Gavin Clarkson called himself “The Energizer Bunny.” It was early in the Trump administration and he was working at the Interior Department, tossing out rapid-fire ideas. Only Clarkson, Choctaw, wasn’t in office long enough to see that list of ideas come to fruition.
He was appointed by former Secretary Ryan Zinke on June 11 and by December he had moved on.
Clarkson says he left Interior to run for Congress, something he wanted to do back in New Mexico. He says his resignation had nothing to do with an inspector general's report that was critical of a Bureau of Indian Affairs loan program. The report did not name Clarkson directly but he was identified as a "senior official." The inspector general's report said: "We found that in the short time the senior official worked for the DOI, he made several comments that created an appearance to employees that he was planning to give preferential treatment to entities he had relationships with."
The report concluded: "The senior official has left the DOI. We provided this report to the Deputy Secretary of the Interior for any action deemed appropriate."
ProPublica described Clarkson having a “key role in a convoluted transaction that flopped and left the Interior Department fending off a $20 million liability.” And said this about the inspector general's probe: “A senior official in charge of a federal loan guarantee program resigned after ProPublica reported his prior role in obtaining a guarantee under the same program as part of a deal that failed.” ProPublica quoted a senior Interior official who said “Clarkson faced pressure to resign because he hadn’t disclosed his role in the scandal, according to a department official.”
Clarkson dismissed ProPublica’s reporting as “fake news.”
Back in New Mexico, Clarkson entered the race to represent the second congressional district as a Republican. He ran on the Trump platform of building a wall, more oil and gas development, and as an anti-abortion rights advocate. He also, like Trump, complained about the Washington swamp. "I know the swamp is deep, I know the alligators bite,” he said. “But I know where the big alligators align and I'm ready to go alligator hunting."
He argues that New Mexico (and the United States) has too many miles of an open border. The “reality of remote Antelope Wells,” contradicts “nonsensical drivel from Chuck & Nancy. Parents should never drag a child through this wilderness. Proposed physical barrier will remove the perverse incentive to even try.
Clarkson took fourth in the Republican primary with just 12.4 percent of the vote. He was defeated by Yvette Herrell, a Cherokee Nation citizen, who lost to now Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, a Democrat, in the November election.
But there was another controversy that began during the campaign: New Mexico State University said Clarkson's academic leave had ended and he should return to campus or be fired. The university carried out its threat. And Clarkson sued. He claims racial and religious discrimination because he is a pro-life Christian and a tribal citizen.
A few weeks after the congressional primary, the Republican nominee for New Mexico Secretary of State dropped out of the general election and Clarkson won a bid to fill the spot. Among the issues, he championed a photo ID requirement “because when non-citizens vote, the votes of citizens are diminished. Allowing those who have cheated the system to vote insults both our veterans who fought to protect our democratic institutions and all the immigrants who followed the rules to come here legally.” Clarkson lost that race to the incumbent Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
On Tuesday Clarkson announced his bid for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico. He is the first Republican to enter the race. On the Democratic side, Rep. Ben Ray Lujan is a candidate.
That Senate race is an “open” seat because of the retirement of Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat. That means there will likely be several challengers at least on the Republican side. The New Mexico Political report says former U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, former Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and former U.S. Senate candidate Mick Rich may also run for the seat.
Clarkson, like Trump, is a name-calling candidate. He called his Republican opponent in the congressional race too "ethically challenged" to win. He said his secretary of state opponent was guilty of registering “zombies, aliens and canines” as voters. Or a recent attack on Rep. Alexandria Occasio-Cortez he said new research “proves” her "mental flatulence is more harmful than her discredited claim regarding #BovineFlattulence."
Another favorite opponent: Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Clarkson's Twitter feed cites the hashtag "fauxcahontas" with several posts and an op-ed directed at Warren. “When the Obama administration blocked efforts to allow Native Americans to explore for energy on their own lands,” he tweeted. Elizabeth Warren “did nothing to stop it. When the Obama administration blocked a tribe from pursuing a renewable energy project, she didn't speak up.” He calls the
Clarkson said that Warren “listed herself as a Native professor at Harvard Law School yet rejected at least 5 invitations to support Native students (I delivered three in person, one as NALSA president). In my 5 years there, she did absolutely nothing to support Native students.”
At his Senate campaign announcement, Clarkson stuck to familiar themes. He supports the Trump administration’s immigration policies. He told the Las Cruces News-Sun that he is not anti-immigration, “highlighting that his wife is an immigrant who came to the United States legally.”
In an interview posted on his campaign web site, Clarkson said, "I want to be New Mexico’s next U.S. Senator to bring some sympathy to the Senate for those whose voices are not heard in the halls of Congress -- the victims of illegal immigrant crime, the unborn, and those who are economically disempowered due to federal regulations and corporate welfare schemes that benefit establishment lobbyists at the expense of entrepreneurs and small businesses."
The story of Clarkson is different than ones told by most career politicians. “I'm a tribal member whose orphaned father went from living out of trash cans to being the first Native American to fly a jet. I have a law degree, an MBA, and a doctorate in Business Administration. I’ve taught for two decades as a conservative in higher education and been illegally fired for it, and I've served as an economic development official in the Trump administration in the heart of the swamp.”
Clarkson also said his campaign will focus on ending the dual taxation on job creation in Indian Country "which could provide a $2 billion economic stimulus in New Mexico alone and up to $40 billion nationwide without costing federal taxpayers a single cent."
Clarkson is a longtime advocate for tribal economic development. He has written academic papers, been a speaker at conferences, and has been an advocate for tribes and individual Native Americans working more with Republicans. At a recent meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference he told Cronkite News that conservatives “don’t fully understand that tribal sovereignty and private property rights are two sides of the same conservative coin … Unfortunately, far too much of Indian Country supports Democrats even though it’s against their sovereign interests.”
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports
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