TRAHANT REPORTS— It’s such a simple thing: Every citizen should have a voice at the table when decisions are made. It’s a powerful notion because no democracy can sustain itself unless all of its people, all of those who have a stake in the outcome, are included.
But that idea remains illusive. And never more important.
What does a seat at the table look like? It means more Native Americans win election to office as governors, members of Congress, U.S. Senators, mayors, county commissions, judges, members of state legislatures, and, yes, why not, even the White House. Indian country deserves more of a voice, both in terms of fairness and as elected representation that’s based on our share of the population. Wait. That’s fairness, too. (Previous: Indian country wins with more representation in the states.)
Then there are elected offices that we don’t think about, yet are important, and by definition, are that seat at the table. Claudia Kauffman is running for such a job, Commissioner for the Port of Seattle. This is a $650 million a year public business that manages Seattle’s seaport, airport, and a portfolio of real estate. It has its own police and fire departments. Tribes and Native people are affected by port decisions ranging from cleaning up rivers and salmon habitat to regulating oil drilling rigs that berth in Seattle on their way to Arctic waters.
Kauffman is Nez Perce. She is the first Native American woman who was elected to the Washington state Senate a decade ago. (Previous: She Represents: A survey of Native American Women who have been elected to office.) She also works for the Muckleshoot Tribe as the Intergovernmental Affairs Director. One of her tasks in that role is distributing $1.3 million a year to more than 200 local schools, churches and not-for-profit organizations. She’s also been a trustee at The Evergreen State College and on the board of visitors at Antioch College.
Kauffman grew up in Seattle’s Beacon Hill as the youngest of seven children. “I come from a family with a long history of giving back to the community,” Kauffman says on her website. “A family with strong and well grounded values and connection to our community, our environment, and our future. I will work to bring trust back into government, to provide leadership in the direction of the Port of Seattle, and bring family wage jobs.”
A couple of years ago Kauffman told the port commission that it could use her perspective as a working mother, a small business owner, and a community leader. “My record of public service includes working closely with state, federal and tribal governments, which I believe, makes my experience unique and beneficial to the Port of Seattle Commission,” she wrote. In the state Senate Kauffman said she worked on transportation, international trade and economic development. “I led the Senate in the successful passage of the MicroEnterprise Development in which we funded training for small business owners … my work with the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe provides critical connections, understanding and perspective.”
In her campaign brochure, Kauffman said she will build on her tribal contacts and strengthen ties with the 29 tribes in the state. Tribes “are large employers,” Kauffman said. “In 2010, they paid $1.3 billion in wages and purchased $2.4 billion in goods and services.”
This will be a challenging race. She’s running for Commissioner Position One, against a well-funded incumbent, John W. Creighton III. Also on the August primary ballot will be Ryan Calkins and Bea Querido-Rico. (This is a non-partisan election for voters of King County, Washington.)
Creighton is the longest serving port commissioner and one of the commission’s best fundraisers.
But Claudia Kauffman is no stranger to that world. She raised nearly $300,000 in her bid for the Senate and she was one of those candidates who worked incredibly hard knocking on every door at every opportunity. She also has a political organization — a network of people who are willing to work extraordinarily hard to win an election.
This is what a seat at the table looks like.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.