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The wisdom of a former senator and welcoming a Washington staffer

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Former U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell is sounding the alarm, and no one
in public life today is in a better position to do that. Jerry Reynolds, a
former correspondent now returning as Indian Country Today's Washington
staff reporter, is returning to familiar ground. He caught up with Campbell
recently. "I don't remember a time when it was more challenging for Indian
people," Reynolds quoted Campbell in "Campbell calls for more Capitol Hill
presence," (Vol. 25, Iss. 35).

The main enemy is the huge federal budget deficit, said Campbell. The
tribes are severely challenged to hang strong in demanding and persuading
at the federal level. The biggest challenge is not the Jack Abramoff
lobbying scandal, but a federal budget deficit of $368 billion. This
gorilla puts pressure on everyone to cut spending, and as usual the poorest
of the poor -- the least represented in Congress -- are the ones
sacrificed.

President Bush and the Republican leadership in Congress propose to shrink
the deficit by freezing discretionary spending across federal departments.
Discretionary spending represents a small part of overall federal spending,
but many tribal needs are met by discretionary accounts.

Again, American Indian tribes -- particularly the ones with the least
economic strength -- will suffer most directly and endure the most unfair
burden of the current attempts at trimming the federal deficit.

We welcome Reynold's reports from Washington. Catching up with Campbell as
he elucidates the political moment for Indian people is an example of what
on-site reporting can bring. Expect Reynolds to trace the power moves and
the lessons required to meet strategic objectives in the Washington arena,
where power decisions are made that set policies that can dictate and
restrict our children's futures.

If "intelligence" is what is required to survive and thrive in the current
era, there is plenty of it in Washington for the alert reporter. Studied
positions and strategies of the Native leadership, energy and economic
trends, political spearheads that directly impact our communities: these
are topics of importance to share among Native opinion-makers and all
interested people that define our audience.

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Campbell is worth hearing on the Abramoff scandal, which is confusing and
damaging; his main message is that tribes must take Washington strategies
seriously. The biggest danger of the Abramoff scandal is that tribal
leaders would shy away from trying to influence Congress. That would be a
big mistake, according to the two-term former senator from Colorado. "Boy,
don't put the blanket over your head here," he emphasized. "They [members of Congress] need your input ... We need to come back [to Washington] more,
not less. We need to talk to our own congressmen and our own senators more,
not less."

Be bipartisan in your lobbying, was another piece of advice from Campbell.
Work with all sides on issues that affect the rights of tribes. "We have
friends in both parties ... These are tough times, but we have friends on
both sides of the aisle."

As a former senator, Campbell retains the privilege of attending certain
get-togethers on the Senate floor. He reports that at least 20 senators
have told him they recognize that tribes were Abramoff's victims, not his
henchmen. This is good information, and good news.

Reported Reynolds: "[The former senator] also warned against taking a
racial angle on issues before Congress, explaining that nothing obscures a
real issue more quickly."

The excellent and expert advice from the only American Indian U.S. senator
in contemporary times is recommended. As a senator, Campbell stuck close to
the defense of Indian rights at every possible turn, even to the detriment
of support from his much broader Colorado constituencies. Campbell's
ability to straddle conservative and progressive causes is unique; and in
the rough-and-tumble world of Washington political currents, he has emerged
from a serious congressional career practically unscathed. Such substantial
service begets experience that deserves respect.

These days, the "deterioration of tribal sovereignty," in part a result of
post-Abramoff "reforms," is Campbell's main focus. Campbell is
clear-thinking to signal it as such. His political friendship with Arizona
Sen. John McCain, a central actor in the elaboration of reform mechanisms
on Indian political contributions, is important to Indian country. McCain,
as Reynolds reported in "Lobbying reform takes a look at tribes" (Vol. 25,
Iss. 36), was quick to assert that "the political disenfranchisement of
Indians and curtailment of tribal sovereignty are not on the agenda."
Continuous pressure is required, however, to override the negative with the
positive.

We welcome the senator's advice and encourage all Native leaders to
consider and act upon it. And we welcome Reynolds, who is keen to document
and recover the perceptions of wise thinkers and the factual trends that
require preparation and attention.