Democrats back sovereignty

Jim Adams
12/28/05

Native Caucus and Indian vote empowered

WASHINGTON -- Intensifying an already fervent courtship of the Native vote,
the Democratic Party is looking at a change in the presidential primary
schedule that could give greater weight to states encompassing major
tribes.

A special commission on presidential nominations issued a final report Dec.
10 that calls for one or two additional early primaries to introduce more
diversity into the first round of the campaign, which is now dominated by
the largely white bastions of New Hampshire and Iowa.

As if to underscore the connection, the recent Democratic National
Committee fall meeting adopted a strong resolution supporting tribal
sovereignty.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean said, "We are serious about electing Indian
candidates, empowering the people and changing the country. The DNC stands
in solidarity with Indian Nations and reaffirms their tribal sovereignty."

The DNC held its semi-annual general session in Phoenix, Ariz., on Dec. 3
and adopted a measure written by Frank LaMere, Winnebago and a member of
the DNC executive committee. It noted that Indians had delivered 85 percent
of their votes to Democrats in the last four elections and secured "several
House and Senate seats for Democrats whose elections hinged on the Native
American vote."

"Be it therefore resolved," said the motion, "that the Democratic National
Committee stands in solidarity with the Indian Nations and reaffirms [its]
support for the exercise of tribal sovereignty and for tribal efforts to be
self-sufficient."

It went on to urge "that federal laws, executive orders and regulations in
this regard be honored and that the DNC continue to fight for the rights of
Native people while working to empower our first Americans by encouraging
their involvement in the political process."

The list of co-sponsors included DNC Vice Chairmen Mike Honda, U.S.
Representative from California, and Lottie Shackleford, a party veteran
from Little Rock, Ark.; the state chairmen of the Wisconsin and Alaska
Democratic parties; and DNC members from South Dakota, Oklahoma and
Pennsylvania.

Shortly after the DNC meeting, its Commission on Presidential Nomination
Timing and Scheduling issued its final report calling for additional early
primaries. The 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston called for the study
out of concern that the first rounds of the presidential campaigns ignored
minorities. After five public hearings and meetings spanning the past year,
the commission recommended adding one or two new primaries and "first-tier"
state caucuses in the "pre-window" period before Feb. 5, 2008, after which
states in general were free to schedule their votes.

The commission report said it was "mindful and respectful" of the
traditional role of the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary and the
Iowa caucuses, but that it heard "serious concerns about the
disproportionate influence of these traditionally early contests and the
need, early in [the] process, to include states that would be more fully
representative of the Party's rich diversity."

Although this move received early support from New Mexico's Democratic Gov.
Bill Richardson, with a view to gaining greater influence for Southwest
ethnic groups, the commission declined to say which states should host the
new primaries. It left that decision to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee,
"using the following criteria: racial and ethnic diversity; geographic
diversity; and economic diversity, including union density."

Kalyn Free, founder and president of INDN's List, the new fund-raising and
Native candidate development group, said that if the DNC chose a state like
Oklahoma or Minnesota with a large Indian population, "it definitely would
have a huge impact."

Free, Choctaw, also praised the DNC sovereignty resolution for "recognizing
the importance of tribal governments maintaining sovereign status, as it
was guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution." A candidate for an Oklahoma
congressional seat in 2004, she was recently appointed to the DNC by Dean
and now serves on its Resolutions Committee.

She told Indian Country Today that the DNC is still falling short of the
threshold nine Native members required under its bylaws to form a formal
Native American Caucus within the party structure. It now has four, she
said, with her appointment and the rise of Frank LaMere, who came up from
the Nebraska Democratic Party.

Although Dean has authority to appoint 75 DNC members, she said, most of
those were already reserved for various groups. New Native members, she
said would have to come up from within state party ranks. Alternatively,
she said, Dean and other party leaders were considering changing the rules
to establish the caucus with fewer members. She said, however, that the
caucus designation would be a symbolic gesture. "We're getting everything
we want anyway," she said.

Other party members echoed her satisfaction. LaMere said, "We are more than
novelties here; we are partners and we always will be."

South Dakota Democratic Party Vice Chairman Dennis Langley said, "Tribes
have been there for us, and we have to be there for them. Tribal
governments must be strengthened. We've done our part; now, where are the
Republicans?"

A call to the Republican National Committee failed to produce an immediate
response.

Ironically, the two most prominent tribal members to serve recently in
Congress were both Republican -- U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell from
Colorado, Northern Cheyenne, and U.S. Rep. Tom Cole from Oklahoma,
Chickasaw.

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