MORTON, Minn. ? The lone Indian candidate running for South Dakota's highest office is crossing state lines to build a campaign war chest.
South Dakota Sen. Ron J. Volesky, D-Huron, made his pitch to a Native American group attending a conference about enrollment and legal remedies sponsored by the Lower Sioux.
Passing out brochures and explaining his trip to Minnesota, Volesky told tribal members their support of his campaign was vital in making history and empowering Indians across the nation.
While electing a Native governor in South Dakota wouldn't immediately impact surrounding tribes, it would build another valuable link between Indians and legislators on a national level, Volesky said.
Winning the seat would place Native issues on a higher priority among governors when they gather for national meetings, he said.
"It does matter who gets elected ? It's important who the next governor in South Dakota is. It is important to get involved in the electoral process," Volesky said.
"Our tribal governments are under assault. We only have to look at recent Supreme Court cases," he said.
The state senator, who has been traveling to nearby reservations asking for support from tribal members, said having a tribal member as governor could also play a powerful role in lobbying efforts since a governor's seat wields power with Congress.
"The outcome may very well be decided by the Indian people," he said.
Openly requesting a political contribution, Volesky asked the members of the Lower Sioux, St. Croix Band of Chippewa of Wisconsin and Flandreau Sioux tribes to help fuel his campaign.
"I'm here today asking you to send your money to 'Volesky for Governor,'" he said.
Volesky told Lower Sioux tribal members he would assist in bringing their issues to the forefront. He vowed to make certain tribes are exempt from a state nursing home moratorium, thus allowing them to build nursing home facilities. He promised to re-establish a state Indian Affairs Commission and advocate a national Native American university.
"South Dakota would be a much better place if things were better on the reservations," he said.
Instead of leaving reservation communities behind, he said, the state needs to be more cooperative with tribal governments in bolstering economic development.
However, he cautioned, it won't happen until tribal members vote in state elections and help fellow tribesmen gain state offices.
Volesky has to build a significant war chest to compete with a strong Republican financial machine, but trends showing a shift in political affiliations during the past four presidential elections may work in his favor. A growing number of South Dakotans have been choosing alternatives to the traditional two-party system.
Younger voters may take a more significant role since they are likely to vote more for the candidate than for the party and could swing the vote.
Volesky faces a challenge from State Senate Minority Leader Jim Hutmacher of Oacoma and University of South Dakota president Jim Abbott. Abbott is taking a leave of absence from his university position during his run for the Democratic nomination.
Abbott, who is in his fifth year as USD president, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. House in 1996.
On the Republican side, former Lt. Gov. Steve Kirby of Sioux Falls and former State Senate Majority Leader Mike Rounds of Pierre have announced their candidacies. South Dakota Attorney General Mark Barnett has also indicated he will run.
Volesky pledged he would allow the tribes to determine the number of machines in their gaming operations.
"Not only am I going to negotiate in good faith, but the number of machines would be left to the tribes to decide," he said.
He disagreed with South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow's position of making tribes include a provision in their gaming compacts barring political contributions from gaming monies.
Volesky said he is considering a lawsuit challenging the state's authority to impose the regulation as part of the gaming compacts.
Not all the tribes within the border of South Dakota may be affected by the compacts because the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe stretches into North Dakota where it hasn't made any such agreements.
While most at the meeting seemed willing to aid the race of a Native candidate, some Lower Sioux tribal members took offense to Volesky's open request for money.
Others saw few benefits of sending money to a race outside their own state boundaries and asked, "What is he going to do for us?"
Lower Sioux Tribal Member Bob Pendleton said he was disappointed in the speech and was insulted by the request for money.
Meanwhile, Volesky has enlisted campaign workers on the Cheyenne River Sioux and Standing Rock Sioux reservations to push support for his candidacy and promote voter involvement in the state election.
Traditionally, many tribal members have ignored the state races or have had their efforts to get to the polls stymied by long distances and confusion over changed polling locations.