Indian Country Today
Voters in eight states go to the polls Tuesday to select their party’s nominees. There are #NativeVote18 candidates on the ballots in California, New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota.
California and South Dakota both have unusual election twists.
California voters will pick the “top two” candidates regardless of party to go on to the November ballot. That process often eliminates third party candidates and it could even result in matches where two Democrats or two Republicans face off in November instead of one from each party. A huge concern about a “top two” primary is that the primary turnout is quite low and yet the results eliminate voter alternatives in November. Independent voters are especially unlikely to participate, for example.
Erik Rydberg, Pomo, is a Green Party candidate for Secretary of State. In that job he says he would protect and improve the election process. “Independents are the majority of registered voters in America,” he writes. “I will make sure all county registers are thoroughly trained in assisting Independents and all registered voters on which ballots they need to vote for the candidate they want.”
James Ramos is a San Bernardino County Supervisor and the former chairman of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians. Ramos is in a three-way race for the California Assembly in the 40th district running as a Democrat. “I was born and raised in this community,” he says in his campaign materials. “As a tribal leader, a business owner, a community leader and as a County Supervisor, I have worked to make it a better place – targeting corruption and bringing transparency to the County Board while balancing the budget and creating a reserve.”
Ramos has raised serious money in this campaign, more than $500,000. “I am proud of the strong showing of support from throughout the Inland Empire,” he said in a news release. “What makes me most proud is the support that I’m getting from friends, neighbors and constituents who know me and trust that I am the best choice for the Assembly.”
Another candidate for the California Assembly, Caleen Sisk, Winnemem Wintu, is in a four-way primary for two slots. She is running as a Democrat and faces another Democrat, plus one Republican and one independent.
South Dakota also has an unusual primary format. Democrats and independents can vote in the Democratic primary, but you must be a registered Republican to vote in that primary.
Candidates for the South Dakota legislature face voters in a June 5 primary. However candidates for statewide office must campaign for support from party delegates. These delegates decide on the nominee at the state convention on June 15 and 16 in Sioux Falls. Thus Tatewin Means will have to win a Democratic nomination for Attorney General among party activists, not voters.
In South Dakota Senate District 1 there are three Democrats running for the seat, Allison Renville, Hunkpapa Lakota, and Thomas Bisek and Susan Wismer. Renville recently posted on Facebook: “I went to ceremony where we were told to ‘do what we can to ensure a good life for ourselves and our people.’ Those words have really stuck with me, and I hope our people can see the importance of participating in the June 5th primary. It’s our time as allies to stand up and rise to the occasion, we must change from the inside out. I believe that change begins with a seat at the table … together we can accomplish anything we set our minds to, let’s do this!”
Faith Spotted Eagle, Yankton, is running for the South Dakota House in district 21 against two other candidates. Spotted Eagle is the only legislative candidate in the country who has received a vote for President of the United States in the electoral college.
She recently told The Mitchell Republic that she finds common ground with her constituents in the district. “The rural nature of South Dakota is so enduring … We have something so old-fashioned good.”
There are also contested primary races in District 27, a district that includes Pine Ridge. In the Senate, a long time legislator, Jim Bradford, is being challenged by Red Dawn Foster. That seat has been held by Sen. Kevin Killer. (Foster’s Facebook includes her picture with Sen. Killer.) On the House side there are three candidates, Nicole Little White Man, Peri Pourier and Margaret Ross. All the candidates are Oglala Lakota.
In District 26A, the district that includes Mission, Rep. Shawn Bordeaux is challenged by Troy “Luke” Lunderman in the Democratic primary. Both men are Rosebud and no Republican is on the ballot, so the winner of the primary will win the election.
New Mexico voters will narrow down candidates for Congress. On the Republican side, in the 2nd congressional district, Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, is competing against three other for the GOP nomination. Clarkson was recently endorsed by the Coalition of Large Tribes.
Clarkson said he is “gaining traction among non-Indians for the elimination of dual taxation in Indian Country.” He recently told The Las Cruces Sun-News that his plan could mean an additional $2 billion in economic stimulus for the state.
In the state’s 1st congressional district, the action is on the Democrat’s side. Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, is locked into a tight race. The most recent polls were within the margin of error with nearly a third of voters undecided. This week one of Haaland’s challengers, Pat Davis, dropped out of the race and endorsed Haaland. He told KOAT TV that it’s “not my year” and that he hoped to bring progressive voters together. “Progressive voters were undecided between Deb and I, because we both can bring so many of the similar characteristics to this race,” he told the station. “I think we make a good team from city council to Congress and that’s the message we’re telling them.”
In the Northwest corner of New Mexico, voters will pick the region’s member of the Public Regulation Commission. The agency regulates utility companies, telecommunications, pipeline safety, and transportation. The incumbent commissioner from District 4 is Lynda Lovejoy. She is being challenged by Janene Yazzie and Theresa Becenti-Aguilar. All three candidates are Navajo.
There is a contest primary for the New Mexico House in District 13. Incumbent Patricia A. Roybal Caballero, Piro Manso Tiwa, faces two challengers. The district includes Albuquerque. Democrat Doreen Wonda Johnson will also face Kevin Mitchell in the District 5 primary for the second-straight election cycle. Both candidates are Navajo. There is no Republican in the race, so the winner will most likely be elected in November.
New Mexico has a closed primary. So voters must be registered members of the party in order to cast a primary ballot.
Montana also has its primary on June 5. The state began early voting in April and this cycle as many as three-quarters of the votes are expected to come from mail-in ballots. Nearly one hundred thousand people have already voted. The Montana primary process is open, so voters can pick a party ballot before voting and there are three choices, Democrats, Republicans and the Green Party.
There are more #NativeVote18 candidates running in Montana than any other state, 18. Most will not face a primary contest.
However in Billings, Jade Bahr, Northern Cheyenne, is running in a contested primary. She recently told The Billings Gazette: “As I have been out knocking doors in House District 50, I have met a lot of young families. Many struggle with the cost of childcare and some can’t afford to send their kids to preschool. Publicly-funded preschool is the reality in 45 states. Pre-K improves educational outcomes and booms local economies.”
In Great Falls, Garrett Lankford, Little Shell Chippewa, is running in a three-way race for the Democratic nomination. And in Missoula, Patrick Weasel Head, Blackfeet, Gros Ventre, and Assiniboine, is in a four-way race for the party nod. And Matt Bell, Nakoda and Aaniiih, is challenging an incumbent legislator.
Nationally there are 102 Native Americans running for state legislatures, another 15 running for Congress, and 16 campaigning for state offices. This week marks the high water mark for candidate totals.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on TwitterFollow @TrahantReports