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Tim Giago: Important election day for South Dakota

Posted by request of Tim Giago, Nanwica Kciji. � 2006 Native American Journalists Foundation, Inc.

Politics can be different in South Dakota. It is a red state where the independent-minded voters often vote blue.

With only one member of the House of Representatives to its name, Stephanie Herseth (D-SD), the South Dakota went Democratic two years ago in support of Herseth. Of the two US senators, one � Tim Johnson � is a Democrat. This year Herseth is challenged by a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, Bruce Whalen, for her Congressional seat. Whalen is a Republican, a real oddity in Indian country since most tribes usually vote the Democratic ticket.

But there are also important campaigns taking place on a couple of the Indian reservations. After Cecilia Fire Thunder, the impeached president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, narrowly lost her bid for re-election when she fell by three votes in the reservation�s primary election this month, the incumbent and acting president Alex White Plume, will face former three-time-president, John Yellow Bird Steele.

Steele is a formidable opponent and has strong support in the reservation�s two largest districts, Wounded Knee and Pine Ridge. White Plume took over the duties of president after the tribal council suspended and then impeached Fire Thunder for her feminist stand on abortion rights.

The irony of the council�s action against Fire Thunder is that if any of the council members truly knew their own history and culture, they (especially the men) would never have taken her to task for her stand on women�s rights because the traditional male of the Oglala Sioux Tribe never, not ever, interfered in the rights of a Lakota woman to decide her own fate when it came to child birth. A Lakota woman always had the traditional and spiritual right to make her own decision. It has only been since the Christianization of so many members of the tribe that moral issues, usually guided by cultural and traditional values, have made the transition to the values and beliefs of the different Christian religious groups.

A physician, Jack Billion, of Sioux Falls, has challenged Governor Mike Rounds (R-SD). Billion has made the issue of banning all abortions, HB1215, passed by the South Dakota legislators this year and signed into law by Governor Rounds, the centerpiece of his campaign. Because the law also prevents an abortion by victims of rape or incest, Billion believes it is a law that is unfair and dangerous for women. The law was challenged by the South Dakota voters and is on the ballot. And although Gov. Rounds, a Catholic, has allowed his religious beliefs to overshadow his political beliefs, he remains a popular governor.

However, his popularity has waned on the Indian reservations where a strong voter turnout has influenced several state and national elections of late. He made a solemn vow to work with the tribal leaders in the state by inviting them to his home and sitting down and talking about the issues impacting the reservations on a one-to-one basis. To my knowledge, this had not happened.

As a matter of fact, several tribes, including the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in Eastern South Dakota, have been campaigning relentlessly to get Gov. Rounds to amend their gaming compacts to allow for more gaming devices in their casinos. They see this as a way to increase jobs and revenues on the reservation and thus greatly improve their economic position. To date, Rounds has refused to comply. This stubbornness has prompted the Flandreau Tribe to take out television ads statewide addressing the issue.

Gov. Rounds and his attorney general, Larry Long, also fought tooth and nail to stop Mike Jandreau and his Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, from taking land into trust near the city of Chamberlain, SD to use as a recreational site for the tribe. The tribe won in the lower courts and watched apprehensively as the case wound its way all of the way to the US Supreme Court where the court refused to hear the case and let the lower court ruling stand. Clearly a sound defeat for Gov. Rounds and Larry Long.

Long is challenged this year by an attorney named Ron Volesky, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Volesky, a Democrat, has been active in South Dakota politics for many years and is well respected by whites as well as Indians. However, Long has a strong Republican following and the job position of attorney general can have many implications to state politics and the Republican majority fears the politics of the more liberal candidate Volesky. Long has hidden behind this fear quite effectively over the years.

The Indian media in South Dakota will come out strongly in favor of Billion for governor and Volesky for attorney general, but the powerful Republican vote will more than likely countermand the Indian vote.

Stepanie Herseth is the odds on favorite to retain her seat in Congress against Whalen. She was leading 60 percent to 26 percent in the latest statewide poll. Whalen has identified himself much too strongly with the anti-abortionists to the point where he has almost become a Johnny-one-note on the subject. In a recent televised debate with Herseth he turned nearly every topic to include the abortion issue knowing full well that Herseth does not support the ban.

Yes, politics in South Dakota can be different and for such a small state, it drew some of the Republican Party�s heaviest hitters and huge funds from the Republican National Committee two years ago when it pushed Senator Tom Daschle out of the national political arena.

November 7 should be very interesting when the polls open on that day throughout the state and on the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Reservations where Harold Frazier, the incumbent president, is expected to retain his seat.

(McClatchy News Service in Washington, DC distributes Tim Giago�s weekly column. He can be reached at P.O. Box 9244, Rapid City, SD 57709 or at Giago was also the founder and former editor and publisher of the Lakota Times and Indian Country Today newspapers and the founder and first president of the Native American Journalists Association. Clear Light Books of Santa Fe, NM ( published his latest book, �Children Left Behind�)

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