WINNING THE TRIBAL VOTE: Three of the four Democratic Senate candidates campaigning hard for tribal votes in 2012 were elected [see “The Return of the Native,” Oct. 22], with an especially strong impact for upset winner Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, who won by 1 percent—or just under 3,000 votes. As Theron Thompson, a Dakota Sioux, pointed out at DailyKos, Heitkamp carried the tribal reservation counties by 4,589. Her biggest margins—over 80 percent—were in the counties that include the Standing Rock and Turtle Mountain reservations.
Tribal voters turned out for a candidate who campaigned extensively on reservations and at powwows and who declared, “Fulfilling treaty obligations we made years ago is one of the greatest contributions we can make to Indian well-being.” Upon being elected, Heitkamp announced a strong interest in a seat on the Indian Affairs Committee.
Heitkamp’s efforts paid off for the state as a whole. Vonnie Lone Chief, former press secretary to the Three Affiliated Tribes, wrote after the election, “Standing in the way of North Dakota turning solid red was a determined tribal ground game that matched the winning candidate’s resolve.”
Native leaders also claimed a key role in the Montana election, where Senator Jon Tester told the American Indian Media Network before the election that he was counting on the tribal vote, which had been crucial in his first election in 2006. Tester’s 2012 victory margin of 19,000 included a 7,000-vote lead in counties with substantial Indian populations. DAVID SARASOHN
THE FIFTY-FIRST STATE? On November 6, voters in Puerto Rico approved a nonbinding referendum that would make it the fifty-first state in the union. It was the first time a majority has voted for statehood.
However, statehood remains a divisive issue. Asked if Puerto Rico should maintain its current territorial status, which doesn’t allow the island’s residents to vote in US federal elections, 51 percent of voters demanded some form of change. But when asked what status they would prefer for Puerto Rico, nearly 500,000 of the 1.8 million people who cast ballots left the question blank. If those are added to the votes for other options, such as sovereign free association and independence, then less than 45 percent of the electorate supported statehood. Further complicating the results, Alejandro Javier García Padilla of the Partido Popular Democrático—whose party opposes statehood and encouraged supporters to leave the question blank—unseated Luis Guillermo Fortuño Burset, the pro-statehood Republican governor who shepherded the measure onto the ballot.
The push for Puerto Rican statehood faces other barriers. As Dr. Yarí Pérez Marín at the University of Durham explains, it would be costly for the United States to subsidize Puerto Rico’s economy, which would likely suffer under the US tax system. She also notes that over two-thirds of Puerto Ricans are not fluent in English, and there would be strong opposition to the incorporation of a Spanish-speaking state. Moreover, Puerto Rico would gain more legislators in Congress than many existing states.
But there’s one thing Puerto Ricans can agree on, Pérez Marín adds: “On different sides of the spectrum—right, left and in between—people are simply getting tired of being one of the last colonies on earth.” JEFF ERNSTHAUSEN and ELISA WOUK ALMINO
In our October 22 issue, David Sarasohn explained “Why the Native American Vote Could Win the Senate for Democrats.”