Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus's decision not to run in 2014 could put control of the U.S. Senate in the hands of the Native vote.

Montana's Native Vote Could Decide US Senate Control

Stephanie Woodard


The decision of U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) not to run in 2014 means that the state’s Native vote could be very important next year. Just as tribal members pulled Senator Jon Tester (D-Montana) across the finish line in his neck-and-neck 2012 race, they may decide the upcoming contest, says Blackfeet tribal member Tom Rodgers, of Carlyle Consulting and voting-rights group Four Directions. That, in turn, will help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. “If the 2014 senatorial race is anything like 2012, there may be a two-to-three-point difference between the candidates, and the Native vote can easily make the decision,” Rodgers says.

Native influence will be even greater if an ongoing lawsuit (Mark Wandering Medicine v. Linda McCulloch, now before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) to require satellite election offices on Montana reservations succeeds, according to Rodgers. “With satellite registration and voting, Indian turnout will skyrocket—and the only way to get political power is to affect political outcomes.” (Related story: NCAI, DOJ Weigh in on Behalf of Native Voting-Rights Plaintiffs)

Both major parties see the potential of the Native vote. The Montana GOP is talking to the Republican National Committee about funding a staff position to do outreach in tribal communities, according to state party executive director Bowen Greenwood. “When a race is close, every vote counts,” says Greenwood, who argues that Native beliefs in tradition and caring for the land and their desire for economic development match Republican ideals.

The Montana Democratic Party has long had voter-registration, get-out-the-vote and voter-protection efforts in Native communities, spokesperson Chris Saeger says. “Increasing participation in American Indian communities will always be a top priority for us. We are confident that we’ll hold Senator Baucus’s seat, because we have a deep bench [of candidates] and a strong record in statewide elections.”

Baucus will be missed in Indian country. “We are very sad to lose Senator Baucus’s leadership. Federal policy is often imposed on tribes, and we rely on our representatives in Washington to advocate for us,” says Gordon Belcourt, Blackfeet, executive director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council. “And since both major parties want to reach out to tribes in the race to replace Senator Baucus, they should both support the on-reservation satellite voting offices we’re requesting via the lawsuit.”

Four Directions legal director Greg Lembrich, of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, says his organization wants both parties to embrace the Indian vote. On that front, Belcourt offers some advice to would-be senators, and to the parties as a whole: When they arrive on reservations, they will face pointed questions about their platforms and policies and will need to produce well-thought-out action plans to deal with issues like decades of high unemployment—in the 50 to 80 percent range for the tribes his group represents—and the effect of sequestration on programs that are already severely underfunded, such as the Indian Health Service. “It’s not a question of Democrats v. Republicans for Native people; it’s how the candidates address the issues.” (Related story: Montana Taxpayer Questions High Cost of Battling Against Native Voting Rights)

Belcourt says Baucus was “very receptive” to meeting with tribal leaders, so in the upcoming race for his seat, a record of personal involvement is going to count a lot with the tribes.

Lembrich notes that in 2014 Indian country will also be pivotal in South Dakota, where Senator Tim Johnson, a Democrat, has announced his retirement, and in Alaska, where Democratic Senator Mark Begich faces a tough race. “With no presidential race to distract anyone, we’ll see media saturation and lots of feet on the ground registering voters and getting them to the polls.”

Hanging over all this, he adds, is the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming Voting Rights Act decision (Shelby County v. Holder), and a Native voting-rights suit in South Dakota (Chris Brooks v. Jason Gant). “We have some real drama ahead surrounding voting equality for tribal members.”


Related stories:

Montana Democrats Rebuff Native Voting-Rights Lawsuit

Montana Voting-Rights Backlash; Governor Calls Legislators ‘Worse Than Washington’

With 2014 Elections Looming, Ninth Circuit Agrees to Hear Native Voting-Rights Appeal

Montana Native Voters Aren’t Equal—But That’s Not Enough, Says Judge

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Richard's picture
Submitted by Richard on
The Native Vote and Cheated Native Veterans Hello Everybody My name is Richard Adame and this attachment is worth reading as it concerns not only myself but many if not most of the Native American Indian Veterans who have ever served in the United States military.This is additional information that was not explained thoroughly in the attachment. 1) Filipino Veterans=$600 million 2)Foreclosed Veterans= $900 million 3)Japanese Americans=1.2 Billion( for forcing them to live in camps after Pearl Harbor) 4) Native Veteran=NOTHING,NADDA,ZIP All this money was distributed to other Veterans and War time Minorities within the past 6 years but Native American Veterans remain overlooked. Despite being protected under the exact same laws A week before the country celebrated Independence Day, the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma became the first Native nation to adopt an official resolution in support of restoring improperly withheld pay to eligible Native American veterans and service members. “Historically, Native Americans serve our U.S. Military at a higher rate than any ethnic group. Ensuring the welfare of our military veterans has been a sacred tradition since the founding of this country and a promise that we must always keep. They have put their lives on the line to protect us and this country. As citizens of the Iowa Nation and as citizens of the United States, we need to fight for them like they have fought for us,” stated Janice Rowe-Kurak, Chairwoman of the Tribe. The service and loyalty of American Indian people to the United States military was instrumental in the formation of this country and continues to be instrumental in ensuring the freedom of the United States and its citizens today. As pointed out by Chairwoman Rowe-Kurak, Native Americans have the highest rate of military service of any other ethnic group in the Nation. Nearly 16% of the Native American population aged 16 years and older are veterans. For decades spanning from the World War II era to 2001, the United States military withheld state income tax from the paychecks of Native American service members who claimed Indian land as their domiciles. Under federal statutory law and federal legal principles related to state income taxation of Native American individuals, Native American military service members domiciled on Indian land are exempt from state income tax on their military pay. It is believed that over the decades of improper state income tax withholding, hundreds, if not thousands, of Native service members and veterans did not receive the full pay to which they were entitled for their committed service. Under current law these Native service members have little if no ability to recover the money that is owed to them. In 2001, the Department of Defense halted the practice of improperly withholding state income tax from such Native American service members’ pay in response to a memorandum opinion issued by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Department of Justice opinion stated that federal law and federal legal principles regarding the taxation of Native American individuals preempted the withholding of state income tax from the military pay of Native service members domiciled on Indian land. The Department of Defense now employs Form 2058-2, which enables a Native service member domiciled on Indian land to voluntarily stop state income tax withholding from his military compensation. But this relatively new practice does nothing for those Native service members who were improperly taxed in years prior to 2001. One such veteran is Richard Adame, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation and a retired Sergeant First Class who served 20 years in the United States Army. During the time of his service, his domicile was his family’s allotment on the Prairie Band Potawatomi reservation. Adame believes that during his tenure with the U.S. Army, 20 years’ worth of state income tax was improperly withheld from his military pay. Adame hails from a long line of dedicated U.S. military service members. “My grandfather served in WWI before he was a citizen … he is one among many who served this country in the armed forces before citizenship was granted,” shared Adame. Adame himself served in Operation Desert Storm. Speaking about his active duty service, Adame revealed feelings that he, like nearly every veteran who has served during war time, experienced. “I cried. I was scared. I thought I would never come home.” Luckily for those Native service members improperly taxed, Adame did come home. Adame has championed the restoration of improperly withheld income tax monies to eligible Native veterans and service members for nearly a decade. When he and his fellow Prairie Band veterans discovered that state income tax had potentially been improperly withheld from their military pay throughout their careers, he began to seek assistance in rectifying the injustice. Adame feels that this issue requires urgent attention by Congress, Tribes, and concerned citizens. “I have a dire feeling that if I cannot get anything done about a decades old injustice whose victims are almost all passed away, that nothing will ever be done. I feel like it is my responsibility to do what I can for my Grandfather and the relatives of thousands of my fellow tribal veterans.” According to Adame, his voice went largely unheard until he gave a presentation before United Nations Special Rapporteur James Anaya during Anaya’s visit to the University of Tulsa in May 2012. Three Indian law attorneys, including one who specializes in taxation in Indian country, took notice of the injustice presented by Adame. Each coming from military families themselves, the attorneys agreed to volunteer their services to help Adame get this issue the attention it deserves. The attorneys helped Adame submit testimony on the improper taxation to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ oversight hearing on Native Veterans’ issues. One of the attorneys presented the issue on the Native Veteran’s panel at the 25th annual Sovereignty Symposium in Oklahoma City. In the panel audience sat an employee of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma whose Native veteran spouse returned 70% disabled from a recent tour in Iraq. Her commitment to Native veterans’ issues spurred her to then present the improper taxation issue to the Iowa Tribe. The Iowa Tribe’s Business Committee, comprised of several Native veterans itself, was quick to take action. The Iowa Business Committee drafted and unanimously passed a tribal resolution in support of restoring improperly withheld pay to eligible Native American veterans and service members. The resolution urges Congress take action to restore such improperly withheld pay to eligible Native service members and veterans. It also urges the National Congress of American Indians to adopt a similar resolution in support of restoring pay improperly withheld as state income tax by the U.S. Military to eligible Native service members and veterans. It is Adame’s hope that other Native nations will follow the Iowa tribe’s lead. The more tribes that adopt similar resolutions, the more united the front in Indian country to press the United States to restore improperly withheld pay to Native heroes. “I truly appreciate the support of the Iowa Tribe,” remarked Adame. “When laws are not followed, especially to the detriment of those who put their lives on the line to protect the rights of everyone else, we should do whatever needs to be done to protect the interests of the Native Veterans that the law was intended to protect.”