Opinion | Politics

Jim Abourezk: South Dakota tribes can put Rick Weiland in office

Former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk. Courtesy photo

I support Rick Weiland for the U.S. Senate seat that is up for election this year and so do all 9 South Dakota tribes and the Great Plains Tribal Chairs Association.

Rick is hoping to replace retiring U.S. Senator Tim Johnson who has been a staunch ally of Indian tribes in the US Senate. Tim Johnson has also endorsed Rick Weiland. Tim Johnson beat Larry Pressler in 1996, largely due to voters in Indian Country who voted overwhelming for Senator Johnson.

In Senator Johnson’s 2002 re-election campaign, I went to bed on election night of thinking that Tim Johnson was losing the U.S. Senate seat that was being contested strongly that year by John Thune. When I rose the next morning, South Dakota’s Indian reservations were having their votes counted–late as usual. After each announcement of the count, Johnson gained more and more ground on Thune, until finally, the votes from the reservations put Tim Johnson over the top by 500 votes. That shows the incredible power of the Native vote!

Now, in this critical year, Indian country has a chance to win it again for Rick Weiland. We need another champion for the Tribes representing South Dakota in the U.S. Senate. And that’s what Rick Weiland would be, provided, in this close election, the Indian Tribes don’t divide up their vote, and if they can come together as a powerful voting bloc.

I say that because the Senate election is coming down to the wire. Because of all the big money he is collecting from the rich corporations and other Republicans, former Governor Mike Rounds is leading by a slight margin. But with six weeks to go in the race, Rick Weiland is rapidly closing on him, threatening to overtake him by the time election day comes around.

Rick Weiland is doing this without having much money to spend on his election. He is the only Senate candidate who opposes the Keystone Pipeline and is taking on the big oil companies. In a way, that’s fortunate, because Weiland will owe no debt to the rich corporations if he gets into office, only to the people who elected him, like tribal members, ranchers, working people and others who have neither the resources nor the influence to buy an election, as Rounds is trying to do.

The only spoiler in this election is the old time political opportunist–Larry Pressler–who spent too many years in office without doing anything for the average person, or for Indian tribes. Remember this:
• Pressler voted against a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. (1988)
• Pressler voted against the Minimum Wage (1988)
• Pressler voted multiple times against parental leave (1988, 1992, 1993)
• Pressler voted against limits on campaign finance spending (1992, 1994)
• Pressler voted against greater disclosure requirements for lobbyists (1994)
• Pressler voted against benefits for same sex couples. (1992)
• Pressler voted against discrimination based on sexual orientation (1996)
• National Education Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
• National Council of Senior Citizens:  Pressler voted against their positions 90% of the time.
• NARAL Pro Choice America:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
• Human Rights Campaign:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
• National Public Health Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
• United States Students Association:  Pressler voted against their positions 100% of the time.
• Children’s Defense Fund:  Pressler voted against their positions 89% of the time.

Pressler’s interest the last time he was in was for those people and powerful corporations who could provide the most money for him. He’s getting just enough support in this election to help Rounds and to damage Rick Weiland–enough to put Rounds in the Senate seat and to deny the people of South Dakota–including Tribal members–someone who will look out for their interests. He may be trying to do a makeover of his image, but he is the same person underneath that he was the last time he was in the Senate.

Indian Tribes of South Dakota can put Weiland in office, just as they did retiring Senator Tim Johnson.

In Weiland, the Indian people will have a champion, someone to look out for their interests in a hostile environment that is the Congress. What is worse is that Pressler cannot get enough votes to win election, but just enough to prevent Weiland from getting more votes–enough to give the seat to Rounds. That would be a disaster for Indian Country, in particular because Rounds would make all of his decisions based on who gave him the most money for his campaign.

I’m asking South Dakota’s Tribal members to help themselves by helping the one candidate who will be a champion for the Indian people, as well as the working people of this state–Rick Weiland.

When he was in office, former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk helped create and was the first Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs. During his term as Chairman, he authored and passed the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Indian Self-Determination Act, The Indian Religious Freedom Act, and other critical Indian legislation.

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