Native ‘Think Tank’ in Northwest Starts Planning for 2018 Elections

Richard Walker

Some Native American candidates were Democrats campaigning for office in historically Republican-heavy areas. Some ran against incumbents. All raised and spent far less money than their opponents.

And in the end, three of nine Native American Democrats in the Northwest were elected to office in the November 8 general election.

“We did well,” said Julie Sa’Leit’Sa Kwina Johnson, Lummi, chairwoman of the Washington State Democratic Party’s Native American Caucus. “But if we’re going to do better in 2018, we have to start planning now.”

Johnson, a 2016 presidential elector and former Peninsula College trustee, is establishing a think tank to develop a plan of action to get more Native Americans elected to office in 2018 and beyond. And, she wrote in a letter to state Democrats, much is at stake with the incoming Republican administration and Congress: the Affordable Health Care Act, self-governance, and funding for the BIA, IHS, education, and housing and urban development.

“We cannot afford to lose all the progress our tribal leaders have made in the past eight years,” she wrote. “We must support and elect tribal people that understand our treaties, sovereignty and every single type of federal and state policy and regulations that affect our people on and off all 29 tribal reservations and in the urban areas of our state.”

Pointing to the number of Native students in colleges working on undergraduate and advanced degrees, she wrote, “We are on the move. We can do this, but we must work and support each other. We must support our tribes.”

The think tank will meet beginning at 10 a.m. December 10 at Tulalip Resort. (Contact [email protected].)

Several positive signs emerged from the 2016 elections.

State Rep. Jeff Morris, Tsimshian, of Skagit County was unopposed in his bid for an 11th two-year term in the state House of Representatives. He is currently one of three Native Americans in the state Legislature. The others are state Sen. John McCoy, Tulalip; and state Rep. Jay Rodne, Bad River Band of Chippewa. (Rodne is the only Republican of the three.)

Paulette Jordan, Coeur d’ Alene, won a second term in the Idaho state House of Representatives. It was no small feat; she won by 298 votes and, in one of two counties she represents, 74 percent of voters cast ballots for Donald Trump for president.

Tawna Sanchez, Shoshone-Bannock/Ute/Carrizo, was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives from District 43. She is the family services director for the Native American Youth and Families Center in Portland. Her election was actually secured when she won the May 17 Democratic primary by 199 votes and there were no Republicans candidates, making her the lone candidate on the general election ballot.

Ronda Metcalf, Sauk-Suiattle, raised and spent about a third less than her opponent, John Koster, in her campaign for the state House of Representatives, 39th District. But she won the endorsement of the area’s largest daily newspaper, the (Everett) Daily Herald.

“Metcalf said she would seek to work on issues related to families and children, elder abuse and opioid addiction, increasing assistance to the district’s rural areas to address those needs,” the Daily Herald reported in its endorsement. “Tribal politics can be contentious, and Metcalf has been able to build relationships on the Sauk-Suiattle council and as its general manager, political skills that should transfer well to the Legislature. Metcalf merits election to the House.”

Metcalf finished with 39.1 percent of the vote to 60.9 percent for Koster, who served in the state House of Representatives from 1995-2001, as a Snohomish County Council member from 2002-2014, and ran unsuccessfully three times for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Metcalf raised $26,245 and spent $22,625; Koster raised $99,835 and spent $77,713, according to the state’s online database.

“My intention is to run again in 2018,” Metcalf told ICTMN. “I’m really happy with the results. I was a first-time candidate nobody knew. It was a great adventure, and I know what to do in the next race.”

Several candidates with experience working for Native Nations reported that voters put the same stock in their experience as they did other government experience. One such candidate, Sharlaine LaClair, Lummi, reportedly plans to run again in 2018 for the state House of Representatives. 42nd District.

LaClair is executive director of a Lummi Nation economic development venture, served as a planning commissioner and executive assistant to the Lummi Nation vice chairman, and has a master’s degree in public administration from The Evergreen State College.

LaClair raised $56,007 to incumbent Luanne Van Werven’s $106,650, and spent $23,324 to Van Werven’s $97,766. LaClair finished with 45.16 percent of the vote to Van Werven’s 54.84 percent.

Being outspent was a factor in candidates’ efforts to get their messages to voters. Metcalf told ICTMN, “If Democrats want to elect Democrats, they’ve got to support you.”


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