Championing Native people and values on Election Day

Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan wrap up their primary campaign. (Campaign photo via Facebook)

Mark Trahant

#NativeVote18 This week's primary election focus: Wisconsin and Minnesota

Peggy Flanagan has been a candidate for Minnesota’s [lieutenant]( governor for a long time, since last fall. She was one of the first Native candidates to announce a run for office in this election cycle.

From Trahant Reports in October 2017: Rep. Peggy Flanagan is running on Congressman Tim Walz’ gubernatorial ticket for Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor party and “It’s another breakthrough race (think back to that word legacy). As a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Flanagan would be the first American Indian woman to serve as a state lieutenant governor and would be the highest ranking Native woman ever in a state constitutional office. (The only other one is Denise Juneau when she was the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.)”

Flanagan’s entry into the race was a big deal.

Again, as I wrote back in the fall, “If you look at the number of elected Native American women across the country in legislatures, and in county governments, or in city hall, then you see the possibility of a slow wave, real change unfolding over time. It’s not a question of if … only how long do we wait?”

I was so wrong. Forget slow wave. See big waves crashing on the shore. The waiting is over.

There are 30 states picking new [lieutenant governor]( In 20 of those states, the lieutenant governors and governors campaign on a single ticket; in the remaining 10, the battle for lieutenant governor is separate. And Indian Country is represented with 5 candidates for lieutenant governor in three states, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Alaska. (And if that’s not enough, three more Native candidates for state governors.)

Flanagan has been crossing Minnesota for months. And in every stop she champions the idea that Native people deserve a voice at levels of government. “I’m a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. My clan is the Wolf Clan. The role of our clan is to ensure we’re not leaving anyone behind,” she recently said on a campaign video. “As your lieutenant governor I will fight alongside Tim to hold the door of the governor’s office wide open for everyone.”

Campaigns are windows into a future government. Candidates and their team decide what’s important to them. What are the priorities? Where do the candidates go? What’s said and how often? Flanagan and her running mate, Tim Walz, offer clear answers about their policy prescriptions and their view of inclusion. Not just a visit to a tribal nation, but visits, and those visits are aligned with an action plan.

The Star Tribune looked into that window and saw reason to endorse Walz. “His inclusive leadership style is evident in the partnership he has forged with his running mate, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan of St. Louis Park. Flanagan brings geographic, racial and gender balance to the ticket plus the knowledge of state lawmaking that comes from two terms in the Legislature. But she is no token. Walz tapped Flanagan 11 months ago and made her his de facto deputy since then. They offer DFL voters an appealing ‘twofer.’”

There is a three-way primary for the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In addition to Walz, the other candidates are state Rep. Erin Murphy and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

GOP candidate for Governor Jeff Johnson and his running mate Donna Bergstrom at the party convention (Campaign photo via Twitter)

In the Republican primary, Donna Bergstrom, Red Lake Ojibwe, is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. She joined the ticket for Jeff Johnson. This race is also a three-way primary. The other candidates for governor are former presidential candidate and governor, Tim Pawlenty, and Matt Kruse.

The Republican choice is less about an inclusive Minnesota and more about President Donald J. Trump. Two years ago Trump came close to carrying the state, and his supporters think he could do so in 2020. So the candidates for governor are keen to be an ally.

For example: Johnson told Minnesota Public Radio that as governor he would try to end a state refugee resettlement program and push for fewer regulations that impact business and natural resource extraction.

On the campaign trail Bergstrom’s story is about her military career. The Johnson campaign introduces her as “Lt. Col. Donna Bergstrom, USMC (retired). She told the New Ulm Journal that she joined the campaign because Johnson wants to overthrow the status quo. “There is a sense of arrogance in our politics,” she told The Journal. “We want to change the way government does business. We want to bring in people who represent our communities, represent the changes we want and not be driven by the governing elite.”

In an op-ed in Indian Country Today, Bergstrom (and Kirsten Johnson) wrote: “Native American tribes naturally fall into a conservative/libertarian model, where the rules start at the most local level and move up. First, you listen to your family above all else. Then, your village, and the people who you take care of and who take care of you day to day. From there, you support the tribe and you fight for them, and speak their language, but little else.”

Bergstrom speaking to voters. (Campaign photo via Twitter)

The PolyMet Mine is an issue that’s incredibly important to tribal communities in Minnesota. The copper-nickel mining project threatens wild rice and the associated treaty rights. Last year the National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution to oppose the transfer of federal lands for the projected, based on those treaty and environmental concerns.

Bergstrom’s running mate, Johnson, advocates for the project. She has said it’s possible to develop the mine, create jobs, and protect the environment with current technology.

The mine is at the end of the regulatory process. The next governor could make sure there are no more hurdles, or, on the other hand, look for new ways to slow down the project. Republicans see this project as a way to increase support in rural communities, the very ones that supported Trump in the state, with a promise of new jobs. Minnesota Public Radio says in addition the environmental risks, there is a concern that the Canadian company does not have the resources to carry out the project, especially the clean up in the decades ahead.

Arvina Martin making her case for Wisconsin Secretary of State. (Campaign photo)

Wisconsin’s primary is also Tuesday. Our focus today is on the Secretary of State's office and Arvina Martin’s challenge to 40-year incumbent, Douglas LaFollette, in the Democratic primary.

Martin, Ho Chunk, serves on the Madison City Council, the first Native American woman to elected in that city.

She said she is running to restore voting rights in an era when they are under attack by the federal government in the Trump administration and from eight years of Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

She recently told The Wisconsin State Journal that the office is essential. “We need a strong champion and watchdog for our democracy. Our election system is under assault by corporate interests and foreign actors and we must have an aggressive response,” she said. “Too many roadblocks have been established to prevent voter turnout, and to dilute different points of view. I have experience getting information to voters in order to make sure their voices are heard.”

Her website says she will work to expand voting options, simplify voter registration and push to include allowing automatic voter registration by the Department of Transportation.

The website Madison 365 calls the election: “the Most Diverse Mdison and Wisconsin Have Ever Seen.”

Martin said that’s because different constituencies are being reached. “I feel perfectly comfortable going to the Ho-Chunk Nation’s tribal building or going to a pow wow or some kind of event in the Native community where someone who isn’t Native might not feel that level of comfort,” she told Madison 365. “And we’re all Wisconsinites and we all deserve to have candidates that come and reach out to us and talk to us so we can share our concerns with them.”

Follow Indian Country Today for election returns Sunday (Hawaii) and Tuesday night (Minnesota and Wisconsin).

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter -@TrahantReports


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