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Mark Trahant
Indian Country Today

Shane Morigeau knows the drill. The politician shows up. Tosses a few nice-sounding ideas. Asks for money. And disappears until the next election.

“So I make it a point to return my phone calls,” Morigeau said. Then he adds the kicker, “Here's my personal phone number. You can call me, you know. You want to talk about politics or just want to be asked about something, you know, like, give me a call.”

Retail politics, Montana style.

Morigeau, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said he didn’t set out to be a politician. He was elected to the Montana Legislature in 2016 as a Democrat. One of the first Native Americans elected to represent an urban district, in hisMissoula.

Morigeau found a lot of early success as a state lawmaker. He was elected to his party’s leadership, worked on a number of issues that involved tribes, such as water compacts. And he worked on Medicaid expansion, a bill that included a broad coalition of Democrats and Republicans. 

“That experience was just like, wow, open my eyes,” Morigeau said. So many people came together “to find a way to make sure people have access to healthcare.”

Now the attorney is running for the statewide office of auditor. “Medicaid expansion and this office just seemed like a place where I could do work to protect and help people in Montana,” Morigeau said. He said he saw firsthand how insurance companies put their financial interests over that of the people in Montana.

If elected auditor, Morigeau would regulate insurance and finance and manage the state’s tax revenue. He would also serve on Montana’s land board. He is running against Republican Troy Downing. The incumbent auditor, Matt Rosendale, is running for Congress.

Morigeau said the land board is a particularly important role because those natural resources are used to fund public education. That’s “very near and dear to my heart because I'm a product of our public school system in Montana,” he said, noting he went to high school in rural Ronan.

He also cites his experience as a prosecuting attorney as helpful in the regulatory side of the job.

“I was a prosecutor for two years, and I've been practicing law for about 10 years now. But there's a criminal arm to this office, and it prosecutes fraud cases,” Morigeau said. The prosecution of fraud both in insurance and financial services is critical, ensuring companies are held accountable for their actions.

Montana is a large state, and Morigeau drove some 13,000 miles carrying his message from community to community. Then the pandemic hit. Now Morigeau’s days are filled with phone calls and Zoom.

The campaign, and Montana Democrats, are experimenting with how to campaign now. “So things are flying by,” he said. “We're doing a picnic, a Democratic picnic tonight with Lake County.” A virtual picnic.

Or there are drive-by rallies. And trivia nights. “I'm not saying I don't want to do trivia,” he adds. “I'm just, you know, unless there's ’90s music in it, I'm not very good at it.”

But ask about ’90s music or sports and he feels like he’s ready.

Tribes have supported Morigeau’s candidacy. For example Fort Belknap Community Council President Andrew Werk recently posted that tribe’s endorsement. “Shane made it to every Reservation in Montana and he has taken on insurance companies in the State Legislature,” Werk wrote. “Growing up in a low-income family, he knows what it’s like to struggle to afford health care. His legal experience and his legislative work proves his heart is in it for Montana. I cannot think of anyone better to take on fraudulent investors and fight for affordable insurance rates. We are proud to join so many other endorsers in supporting a candidate that will represent all Montanans in our great state.”

He’s also been endorsed by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, the Crow Tribal Executive Branch, the Chippewa Cree Business Committee, and his own tribe, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Council.

Montana is a unique state. It has the highest percentage of Native Americans serving in the Legislature at 7 percent, roughly the same percent of lawmakers as citizens.

The Legislature looks like Montana, “and that’s a good thing” because there are so many issues that impact tribal communities.

“When all of our communities are doing better in Montana, Montana is doing better,” Morigeau said. The “economy is doing better; the health of people across the state is better … and I want to see our state and the people in the state do better as well.”

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Mark Trahant, Shoshone-Bannock, is editor of Indian Country Today. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Trahant is based in Phoenix.

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Correction. The insurance industry opposed child abuse legislation, not Medicaid expansion as was reported in an earlier version of the story.