JR LaPlante is a candidate for the House in South Dakota’s District 14.
Campaign Photo
JR LaPlante is a candidate for the House in South Dakota’s District 14.

A Hundred Candidates? Yes, and a Lot of Talent

Mark Trahant

TRAHANT REPORTS—I have been writing a lot about numbers, lately. My latest count is seven Native American candidates for Congress, one for the U.S. Senate, five candidates running in statewide races, and 83 Native American candidates for state legislatures. (Plus more than a dozen office holders who are already elected and not on the ballot this cycle.)

That’s an impressive showing. But what’s really exciting is that there are so many talented people running. What do I mean? Candidates who have experience, drive, ideas, and own the tools needed to win.

JR LaPlante is a great example. He’s running for the South Dakota Legislature as a Democrat.

He’s an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. He’s an attorney and his current job is director of Tribal Relations for Avera Health where he coordinates a number of health initiatives. LaPlante’s public policy resume is deep. He has worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Equal Justice Works, an AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with South Dakota Access to Justice, and was in the first group of scholars with Bush Foundation’s Native Nation Rebuilders program.

Mark Trahant

Five years ago LaPlante was appointed the first South Dakota Secretary of Tribal Relations, appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican. (Previous: A record year for candidates? Probably. Why not?)

“I’m really looking forward to getting out and talking with my neighbors in District 14 about the issues that matter to them,” LaPlante said. “I’ve worked with this administration and with folks on both sides of the aisle. The voters of this state deserve responsive, effective government and I believe I have the skills and experience to deliver that.”

There are two distinct challenges for any politician. The first is getting elected. The second is being effective, actually governing. LaPlante would own that second category because he already understands how South Dakota operates and what it will take to reach out to the Republican majority in the House.

What are LaPlante’s prospects? In a presidential election year he will probably need around 6,000 votes from his Sioux Falls district. And he’ll need money, the average South Dakota House seat requires about $22,000 in contributions to be competitive.

But this is a district that can be won, especially in a presidential election year. The last time a Democrat won this seat was in 2012 and that’s because more people turnout and vote when the presidency is on the line (not to mention the chaos associated with this year’s White House race).

Another number: Two. Two of Indian country’s candidates running for office have worked as tribal liaisons for governors’ offices. The other is Scott Davis who was elected to the board of city commissioners in Mandan, North Dakota.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On @TrahantReports" target="_blank">Twitter @TrahantReports.

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