been
productivity increases. You know and we're, instead of investing in human
capital - I mean part of it is the cost of hiring additional people now ...
buy a computer, buy a piece of equipment that'll do the same thing. I mean
there are a lot of factors related to why there isn't necessarily the job
growth following the growth of the economy.

But I think that fundamentally, if you look at a lot of the indicators,
obviously [low] interest rates have been key ... and tax relief has been
helping to fuel the economy. I talk to a lot of people who are kind of on
the leading edge, transportation sector, some of the durable goods-type
people, those types of businesses, who said that things really started to
turn the corner several months ago and they feel really good about it and
they're optimistic about it. People who are in the heavy equipment
business, railroad companies ... there's a lot of activity out there now in
the economy and a lot of times they're sort of leading it. When they see it
start turning ... I think the signals are good. I think there are always
cautions. Energy costs. Price of gasoline. Cost of health care has become a
big factor. And that again is a factor of why don't businesses hire
additional people - it's the cost now of all these additional benefits,
whether it's health care, whatever else, it's become so high. That's why
they [companies] keep reigning that cost in and cutting health care costs -
keeping those at an affordable level [to companies] is an important part of
continuing to see the economy grow as well."

ICT: As a Senator, what actions would you take to improve private sector
economic development prospects on reservations in South Dakota?

Thune: "I think that there are a couple of things. One is, you have to be
able to leverage private sector involvement, and I have really good
relationships in South Dakota with a lot of the captains of industry and
the corporate types. I think that involving them in a partnership with the
tribes and with the state ... in a more intensive way could do a lot ...
You have to use sometimes your platform, your bully pulpit, your leadership
abilities to make that happen, and I have a very good relationship with
Governor [Mike] Rounds as well as with a lot of the folks in the private
sector in South Dakota, the corporate types, that I think we could involve
in a much more intensive way than has been done to date.

And I also think that encouraging changes in the reservation that would
accommodate more private sector involvement ... One of the things that
really hurts the reservations is there's no sense of legal certainty. And
businesses have a hard time coming into a situation where they don't know
they are going to be subject to tribal law, federal law, state law,
property rights, car issues out there, questions about whether or not
there's title on property and that sort of thing, and I think that's a
function of making some changes in perhaps the legal structure to make it
more opening and more accommodating, and more friendly to business
development ... It's a combination of recognizing what the issue is and
then working as partners to try and solve it.

But I do think it's going to take a certain amount of initiative from the
tribes as well, tribal governments, to recognize that and say that if we
want to get serious about attracting economic development to the
reservations, then this is an issue that we have to address. But it is
something that I would want to work with them to accomplish ... I think
there's a lot of opportunity there and Lord knows ... the need is great,
and I think that the argument I would make out there is that you've had Tom
Daschle in office for 26 years. What's changed for the better? Are the
conditions any better, is unemployment any better, is poverty any better?
Maybe it's time we looked at a new model. Maybe it's time we looked at what
can we do to be agents of change, to bring about transformational type
change on the reservations that would invite private sector involvement and
not repel it."

ICT: Federal bureaucracy has become a real problem in Indian country. As
the Cobell v. U.S. litigation over trust fund accounting and reform has
shown, we have entrenched bureaucracies in Indian country that are really,
really hard to deal with. Would you have any thoughts on how you could tame
that particular beast?

Thune: "We definitely have to get away from the kind of big brother,
paternalistic attitude that the BIA and some of the federal agencies have
toward the tribes. I think the government-to-government relationship has to
be looked at as partnerships rather than the way they have in the past. I
think bureaucracy and red tape smothers innovation and probably a lot of
good things that could be happening on the reservation, just like it does
anywhere else in the economy of this country. I believe that the tribes
would be probably better served ... if they were more autonomous, if they
had more independence when it comes to making decisions. Get those dollars
back in the hands of tribal governments and tribal people rather than
having you know, this kind of constant forced dependence upon the BIA. And
some people would argue that well, the tribal governments like things the
way they are. I don't think they like things the way they are - I think
they are so accustomed to it, it's been there for so long."

ICT: It's not clear what the next step would be?

Thune: "Yeah, where do you go from here? But I think that the next step is
in order ... I think we can do better. I think we have to be willing to
look outside the box, to look at a new model. Obviously we have obligations
we need to meet. Treaties - it comes to education, health care and all
these things. But that delivery system is one of the things that I hear as
much probably out there to complain about as I do about funding. I mean
funding's always an issue. But so is the frustration, the pent-up
frustration, talking to some of these tribal leaders dealing with the BIA,
or the IHS, or whomever. There's just a tremendous amount of frustration. I
think we can do better."