Forget political parties (for now) Native candidates seek to be The Top Two

Debra Lekanoff is a candidate for the state House in Washington. That state features a "top two" primary where only two candidates make the November ballot. (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant

This week's primary election focus: Kansas, Washington and Hawaii #NativeVote18

Voters in Washington have been “going to polls” since July 20. But the ballot boxes are found in a living room, a kitchen, or anywhere that’s convenient. Washington is one of three states that administer their entire election via mail. (Oregon and Colorado are two other vote by mail states. And California is easing into this system county by county. Other states allow vote by mail in certain circumstances.)

Critics say that vote by mail is not the same. It takes away from voting as a communal act; the idea of showing up at the polls, seeing neighbors and voting as an act of civic discourse. That said: You can still show up at a ballot collection center and drop your ballot. A hat tip of sorts to the idea of voting at a precinct. Supporters say a vote by mail system makes it easier to vote. This year even the envelope for the ballot has pre-paid postage. Easy means more voters, right?

On that point the data finds yes, absolutely. A study published by The Washington Post found in an increase in voter participation, “driven by a huge boost among people with the lowest turnout probability scores. Registered voters assigned a 10 percent chance of voting, for instance, turned out at a 31 percent rate. Who were these overperforming voters? Overwhelmingly, they were young. The 18-to-24-year-old bracket, forecast to turn out at 26.6 percent, actually turned out at 38.7 percent. And 25-to-34-year-olds outperformed their prediction by 7.4 percentage points.”

More voters? A good sign for democracy.

But vote by mail is more complicated in tribal communities. Sometimes multiple family members (or even non family members) share the same post office box, especially in rural communities. And even getting to that post office -- sometimes a long drive -- can be problematic.

This week’s election is a top-two or “jungle” primary. That just means that all candidates are on the ballot, and two will move forward to the November general election. Party affiliation is mentioned, but it does not decide which candidates are nominees. (The parties hate this.)

A lot of the action focuses on the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash. There are several Democrats, a pediatrician Kim Schrier, a former prosecutor Jason Rittereiser, and former Centers for Disease Control official Shannon Hader. The overwhelming Republican front-runner is former Senate, governor candidate Dino Rossi, Tlingit.

Rossi has been a state senator, twice the GOP nominee for governor (only losing one race by a fraction of a percent) and a U.S. Senate candidate.

He has a track record and name identification. So in theory all of the Republican votes should ensure that Rossi is one of the top two candidates to move forward to the November ballot.

Former state Sen. Dino Rossi (Campaign photo)

As Seattle's Stranger puts it: "One thing is all but certain: Dino Rossi will make it through the primary. He's the guy to beat."

And why not? He also has a lot of money, some $3 million this round.

Sen. John McCoy (State Senate photo)

State Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip, is facing a three-way primary. He is running against another Democrat, Bruce Overstreet,, and Savio Pham, an Independent Republican.

McCoy was endorsed by The Herald, this is good because the paper said, “The Herald Editorial Board endorsed McCoy four years ago, noting his habit of being ‘bracingly honest’ and not one for false pledges. McCoy doesn’t over-promise, but has shown he can finish what he starts.”

That's not the kind of language that's often associated with politicians.

On Native issues, McCoy delivers and finishes. He pushes through a number of bills that have improved tribal economies, language, and culture. The Puget Sound Business Journal cited McCoy as one of the region's 35 most influential business leaders. And, Evergreen State University teaches using McCoy's legacy as a case study.

Chris Roberts (Campaign photo)

Chris Roberts, Choctaw, is also running in a three-way race for the state legislature from Shoreline. Roberts had been the mayor of his city. In this race, faces another Democrat, Lauren Davis, and Republican Frank Deisler in District 32b.

In the Edmonds Beacon, Roberts said: "These are exciting times, because it is really important that tribal members are able to look up to their representatives and see someone like them serving. It gives them hope, more faith that the government is representing them and listening to their interests." The Beacon added: "For Roberts, the issue of representation goes beyond just Native Americans. The Washington state Legislature currently has just 16 members of color, and Roberts believes diversity is the key to making sure that all voices are heard."

Christine Ives (Facebook photo)

One interesting twist on Washington’s top two primary is a question about the role of a party. Do candidates need a party? Do voters?

Christine Ives, Colville Confederated Tribes, is running to answer that question. Her ballot line reads simply with her name and the phrase, “States No Party Preference.”

She told The Spokesman-Review that “her legal experience and work for the tribes could help her as a legislator. She said she’s more interested in fixing problems on an issue-by-issue basis than sticking to one-party narrative.” She said running as an independent “fits the Washingtonian culture.”

Tim Ballew II (Campaign photo)

There is often a question raised by many tribal citizens about why it matters to participate in state politics. A good answer to that question comes up as a theme in the Senate bid by Tim Ballew II, Lummi. He is running in a three-way race in the 42nd district.

As a tribal chairman, Ballew was involved in complicated issues from coal to salmon that required building a coalition beyond his nation. At Standing Rock, Ballew reported the success of standing up to coal trains and the tribe’s victory over a proposed coal distribution port. The coal port would have moved 55 million tons of coal that Ballew said “would have desecrated a sacred site.” Two years ago the Army Corps of Engineers (yes, that Army Corps) rejected the Cherry Point coal terminal because it would have infringed on Lummi treaty rights.

Tim Ballew during a spill of Atlantic salmon in the Puget Sound (Campaign photo)

Then last May when Atlantic salmon escaped pens into the Puget Sound, the Lummi Nation took immediate action to protect its shelangen or way of life. As High Country News reported, the Lummi Nation declared a state of emergency, catching some 43,500 fish, to prevent them from contaminating the tribe’s fishery.

These are issues that cross boundaries. Yet salmon remain one of those issues that is central to Ballew’s campaign. “When our area salmon habitat is degraded, we all lose. We lose out on the beauty of our natural surroundings and a healthy supply for commercial fishers who rely on the Salish Sea to feed their families and pay their bills. And when we lose habitat our kids lose, too,” he writes on his campaign blog. “If we don’t do all we can to protect the habitat of our salmon and wildlife, future generations will not be able to enjoy the beauty of western Washington and the way of life we love.”

Debra Lekanoff (Campaign photo)

Debra Lekanoff, Tlingit, is running in a crowded primary for the state House in district 40. She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, one of eight Washington state candidates.

“One thing is absolutely clear, Washington State women are not content to sit on the sidelines this election,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “They’re filing to run for office in record numbers we haven’t seen for generations, if ever. EMILY’s List is proud to endorse these eight pro-choice Democratic women leaders whose voices belong in Olympia shaping public policy to improve the lives of every Washington family.”

Lekanoff describes herself as a mom and as a community member. “I have served my entire 21 years of employment as a government servant to citizens,” she said on her campaign site. “ I’ve served as the Swinomish Governmental Affairs Director for the past 16 years and for six years I served as Chair of an Alaska Native Village Corporation.”

She’s also made a point of listening to people in the district. “My most exciting moments are the people I meet door knocking and in the street. I hear and feel the vast support of understanding that we need diversity at the negotiation and decision making table at all levels of governments,” Lekanoff said.

She also is clear about why so many Native women are running for office this year. “In my own Alaskan Tlingit and Aleut teachings … I am a woman who carries the responsibility of 7 generations, who carries compassion and respect for all,” she said. “There is no ego or arrogance in our decision making, but rather a deep passion to protect and make the right decisions for all to survive and live prosperous lives. As matriarchs, mothers and caretakers of Mother Earth, we are the natural born leaders.”​

​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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What's ahead in Indian Country Today

Saturday:Donald Trump vs Bernie Sanders? Nah. Sharice Davids says race is about Kansas

Sunday: Washington state profile

Monday: Hawaii profile

Tuesday night / Wednesday morning election results

Comments (2)
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Though he is just a regular-joe white guy, I hope your readers will consider voting for socialist feminist Steve Hoffman. He will fight for treaty rights to be honored and fight against fracking and other encroachment on native lands, especially by the energy industry. Read more here,, and here,


Today's 2018 "Democratic Party" are not your grandpa's, grandma's Political party anymore! in fact, if John F. Kennedy were to campaign as a "democrat" today, JFK's platform would be too far right....