Minnesota’s Governor Could Make History with a Flanagan Appointment to Senate #NativeVote18

Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan, D- St. Louis Park.

Guest Commentary

Published December 10, 2017

There is an uncomfortable, even painful re-balancing going on across so much of society. The old world of male hegemony is slowly coming to an end. Minnesota’s Sen. Al Franken lost his office because of his own actions — and that broader change.

“I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party,” Sen Franken said.

Yet this is a tough issue for many Democrats. Franken was the kind of senator that folks wanted, especially on issues involving American Indians and Alaska Natives. As Tara Zhaabowekwe Houska wrote on Facebook:  “Al Franken has resigned, leaving a massive gap of progressive values in Congress. None of the victims who stepped forward called for his resignation. His decision to step down speaks volumes of his character and recognition of the bigger picture.”

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will appoint Franken’s replacement who then will have to run in a special election next year. The most likely pick is Lieutenant Governor Tina Flint Smith, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The appointment of Smith causes another problem: A Republican would automatically replace her as the Lt. Gov. That situation also presents challenges for an administration. But then again, time is short.

Two other names — both historic choices– are also possible, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Ojibwe).

Flanagan is currently running for Lt. Gov. But because of her deep experience in politics, Flanagan could hit the ground running. She already knows her way around Capitol Hill. Since this would be a short term gig, that’s critical. There is another reason why Flanagan should get the nod: Since 1789 there have been 12,244 people serving in Congress. Never has there been a Native woman. Not by election. Not by appointment. This would be a chance to start a new era, one where indigenous voices are heard.

This is an important time in Congress. In addition to all of the challenges that the country is facing in the Trump era, there is also the issue of how Congress, as an institution, handles abuse by its members. The line needs to be sharp and absolute. Just this week four members from both parties have resigned, retired or are being investigated. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said he would resign after sexual misconduct allegations. The House Ethics Committee is investigating Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold for using taxpayer funds for an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement.  And Michigan Democrat John Conyers retired Tuesday from a House seat he had held for more than fifty years.

And to top it off Congress has an institutional problem. A payoff system that was both secret and a way for powerful members to act with impunity. As Rep. Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, told Time magazine: “We were asking for anything related to sexual harassment. The response received today indicated that due to the confidentiality requirements of the statute, they cannot provide us with that.”

Transparency is the only way out of this mess.

But voters in Alabama are considering a candidate, Roy Moore, who would start his job in the Senate already knowing about these issues. The Washington Post reported about Moore’s sexual misconduct with multiple minors. A candidate who is not only backed by President Donald J. Trump but by the official apparatus of the Republican Party.

And, of course, Trump himself has been accused by at least sixteen women of misconduct.

Congress, the White House, government, Hollywood, journalism, business, tribes, all have stories about the corrupt use of power. Enough. It’s time for a re-balancing of power. And most certainly, transparency.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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