Sharice Davids is getting attention from some big names. Make that ironic attention. The story is the political heavyweights traveling to Kansas to campaign for her opponents.
Last week it was Vice President Mike Pence raising money for the Republican incumbent. This week it’s Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supporting Davids’ primary opponent. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez will speak at a campaign rally near Kansas City on July 20.
Sanders made history two years ago because of his engagement with Indian Country. His campaign was smart, careful to invite tribal leaders, raise issues important to Native people, and generally send a signal about the importance of the Native vote.
So why is Sanders now campaigning against one of the few Native American women to run for Congress? An office that we will point out again and again has never in the history of the country included a Native American woman.
And, on top of that, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently defeated an incumbent establishment Democrat in New York state, is on the same Sanders’ Kansas tour. In her campaign, Ocasio-Cortez said she was inspired by Standing Rock. On her Twitter feed, she proclaims, “There are candidates like me everywhere.”
So on Twitter people are asking why she is not backing the candidate who is very much like her, Davids?
“It is exciting to see a young woman run and win the primaries? Why she then takes time out of her candidacy to go after a very democratic progressive Kansas Rep Sharice Davids, A Gay Native American young American Woman whose single mother raised her while serving our country,” tweets Jill Kaiser Adams. “I think you are young @Ocasio2018 and you are making some major missteps … I was inspired by you, until I see you are actively working against Sharice Davids. This is NOT progressive. Focus on your candidacy. This is going to hurt you.”
Another Twitter user said that Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are not against Davids, only for candidate, Brent Welder “because he pledged to the Justice Democrats platform. He's been involved in unions and is very progressive.” Plus there is a loyalty factor. Welder was an organizer with the Sanders presidential campaign.
In an interview with Jacobin magazine, Ocasio-Cortez explained herself. “On a national scale, I’m very excited about Kaniela Ing running out in Hawaii. I’m very excited about folks like Brent Welder in Kansas. Brent can win, and he can win not only his primary but he can win in a red-to-blue district on a progressive vision. I think that’s so exciting,” she said.
Common Dreams also makes the case for the decision for Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez support for Welder over Davids. “Now, Davids isn't really bad: she’s a former Obama official and Native American woman from the district, and also a mixed-martial arts fighter. Pretty great bio! But she isn’t running on the kind of aggressive platform Welder is, and Ocasio-Cortez did,” and the sin of sin, according to Common Dreams, “she’s relying on big money from a super PAC rather than small dollars and an army of volunteer door knockers. And that’s the main cleavage in the Democratic Party right now.”
Sanders told The Washington Post he wanted to travel to Kansas because “all over this country, you have people who understand that we need to [change] the minimum wage to a living wage; that healthcare is a right; that we need to rebuild our infrastructure. Those are popular issues in the Bronx. These are popular issues in Vermont. In Kansas, they’ve gone through the [former Gov. Sam] Brownback [R] agenda, and they do not believe you should give tax breaks to the rich and cut Social Security.”
There are six Democrats competing for the party’s nomination in Kansas’ 3rd congressional district. The primary is Aug. 7.
While Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are on board for Welder, Davids has the support of Emily’s List. The group’s PAC, Women Vote!, is spending some $400,000 on advertising backing Davids. This is the “big money” PAC.
The Kansas Progressive, a local diary for Daily Kos, says Sanders is “big footing” women candidates. She writes,”the optics of two east coasters coming into two separate districts to campaign for two white guys is bad. There is no way to spin it.”
“Welder faces two women in his primary. His main challenger, Sharice Davids is the face of Democrats today. Her mother was an Army drill sergeant. Davids grew up in a single parent household, attended a Kansas community college, and earned her law degree at Cornell. She worked as a fellow in the Obama White House, crafting high-level policy. She is Native American, a former MMA fighter, and an out lesbian,” the post says. “She is also a committed progressive. Welder's followers have criticized a $360,000 ad buy from Women's Voice, an Emily's List-linked PAC. They have also linked the Emily's List endorsement to the Sander's visit. Emily's List endorsed Davids on May 24, 2018, but the Sanders campaign stop was announced just this past week, facts which they simply ignore.”
This reflects a broader discussion in the Democratic party about just who is “progressive” and who is “establishment.” A survey by the Brookings Institution has monitored candidates in every single congressional race in the country. “So far we’ve looked at over 1600 Senate and House candidates in nearly 600 races,” write Elaine Kamarck, Alexander R. Podkul, and Nicholas W. Zeppos. “On the Democratic side there is an enormous outpouring of energy on the left (and) … many more Democratic candidates are running for Congress in 2018 than in either of the two previous cycles. And of those Democrats running, many more are identifying themselves as ‘progressive.’”
However Brookings says establishment candidates are actually winning more of the election contests. “Of course many of the progressive non-incumbents are first-time candidates, inspired by Bernie Sanders and turned off by Donald Trump,” Brookings said. “If they stay in politics many of them may do better in future races. But for now their record is good but not great.”
Davids, Ho Chunk, said the campaign is not commenting on the Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez visit to Kansas City. But she did spend Monday tweeting the names of new endorsements -- endorsements from local Kansas office holders.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports