Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe Indians, won election to the Minnesota House of Representatives. Photo: Peggy Flanagan

Mark Trahant: Making Native vote progress one win at a time

Election progress one race at a time

By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports

What will it take for Native Americans to have full representation in the United States, in state governments, and in city halls?

The only answer is running for office and winning elections. One race at a time.

Tuesday night was a pick up of two. An asterisk-sized move forward toward the goal of parity. But remember: the demographics of the country are changing fast.

Debora Juarez is the likely winner of a city council seat in Seattle. (Ballots are still being counted but she is leading her opponent by a margin of more than 25 points.) Juarez, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, has rich experience working in Indian Country. She’s served two governors working on Native American issues as well as an attorney and a financial consultant to tribal clients.

Seattle is ahead of the demographic curve. As The Seattle Times put it in a headline: “Seattle City Council to be younger, more female, diverse.” In addition to Juarez, Seattle voters appeared to have elected the first Latina, Lorena Gonzales.

Across the country, Peggy Flanagan was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Flanagan is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. Minnesota Public Radio said she “will become one of only a handful of legislators of color” and one of seven Native Americans to serve in the Legislature since statehood. “Many more people of color will need to win elections to the Legislature for it to look like the state at large. Right now, the state House and Senate don’t come close to matching the racial and ethnic diversity of the state’s population.”

The narrative about diversity and demographics will be repeated in the presidential election ahead. As a report from American Progress said earlier this year, “As people of color became an even larger share of states’ electorates, the political implications for both parties comes into sharper focus.”

Progress in representational diversity is slow, a one-at-a-time proposition. But in Canada today there will be a major shift. Justin Trudeau is set to take office as prime minister today and unveil his cabinet. According to
The Globe and Mail the new government will “reflect Canada’s ethnic diversity, all the while featuring gender parity and including representatives from all provinces and a member from the North.”

One of those cabinet members may be Jody Wilson-Raybould, a former Assembly of First Nations regional chief and an attorney. Which office? That’s the question. We will know later today.

Tuesday’s election also sets the stage for another fight about health care reform. Matt Bevin, a Tea Party Republican, was elected governor of Kentucky. Bevin has been critical of KyNect, the state’s Medicaid program, that he’s dismissed as Obamacare. But here is the problem: If Bevins gets rid of the program he will take health care away from existing clients. That program serves some 285,000 Kentuckians. This could be an interesting debate with a twist: Presidential candidate Rand Paul is running for re-election to the Senate.

Tuesday’s election also means we are now less than three months from the first votes in the 2016 presidential election and a year away from the national vote. An election that will once again test America’s growing diversity.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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