Jason Smith, Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The Democratic Party did not invite the governor to participate in this week;’s presidential debate. (Mark Trahant photo)
This week the Democratic candidates for president will have their first debates. I have some questions I’d like to ask.
This is Trahant Reports.
On Wednesday and again on Thursday 20 of the 24 candidates for president will be on a stage debating issues. You can bet the news media will report on who does well — and how that impacts the standing of each candidate. Who’s up. And who’s not. Who’s the front-runner. And who is coming up fast.
But that kind of reporting misses out on public policy. There is a worthwhile debate to be had about issues and which direction a candidate would take the country.
For example all of the Democrats say they support universal health care. Some have specific plans such as Medicare for all, while others favor a more incremental approach, building on the work of Obamacare.
Let’s put this in the context for Indian Country. Medicare is a universal insurance for mostly elderly people and it spends $10,739 per person. If that were universal, the Indian Health system would no longer have to seek a direct appropriation (or better use that money for other things) because the insurance spending on Indian health would reach $27.5 billion. That’s about a three-fold increase (when you include Medicaid dollars).
That would be a fully-funded Indian health system.
Of course that won’t be a topic. But Medicare (and even Medicaid) might be. Yet the idea of universal health insurance directly impacts the Indian health system.
It’s impossible in three minutes to talk about the 20 candidates and what they might say. But one interesting note to consider: Two of the candidates who think and talk most about Native issues will not be on the stage.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has spent a lot of time with tribal issues and works with a legislature that has more Native representation than any in the nation. He has real experience with improving the funding of Indian health through Medicaid expansion — and if he were in the debate would likely talk about that.
Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel decided to run because he wants the country to think about issues differently, including those involving Native people.
Gravel recently took to Twitter to demand a federal investigation to look into the murder of Clarence Leading Fighter in South Dakota. “Shot twice in the doorway of a church by police, after already being tased,” Sen. Gravel wrote.
Turning back to the 20 candidates who are on the stage — there are so many questions that should be asked. How would they make sure that Native Americans have real representation in the government, beyond those jobs that just impact Indian Country? Where do they stand on making sure that the United States lives up to its treaty obligations? And how will they make sure that tribes have the resources to deal with climate change?
I’m just getting started,
But the debates won’t be about that. Not yet, anyway.
I am Mark Trahant.