As the calendar continues to creep toward 2020 and next year’s presidential election heats up, local and state elections also are slowly starting to take shape.
A record number of Native American candidates ran for positions in government in the last election cycle. And many won! From Peggy Flanagan being elected as Lt. Gov. in Minnesota to Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Native representation grew significantly after the 2018 midterm elections.
State Rep. Shane Morigeau, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, announced last week that he will be running for state auditor in 2020 as a Democrat. The person currently holding the position, Matt Rosendale, is throwing his hat into the race for the state’s open seat in the U.S. House after losing in a bid to run for senator against Jon Tester in 2018.
Morigeau in his announcement video called for an end to rising health insurance rates in the state, as well as politicians putting big corporations interests ahead of those of Montana families.
“For too long, everyday Montanans have had no voice in our state auditor’s office,” Morigeau said in the video.
Born and raised in Ronan, Montana, on the Flathead Indian Reservation, Morigeau obtained his law degree from the University of Montana and later his masters of laws from the University of Arizona Law School before returning home and working as a prosecutor for his tribe.
After serving in that role for a couple years, Morigeau became a lobbyist and advocate for the tribe, primarily working on his tribe's water compact and Medicaid expansion. Although he didn’t see himself as a Republican or Democrat, working on these issues ultimately led to Morigeau to decide to run for the state legislature as a Democrat.
“I started recognizing, these are predominantly the group of legislators that really care about the issues I’m working on, care about Indian country,” Morigeau said. “There are Republicans that do (care) in all fairness, but I felt like the majority of the people on the Democratic side wanted to have those discussions and I felt that was where I belonged.”
One of the top priorities of his campaign is healthcare and ensuring insurance rates are fair and affordable. As a state representative, Morigeau served as minority whip where he gained firsthand experience passing a slew of bills including; reauthorizing Medicaid expansion, a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women legislative package and efforts to end child sex abuse.
Part of the role of the state auditor is to protect the state resident’s from fraud through insurance and securities regulation, as well as serving on the land board for the state. Morigeau also believes the state auditor should do more in promoting business development in the state.
“I think there should be more of that going on (business development), not just regulating and coming down on people,” he said. “I think it should be regulate, protect consumers but also promote those industries.”
According to his website, Morigeau has been endorsed by more than 25 members from the Montana state legislature. Republican Troy Downing has also announced a run for the auditor’s seat.
Morigeau joins a rising wave of Native American candidates that have run for local, state and federal office in recent years. He encourages people to take the chance if they’re thinking about it to help change the dialogue and bring real-life experiences to public offices. He is the second candidate to run for state-wide office this cycle. Gavin Clarkson, Choctaw, is a candidate for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico as a Republican.
“I think politics internationally and nationally are showing people why they need to start stepping up and being a voice,” Morigeau said. “Because if we don’t we’re going to be drowned out and our issues are going to be lost in the big picture of what’s going on.”
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org