Jay Inslee, Democrat, left, and challenger Rob McKenna, Republican, vie for Washington state governor’s seat.

Elections 2012: Post-Boldt Politics in Washington State; Seeking Native Support

Mark Trahant

Native American issues have come a long way in Washington state. In the 1970s it represented one of the most divided states on tribal issues – sometimes called “the Mississippi of Indian Country” – after the fishing rights’ case U.S. v. Washington (the Boldt decision).

But politics has changed for the better. Tribes and tribal interests have a seat at the table on issues ranging from higher education to the management of natural resources. Politicians from both parties court Native American support, whether votes or money.

Native Vote Washington even has a Facebook page with news, registration information, and comments.

Remember this is the state that was once represented by Sen. Slade Gorton. He campaigned against tribal interests as attorney general and then in the U.S. Senate until his defeat 12 years ago.

Last month more Native Americans than ever before represented their communities at the Democratic National Convention.

Both candidates for governor are reaching out to Indian country. The Democratic Party’s nominee, Jay Inslee, a member of Congress from Bainbridge Island, has a full platform that starts with his actions as Vice Chairman of the Native American Caucus in Congress. Inslee’s support on Native issues is a long list. It starts with his statement on sovereignty.

“Jay believes Native American communities know what is best for their people. That’s why he has stood up for tribal sovereignty over the years and supports policies to enhance tribal self-determination and meaningful tribal consultation,” Inslee’s campaign document says.

That 13-page document is specific – support for full-funding of the Indian Health System, Carcieri Fix legislation, and improved scholarship programs. “From salmon, to forests, to the Puget Sound, Jay has come to rely on tribes for guidance and insight when legislating on a wide variety of issues. Jay is honored to have a relationship with tribes from across the state and to work to further enhance relationships between the state and tribes,” his campaign document says.

His opponent, Rob McKenna, is also seeking out support from Indian country. And even though he has less of a track record, he has been able to secure support from a number of tribal leaders.

“As attorney general, he has visited every reservation in the state – an outreach effort that even a tribal leader who supports rival Jay Inslee calls “unprecedented.” Tribes have rewarded him with a share of their campaign contributions. The money he has received is far less than Democrat Inslee but still vastly more than other Republicans who have run for governor in the recent past,” according to The Tacoma News Tribune.

One issue that has divided the candidates is the Affordable Care Act. Inslee was for it and McKenna as attorney general fought the law in federal court.

A new report by civil rights activists, Chuck Tanner and Leah Henry-Tanner, say that McKenna’s record is more complicated. He attempted to impose county regulations on the Muckleshoot Tribe while he was a member of the King County Council. McKenna also appointed Barbara Lindsay to his task force on Eminent Domain.

Moreover on fishing issues – a persistent thread in Washington politics – the Tanners write: “Briefs filed by Rob McKenna’s office in Phase II of the Boldt decision promote ideas strikingly similar to those found in anti-Indian literature of the 1980s.”

The report concludes that “Rob McKenna is not the same political animal as Barbara Lindsay ...He is not an ideologically driven political activist wholly dedicated to terminating Indian Nations and abrogating their treaties. However, when legal gray areas exist (as they frequently do in federal Indian law), and Rob McKenna perceives a state interest at issue, this report has documented that he will oppose the fundamental rights of Indian Nations and ally with anti-Indian activists to achieve his goals.”

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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suzeo's picture
Submitted by suzeo on
I lived for a short while in Jay Inslee's district. I was quite pleased with him. He's sensible, smart and fair. I would go to some of his town halls, and he always heard every complaint that time allowed, gave complete answers and always knew the details about the issues. I'm a Washington voter and he had my vote the day he announced he was running for governor. McKenna is running as a "moderate" Republican, although some of his actions and positions indicate otherwise. He filed suit against the Obamacare mandate, even though the mandate was a Republican idea to begin with and the insurance companies were insisting on it to get all those guaranteed customers. (They don't want the other restrictions put in by Obama, so they figured that attacking the mandate was the easiest way to compromise the act.) I don't care how much Republicans "reach out", don't trust any of them. The progressive REFORM "Party of Lincoln" DIED with Lincoln and shortly afterwards sold its soul to the wealthy and corporate elite. That's more than 150 years without anything resembling a human soul, and they show no signs of trying to get one. As for Slade "Skeletor" Gorton: What gave our Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell the victory over Gorton was the Yakima vote. Not the county of that name, the Yakima Nation. She is one of the members of the Senate that wants to rein in Wall Street, so I hope the tribes of Washington are prepared for some really dirty voter-suppression tricks this year. I thinks she has a weak opponent, but the GOP is infamous for last-minute floods of money behind a candidate, not to mention tinkering with votes for "surprising upsets", and they are BIG on revenge. Which brings me to the next warning: Voter suppression and stolen elections are chronic on and around reservations, and historically, both parties have been guilty, but the big menace these days is the GOP, (sorry if that insults any Republicans out there, but it's true.) They know the demographics are shifting against them and this may be their last best shot at taking full control of power in this country, so there is nothing they won't try. So, it is likely to be an incredibly ugly election season this year. There is a website to get familiar with, based here in Washington state. It's called Blackboxvoting.org. They have videos (watch them on YouTube size) on protecting the vote from tampering, stealing, and so forth. They have good instructions about what you can do to keep an eye on any funny business. Read the news items and the investigations/lawsuits/citizens' actions and you'll get a good idea about what is really going on with our election system. In 2004, I was on the BBV site as the precincts began reporting in all over the country, with my eyes focused on Sandoval county in my home state of New Mexico. Four precincts reported in at the expected time, and all the rest were absolutely dead in the water well past one AM!(which is when I gave up and went to bed). This was not happening elsewhere. The BBV staff was emailing back and forth with comments like "What is going on in Sandoval County?". What was probably happening is that ALL the other precincts' votes were collected up and hauled off by a voting company (which are very friendly towards Republicans) and counted in secret (the companies claim they need to protect their proprietary computer software). You'd think all the machine voting and counting would get this done pretty quickly, and it would, IF there weren't all kinds of time taken manipulating the numbers between candidates to get the desired result, which was the county going Republican - not exactly what those of us who know Sandoval County expected. Find a way to watch what happens in your local area. You're going to have a better feeling for whether it is looking logical than a bunch of lawyers sent from somewhere else to monitor it. Sorry for the long post, but it's important. It's not enough to just show up and vote anymore.