Political Observer Says 2016 Could Be Historic Year For Native Candidates

Aug 23, 2016

Credit Courtesy photo / Mark Trahant

A Native American political observer says 2016 could be a record year for the number of native candidates on the ballot across the country.

Mark Trahant says just under 100 candidates are running for office.

Mark Trahant is a journalism professor at the University of North Dakota.

He says this could be a record year for the number of native people running for office.   He’s tallying up the number of native candidates nationwide, but he says since this is the first time a count like this has been done, he says he’s cautious about making a superlative statement.

Trahant says after November, seven states in the country could end up with fair representation of Native Americans in elected office.

“The great story is Montana. Montana, like many states had one or two, then all of the sudden with redistricting they started including more reservation boundaries to expand it. And, with this time around there's actually 11 candidates from Montana,” Trahant says. “ Montana is about 7.5 percent Native American, but the legislature, depending on the election, could be a higher percentage than the population, which is really remarkable.”

He says native people see how effective they can be in influencing policy on a state level, which is cause for an increase in candidates.

As for South Dakota, seven Native candidates are vying for offices in state government, six for either the state house or senate, and one who is running for Public Utilities Commissioner.

Trahant points to a unique race in Sioux Falls, in House District 14.

“One of the things in South Dakota this time around is having an urban candidate. There’s been candidates from the reservation running for the legislature before, but having somebody run from—JR LaPlante who’s trying to say ‘I’m just a citizen. I’m also Native American, I can bring both perspectives to the legislature.’ And that’s probably the toughest sell, because it’s just so… invisible.”

Nationwide, Trahant says 75 Native Democrats are running for state or federal office, as well as 15 Native Republican candidates.