Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina). Photo: House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

GOP co-sponsor of bill with 'racist undertones' won't seek re-election

It's looking more and more like a Republican law and order bill is a political stunt, written at Indian Country's expense.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), the only co-sponsor of H.R.4864, also known as the No Haven for Dangerous Fugitives Act, announced on Wednesday that he won't be seeking re-election. He said he was going to be "leave politics" altogether and return to work in the legal system.

"The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us there is a time and a season for all things," Gowdy said in a statement. "There is a time to start and a time to end. There is a time to come and a time to go."

The development means the controversial fugitives bill faces an even more uncertain future, especially after one prominent tribal leader derided it as having "racist undertones." Rep. Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota), who introduced H.R.4864 earlier this month, is also leaving Congress this year.

Unless the measure gains significant steam in the coming months, it is likely to die a slow death, since its only two supporters won't be around in the next session of Congress.

Still, the introduction of the bill allows Noem to tout her public safety credentials as she runs for governor of South Dakota. At a press conference last week to discuss H.R.4864, she surrounded herself with law enforcement officials from a county where tribal citizens are put behind bars at alarming rates.

She also pointed out that Gowdy, who serves as the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, learned more about fugitives in Indian Country when he came to the state at her invitation last August. In a further sign of their political alliance, he helped her raise funds for her campaign while in Pennington County, where officials are supporting H.R.4864.

"First you authorize painting of our prayer words to be painted on your cop cars, against our wishes," James Swan, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the founder of the United Urban Warrior Society, said on Wednesday. He is referring to the use of the Lakota words "Mitakuye Oyasin" on police vehicles in Rapid City, which is part of the county.

"And, now you want to slap us in the face by passing a bill to allow your law enforcement agencies to storm troop across what little we have left of our land and sovereignty?" added Swan, who is a resident of Rapid City. "It's not going to happen!"

The bill includes unenforceable language that calls on the federal, state and local governments to "respect tribal sovereignty at all times." It also encourages them to engage in "reasonable efforts" to enter into extradition agreements with tribes.

But even if those governments don't follow the advice, the bill has some force. If it were to become law, anyone who "enters or leaves Indian country" while being wanted on felony charges, or while being asked to give testimony in a criminal case, could be charged under a section of the U.S. Code regarding fugitives.

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Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe slams GOP bill with 'racist undertones' (January 30, 2018)