As Democrat Senator Tim Johnson prepares to retire, three candidates are making a run for his seat in the senate. Only one has made a positive impression in South Dakota’s Indian country, which makes up approximately 9 percent of the state’s voters.
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It’s a tight race between the three candidates, with Governor Mike Rounds and Independent Larry Pressler counting only on the mainstream. All of South Dakota’s tribes are endorsing “Nobody’s Bought Me” Democrat Rick Weiland, which could tip the scales heavily in his favor if Natives get out and vote. “Not 50 percent, we need 80 percent of the tribal members to vote,” Rick Weiland said in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network.
If Natives don’t vote, the Keystone XL Pipeline could be a thing of the future. The pipeline is a critical issue, and Governor Rounds is all for it. Independent Larry Pressler is against building the pipeline, but not for the right reasons. He feels there are enough pipelines to hook up with, and the oil could be moved with some adjustments. Only Rick Weiland is against the pipeline because it is environmentally hostile.
“I am very opposed to it, and have been from the very beginning,” Weiland said. “I haven’t waffled one bit.”
Weiland said the idea that the pipeline would create jobs is “a lot of B.S.” and he is not sure even one permanent job in South Dakota would be created. With disdain, Weiland added, “It has nothing to do with energy security. If people do their homework, they’ll find out it is an export pipeline, the oil is going down to Texas and then overseas. And by the way, they are going to be able to take land from farmers and ranchers through eminent domain, and they can run that pipeline wherever they want.
“They are talking about running that (pipeline) right over the Oglala Aquifer and this tarsand, it’s the ugliest product you could ever move through a pipeline. It’s heavy, it’s dirty, and if it sinks, it gets into the aquifer, and then we are toast. I really can’t see any reason at all to build the Keystone pipeline,” he said.
There are a number of other reasons the GPTCA endorsed Weiland. Kingman wrote, “Rick Weiland has traveled all across South Dakota and shook the hand of hundreds of grassroots people. He sat in Tribal Council Meetings, the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association Meeting and worked shoulder to shoulder with us dealing with emergencies.”
Pressler, with 22 years in congress under his belt, is the biggest threat to Weiland’s election. If he dropped out of the race, Weiland would have a clear shot at the seat. Pressler, like Weiland, speaks directly to the country’s frustration with both parties. Pressler describes Washington politics as “locked into a lobbyist-controlled spending and taxing cycle, trapped in poisonous partisan fights while nothing is being resolved.” He also believes “conflicts overseas is a waste of American blood and treasure.” “We are not the policemen of the world. I would rather spend more of that money here at home on items such as education and tax relief.”
Talk is cheap and the once Republican, now Independent Pressler is doing some fancy talking. On October 2, Pressler declared that he would repeal Roe v Wade, but on October 12, he vowed he would not. He insists he wants business out of politics yet Pressler is a member of the Fix The Debt coalition, an organization made up of 80 CEOs accused by the media of wanting to cut social programs while promoting tax breaks for the wealthy.
Pressler noted in a Politico article that he is not a wealthy man, but records show he owns his $600,000 apartment in Washington, another at a swanky New York address, and interests in a number of farms in South Dakota. His worth is estimated at more than $800,000, debt free.
Pressler may not be rich— compared to his friends in Washington or the CEOs in Fix The Debt — but his perspective could seem pretty jaded to people who are truly in need, especially in Indian country.
As for Governor Rounds, anonymous complaints by tribal members said that when there were floods this past year, Rounds did nothing to help the tribes.
Rounds’ campaign is also in the midst of a scandal. A 2002 letter from Rounds invited foreign entities to invest $500,000 into South Dakota’s rural communities and small businesses in exchange for a green card for permanent residency in the United States. Rounds was specifically looking for dairy farm and investments, and again, no mention of assistance for the tribes.
Recently, an Argus Leader story announced that the California Supreme Court ordered the state of South Dakota into arbitration based on suspicion that millions of dollars in tax liability was hidden through EB 5, with at least one employee pocketing $500,000.
For Indian country, it’s tough to beat Weiland. In anticipation of winning, Weiland has requested a seat on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “I have already talked to Jon Tester from Montana about it, so I can hit the ground running not just in South Dakota but around the country,” he said.
Criticizing other politicians, Weiland believes they have long neglected South Dakota’s reservations. “They spend so much money rebuilding Iraq, when here we have nations whose infrastructure, roads and schools are crumbling.”
Weiland proposed an advisory committee, “a brain trust that will not only be made up of tribal leaders, but also of elders, people in Health care, education, people running small businesses.”
As for women’s rights, Weiland supports Roe v. Wade. He said, “I don’t think the government should be making such a personal decision for a woman. I have some very strong feelings about that.”
A resolution passed by the GPTCA “unanimously and wholeheartedly” endorsed Weiland, which was his first. Items from the resolution note that the GPTCA “has known Rick Weiland for several decades through his work as the State Director for Senator Tom Daschle and senior advisor, and President Clinton’s Region VIII FEMA Director in Denver, Colorado, and his strong support for the tribes and tribal members of the Great Plains,” and that, “Rick Weiland will be a powerful voice in the United States Senate,” and “Rick Weiland will represent all Peoples of South Dakota and look out for our best interests in Congress.”
The resolution “calls upon tribal members and all Friends of South Dakota to join with us in supporting the candidacy of Rick Weiland to the United States Senate.”
Sometimes known as the “Singing Candidate,” Weiland comes from a musical family and often sings at campaign events. The music video on Weiland’s website reinforces his speeches, and shows clips of him dancing at pow wows. “I decided in this campaign that I was just going to be me and let the chips fall where they may.”
The polls vary, but Weiland is clear on one thing. If the tribes turn out and vote, he can win. If he wins, he could become one of the strongest supporters for Indian country in a long time, to define future policies, both in South Dakota and in the senate.