Why Indigenous voters who helped elect Kyrsten Sinema now feel betrayed | american politics
Indigenous leaders who mobilized Arizona voters to help elect Sen. Kyrsten Sinema said the centrist Democratic lawmaker could no longer count on their support because communities felt betrayed.
Sinema was elected in 2018, halfway through Trump’s term, amid growing concern over rolling back voting rights and environmental protections that disproportionately impact tribal communities. She entered the Senate after six years in Congress, having beaten her Republican opponent with 50% of the vote, thanks in part to strong turnout by Native Americans in Arizona.
Two years later, another turnout record among the state’s 22 tribes was crucial in swinging Arizona from red to blue and securing Biden’s path to the White House.
Now Sinema’s record as a senator is under intense scrutiny after she and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin sided with Republicans to keep the filibuster going, killing the legislation in the process. designed to counter a wave of voting rights restrictions in states across the country.
Sweeping voting rights reforms include the Native American Suffrage Act (Navra) that would allow tribes to determine the number and location of voter registration sites, polling stations, and ballot boxes on their reservations.
Navra is widely supported by tribal nations, but Democrats need 10 Republicans to vote for the legislation if the filibuster remains intact.
Sinema supports suffrage legislation, but it has no chance of passing unless the filibuster – the senatorial tradition designed to allow the minority party to prolong debate and delay or prevent a vote – be deleted.
Jonathan Nez, president of the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the United States, told the Guardian: “We are disappointed with the senator. She is on the national stage because of the Native American vote and the strong Navajo turnout. If she doesn’t deliver what’s important to us, I’m sure there’s another candidate who will.
“There is a lot of frustration among voters, the Native American Voting Rights Act is very important to us given how the state of Arizona has curtailed our voting rights,” Nez added.
Nationally, there are 574 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Native villages, representing approximately 1.5% (4.5 million) of the total population.
This includes 22 tribes in Arizona including the Tohono O’odham Nation, the Hopi Tribe, three Apache tribes, and the Navajo Nation, whose territory extends into Utah and New Mexico. Just over 27% of Arizona is governed by tribal sovereignty.
The political culture varies from tribe to tribe – and some in Arizona have publicly expressed support for Sinema – but those in indigenous communities are less likely to be registered to vote than other groups due to a certain number of historical obstacles. Native Americans did not have the right to vote until 1948. Long-standing structural impediments, including poor roads, scarce public transportation options, and limited postal and translation services, limited their participation in elections.
In recent years, Arizona and several other states have passed laws and regulations that make it even harder for Native Americans — and other underserved communities who tend to vote Democratic — to vote. This includes restrictions on early voter locations, mail-in ballots and ballot collection campaigns, which legal experts say have a disproportionate impact on rural Indigenous voters.
The Senate also thwarted two bills that Republicans had previously blocked four times with a filibuster – the Free Suffrage Act and the John Lewis Advancing Voting Rights Act.
Navra, which has some bipartisan support, would prohibit states from closing or merging polling places on reservations without tribal consent, and would require states with voter ID laws to accept voter ID cards. tribal identity.
Sinema’s support for the filibuster has undermined a massive effort by grassroots activists to mobilize Native voters, according to Tara Benally, field director of the Utah Rural Project, a nonprofit that mobilizes voters under -represented in rural areas of Arizona and Utah.
“Our Community Outreach Officers have spent hours and hours registering and building voter confidence ahead of the 2018 and 2020 elections after decades apart at the local, state and federal levels. Senator Sinema completely undermined what we did and betrayed her constituents. I highly doubt people will vote for her again unless, by some miracle, she changes her values and stops working against those who elected her,” Benally said.
About 10,000 new native voters registered in Arizona ahead of the last presidential election – which Biden won by just over 10,000 votes. In 2020, voter turnout on reserves ranged from 41 to 71 percent compared to 29 to 57 percent in 2016.
Torey Dolan, an Indigenous researcher at the Indian Law Clinic at Arizona State University, said, “Sinema got the lion’s share of votes on reservations; they played a significant role in electing him and Biden. His opposition to removing the filibuster means a death nail for Navra, and it left a sour taste in the mouths of many here.
“[Going forward] it will be difficult to encourage people to sign up if they don’t see their votes match the hopes and promises placed in them,” Dolan said.
Sinema voted with Donald Trump 63% of the time as a member of the House (2016 to 2018) and 26% of the time as a senator (2019 to 2021), according to FiveThirtyEight. Voting for the filibuster was the first time she had voted against her party since Biden took office.
In addition to voting rights, Biden’s $1.75 billion economic stimulus and social spending initiative is also in serious trouble.
The Build Back Better (BBB) bill includes funding for affordable housing, health care, nutrition, scholarships, and child support – basic services that are disproportionately lacking in tribal communities due to the U.S. government’s failure to meet treaty obligations. Unlike towns and cities, tribes cannot raise money through property taxes because reservation land is held in trust by the federal government.
The BBB also includes $550 billion to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, the country’s biggest ever investment against the climate crisis. It builds on other major infrastructure investments, such as the US bailout, which have benefited tribal communities.
Unlike Manchin, who adamantly opposes the bill, Sinema has signaled support for the White House BBB executive but has not pledged to vote for him in his current form.
Hannah Hurley, spokeswoman for Sinema, said: “Kyrsten remains focused on providing lasting solutions to tribal communities in Arizona, and through strong partnerships with tribal leaders, has made historic investments improving roads. and tribal bridges, ensuring cleaner water, rolling out broadband, helping tribes tackle the challenges of climate change, and strengthening health care resources.She will continue to work with tribal communities in Arizona to develop economic opportunities and ensuring that the federal government honors its obligations.
But Eric Descheenie, former Arizona State House representative for the district that includes the Navajo Nation, said Sinema faced a major trust issue.
“The climate change agenda needs the help of senators like Kyrsten Sinema, who represents some of the most influential tribes in the country, and needs to do a better job taking into account the wisdom of our people…. The problem is that no progressive can trust him,” Descheenie said.