While everyone’s mind is filled with the very close presidential race,
Indian country should keep its eyes on the second big prize, control of the
U.S. Senate. The razor-thin Republican margin, which it lost briefly a term
ago, could change again with a switch in two seats. The likely turnovers
come in states with a crucial Native vote, Alaska and Oklahoma.
In Alaska, former Gov. Tony Knowles is trying to win the seat for the
Democrats from a short-term vulnerable incumbent, Lisa Murkowski, who was
appointed by her father, current Gov. Frank Murkowski. Knowles is working
hard to win Alaska Native support.
In Oklahoma, U.S. Rep. Brad Carson (D) is contesting an open seat with
Republican obstetrician Tom Coburn. Carson himself is an enrolled Cherokee,
but that isn’t the only reason he is the clear choice. His opponent Coburn
is an ideologue whose intemperate outbursts have embarrassed many in his
own party. In addition to a slam against the legitimacy of many Cherokee
tribal members (a sideswipe at Carson’s fair complexion), Coburn has become
embroiled in charges that he once sterilized a young female patient without
Although Carson has softened support for some Indian issues, we hope that
in the Senate he will take up the case of the Plains tribes relocated to
the west of his state and help return the Fort Reno lands to the Southern
Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
In addition to winning new seats, the Democrats have to hold their own, and
one of the most threatened now is Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South
Dakota. Sen. Daschle knows he needs support from the tribes, and he is
working honorably to earn it. If Indian support returns him to the Senate
as the new Majority Leader, and it should, he is not likely to forget who
put him there, and Indian country will sustain a valuable friend indeed.
Daschle appeals to an Indian country that values those who gain and grow
from their experience and who work to build bridges between their state and
tribal governments and peoples. This stands in stark contrast to the
Republicans who have continued to promote the myth of massive Indian voter
fraud this election season in a not so subtle attempt to prejudice white
voters. Such tactics should be resoundingly rejected at the polls by all
South Dakota voters.
Of recent note, Daschle has provided innovative leadership by promoting and
supporting American Indian trade and commerce initiatives, understanding as
he does that economic gains in Indian communities also benefit the state’s
economy. This original approach – that encourages wealthy tribes to
participate and invest in the recovery of South Dakota Indian communities –
holds real potential for breaking through generations of economic
destitution. Because of this and numerous other positive programs
benefiting American Indian communities in South Dakota and throughout the
nation, Indian country stands proudly with Sen. Tom Daschle.
The Native vote drive could make a crucial difference in swing states,
which are now more important than ever. The most dramatic example may well
be New Mexico, where the polls have the candidates still in a dead heat.
The state registered more than 100,000 new voters by its Oct. 4 deadline,
and two-thirds of these are Democrats or Independents. Voters there
remember that the state margin of victory in the last Presidential election
was the smallest in the country, at 366 votes smaller even than in Florida.