Mark Trahant is one of the most respected Native American journalists in America. His achievements and contributions to our community are why he was honored earlier this year with our Jay Silverheels Achievement Award at the INPRO Gala at the Reservation Economic Summit. A member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, he is currently the editor of Indian Country Today. During the 2018 election cycle Mark has closely tracked and analyzed Native American and Alaska Native candidates running for office across the country, at nearly all levels of office. There is a clear trend of more Native American and Alaska Native candidates running for office across the country – and winning.
We asked Mark a few questions about the trends he’s seeing across the country and what to expect on election night, and in the future. You can follow his reporting on Twitter, or at Indian Country Today. On social media, follow the hashtag #NativeVote18 and #SheRepresents for more information as we head into the November elections.
How does this year’s crop of Native American and Alaska Native office seekers compare to years past – both in quantity and type of office sought?
The sheer number of candidates is record-breaking. I have been covering Native candidates for three decades and have not seen anything like this, post primary there are still more than a hundred Native candidates running for state offices and Congress.
The quality of these candidates is also impressive. Deb Haaland (running for US House in NM 1) has been a state party leader, community organizer, and has built a network for a long time.
Are these candidates concentrated in a particular part of the country, or are they widespread?
Across the country. Sharice Davids (running for US House in Kansas 3) is a good example. It’s not a district that you would normally expect.
What do you think is driving the increase in Native American candidates and their early electoral success?
I think this is a long arc story. Every year more people take the risk. They see other candidates, and success stories. I also think, at the same time, that this election is a spur to many because of national policies.
It seems like many of the Native American candidates who have won high-profile primaries are women. Is there a reason for this phenomenon, or is this part of the broader trend in what some are calling “the year of the woman?”
This is the first time ever that there are more women than men running for office in Indian Country. At least 53 out of 102 races that I track are women candidates, up from around 40 percent in the last cycle (which is still a strong track record). The jump is in part because of the times (as mentioned above), and also there are more ways to build an election network without deep pockets. That’s huge.
Many people know about some of the high-profile candidates – Deb Haaland in New Mexico, Sharice Davids in Kansas, Paulette Jordan in Idaho, and both Lt. Governor candidates in Minnesota. Are there other candidates that we’re not talking about who stand a strong chance of winning in November? Or perhaps candidates to watch out for in the future, regardless of their success in 2018?
One race to watch is Jade Bahr running in Billings for the Montana House of Representatives. It’s not a reservation district, but an urban one, and she’s working really hard getting her message out. It’s a red state, of course, so a huge challenge. But that doesn’t seem to stop people this time around.
Do you see this trend continuing in the future? What does our community need to do to ensure stronger representation at all levels of government?
Yes, I think more people see the need for representation, to have a voice in government. There has been a stealth success story in state legislatures (the number of elected Native representation is about 1 percent), but more people see the goal in getting close to population parity as is the case in Montana, Minnesota, and a couple of other states.
What will you be looking for on election night – specific races, trends, etc.?
I am especially interested in Alaska and a three-way race for governor. The Native vote was key to the election of an independent four years ago, but this time could be split up. There are two Alaska Natives running against each other for Lt. Gov. (current Lt. Governor Byron Mallott is running for re-election on an independent ticket with Governor Bill Walker, and Debra Call is running with former U.S. Senator Mark Begich on the Democratic ticket); there is a Republican ticket as well. Alaska is one of those states with a long ways to go in terms of representation.
You’ve done a lot of work to track and analyze these races. If people are interested in learning more and keeping track of electoral developments over the upcoming campaign season, where should they go?
On election nights I live blog and all of my writing (and spreadsheets!) are at Indian Country Today. We are working to add other elected offices to our database to get a comprehensive picture of Native American representation in city, county, state as well as the federal government. On social media you can also look for two hashtags, #NativeVote18 and #SheRepresents.