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Politics
Congress sees more changes under Republican control


There are many changes in store for Indian Country when Congress convenes for its 109th session next year.

The most significant is the loss of two major champions. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colorado), a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, is retiring after more than 20 years of public service. And Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) is departing after losing a heated election that saw a record Indian turnout.

But tribes and their advocates will see other changes, especially in the makeup of the committees that handle legislative and other issues. The effect will mostly be felt in the Senate since Republicans now outnumber Democrats by 55 to 45.

The shift in power means that Democrats will lose a seat on all the Senate committees. So instead of a 10 to 9 split on the Judiciary Committee, for example, it will be 10 to 8 in favor of the Republicans.

Republicans will continue to chair the committees but due to GOP-imposed term limits, there will be a major shakeup in these positions on the Senate side. Over in the House, there will be little to no change.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) will chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and plans to continue his investigation into the Jack Abramoff/Michael Scanlon lobbying scandal. Six tribes gave at least $66 million to the pair but received little in exchange, according to the panel.

The incoming vice chairman of the committee is Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota). He represents five tribes with land in the state and also sits on the Appropriations Committee, where he has advocated for more funding for Indian programs.

As a result of GOP control, Indian Affairs will lose Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who agreed to step aside after becoming the Senate minority leader. Reid rarely attended hearings except when they involved gaming. In the 108th Congress, he pushed a controversial bill, now signed into law, to distribute a $140 million trust fund to members of the Western Shoshone Nation for land tribal activists say still belongs to them.

Other changes on the Senate side center on the Commerce Committee, whose chairman will be Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and its ranking member will be Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the longtime vice chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. Tribal advocates see this powerful team as very positive as Stevens and Inouye have a close relationship and have worked together in the past on Indian issues.

Stevens will be losing his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, a position he used to the great benefit of Alaska Natives. But he favored corporations rather than tribal governments even as he dropped his bid to consolidate funding for Native villages. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) will take over the committee.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-New Mexico), who is close to many New Mexico tribal leaders, is expected to stay on as chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Tribal water and land settlements are often routed through his panel and next year, he will again seek to pass the energy policy bill that would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

Over on the House side, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California) will chair the Resources Committee. Over the past two years, he has emerged as a major advocate, particularly on trust reform and sovereignty.

Exiting the chamber will be Rep. Brad Carson (D-Oklahoma), a member of the Cherokee Nation. He was defeated in his bid for a Senate seat that leaves Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a member of the Chickasaw Nation, as the only American Indian in the House.

The chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee is up for grabs since Rep. Bill Young (R-Florida) will step down after six years. Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) is eyeing the top post, one of the most powerful.

The 109th Congress will convene January 4, 2005.