Senate panel approves Ross Swimmer nomination
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In a near party line split, a Senate committee voted 10-5 on Wednesday to approve the nomination of Ross Swimmer as Special Trustee at the Department of Interior.

All Republican members of the panel voted yes, including chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado and John McCain of Arizona, who had earlier raised concerns about the nomination. Vice-chairman Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, joined the yes crowd.

All but two Democrats voted against Swimmer.

The Democrats voting no were Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Harry Reid of Nevada, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The initial vote was 7 to 5 in favor of Swimmer. Then Orrin Hatch of Utah, who almost never attends the committee's hearings, showed up to vote yes. "I think he's an excellent choice," he said. He quickly departed.

Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a new member, weighed in with positive votes to bring the tally to 10.

Murkowski, appointed to the Senate by her father Frank Murkowski, now governor of Alaska, arrived late to the hearing but stayed to make comments and hear testimony about the Bush administration's 2004 budget request.

Swimmer, who ran the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the last three years of the Reagan administration, a time of major budget cuts and near-disastrous proposals, is a controversial figure in Indian Country. The Navajo Nation; the 16 tribes of the Great Plains in South Dakota, North Dakota and Nebraska; the Warm Springs Tribes of Oregon; the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma and the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma were among those who opposed his nomination.

Almost an equal number supported Swimmer, a former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Backers included the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma, the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana.

The debate over Swimmer largely occurred in private. At his confirmation hearing last month, there were few sparks and no outright confrontations.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Inouye, who once participated in a spoof of Swimmer in the late 1980s, remarked: "When do we vote?"

The only senators who have spoken out in public are Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who does not sit on the Indian affairs committee. Daschle said he was disappointed by yesterday's vote.

"The Special Trustee for American Indians will have much to say about the prospects for success of the trust reform effort," Daschle said. "I agree with South Dakota tribal leaders and the Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association that Ross Swimmer is not the right man for this job, and I will oppose his nomination on the Senate floor."

Swimmer's experience as a tribal leader, banker and attorney has won him praise by the Bush administration. He was initially tapped by Secretary Gale Norton to head a new agency to handle Indian trust. But he was prevented from running the Bureau of Indian Trust Assets Management (BITAM) by overwhelming tribal opposition to the proposal.

The BITAM job would have been at the assistant secretary level while the special trustee has more power and carries the same weight as a deputy secretary, the number two post at the Interior.

Swimmer currently serves in an expanded trust capacity, responsible for "re-engineering" and implementing many of the failed reform efforts. If confirmed, he would be responsible for oversight of work he has put into gear. He told the Senate committee that he would remain independent and saw no conflict with his roles or history in the Indian trust arena.

Relevant Links:
Office of Special Trustee -
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton -

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