A side-by-side comparison of the day before the Colorado debates from 2008 between then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain and 2012 between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Elections 2012: So Goes the Debate, Goes Colorado

Mark Trahant

Both presidential candidates would like to win Colorado. It’s a state that is up for grabs.

Four years ago Obama was ahead at this point, he had reached the 50 percent mark over John McCain’s 45 percent. This time around, the race is much closer. The Real Clear Politics average of Colorado polls show Barack Obama ahead with 48.8 percent to Mitt Romney's 45.7 percent.

That means Obama is not doing as well as last time – and Romney is doing better than McCain.

Native Americans are a small part of the Colorado voting landscape, roughly 2 percent of the population and almost 2 percent of the eligible voting pool. More than half of that population lives in urban areas, including Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. About 40 percent is rural and that would include the two reservations in the state, the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute.

The Denver Post last week asked Native Coloradans about the Elizabeth Warren identity issue in Massachusetts.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell, who was first elected to the U.S. House from Colorado as a Democrat, said, “I think if she used it just to get some kind of advantage – whatever it was – like a job application or something, then that’s probably not appropriate. ... If you have nothing to do with Indians at all – never – except to try to get some unfair advantage, then I think there’s an ethical question in that. ... I don’t know if Mrs. Warren did that or not. Maybe not.” Campbell after winning election to the U.S. Senate became a Republican.

The newspaper also quoted Wenona Benally Baldenegro, who recently lost an Arizona primary race for the House on the Democratic side. “Instead of perpetuating stereotypes of American Indians, Americans would be much better served with commentary discussing tribal sovereignty, tribal rights and the very serious issues that our tribal communities face, today. The focus should be placed on how our members of Congress intend to uphold tribal sovereignty and enact legislation consistent with the federal trust responsibility.”

One Colorado issue that is not getting a lot of national attention concerns tuition waivers for Native American students at Fort Lewis College.

The original deal was that any student who was a member of a tribe would receive a tuition waiver. This waiver “has changed the lives of thousands of Native American students and, in many ways, come to define the college perched above downtown Durango,” said a recent story in The Durango Herald. “The tuition waiver’s roots date back to 1911, when Colorado accepted a 6,279-acre land grant from the federal government. In exchange for the sprawling property located five miles south of Hesperus, Colorado agreed to maintain the land and buildings there as an institution of learning and admit Native American students tuition free.”

But the Colorado legislature has been looking for a new deal – and revenue stream. The latest idea is to have the federal government pick up the tab for those Native American students who are not residents of Colorado.

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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