Joseph Zummo
Senator and candidate John Walsh with (left) Shawn Blackhorse, Vice Secretary of the Crow Tribe, and Alvin (AJ) Not Afraid Jr., Secretary of the Crow Tribe, at the Montana Democratic Party’s Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner.

Campaign 2014: Montana Indians Talked, Senator John Walsh Listened

Stephanie Woodard
3/31/14

U.S. Senator John Walsh has recently obtained the endorsement of the Montana Democratic Party for his 2014 re-election run. He also has a string of top backers, including Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock; the state’s senior senator, Jon Tester; and its recently retired senator, Max Baucus. Walsh was the state’s lieutenant governor when Bullock appointed him, in February, to fill the seat Baucus had vacated to become ambassador to China. Walsh has also served as adjutant general of the state’s National Guard, which he led in Iraq.

The son of a pipefitter, Walsh filed for his candidacy in his father’s union hall in Butte, a town with deep historical connections to the labor movement. Walsh’s campaign has included traveling the state, visiting cities, towns and American Indian reservations and, recently, appearing at the Democratic Party’s annual celebratory Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner, in Helena.

During the dinner, the famously flat-topped Senator Tester delivered an address praising Walsh’s positions on the issues and his military brush cut. Walsh, in turn, admitted he’s still getting used to being a senator: “Everyone keeps telling me to smile. But I’ve spent the last 33 years with people telling me, ‘Soldier, wipe that smile off your face!’”

In the short time Walsh has been in the Senate, he has sponsored legislation to protect public lands, introduced a bill to reform government surveillance programs and offered a plan to cut the veteran suicide rate, among other actions. He is seen as likely to face Republican Steve Daines in the November general election. Congressman Daines holds Montana’s sole U.S. House seat and will present his views in an ICTMN interview in the days ahead.

Here’s what Senator Walsh told ICTMN:

Did you hear anything on your recent reservation listening tour that surprised you?

As I visited tribes, I heard a lot of Native veterans complain that they have trouble getting medical care at either Indian Health Service or Veterans Administration facilities. This is very frustrating to me. As a veteran, I want to be sure our veterans are taken care of. One or two Montana tribes are dealing with this problem with memorandums of agreement that coordinate care between the two agencies. It’s a smart practice, it came out of Indian country, and we can take it to other tribes. Those are the types of ideas we should focus on—ones tribes believe will work and that we can help them make work.

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