Political Matters – December 2022

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It could’ve been worse
The Nov. 8 midterm elections did not deliver the mighty “red wave” that Republicans predicted – more like a pinkish puddle. In other words, we avoided full-blown fascism in the U.S. For now.

Pundits have noted that the Orange Palooka doomed GOP electoral fortunes by endorsing a slew of extremist, MAGA candidates. While the electorate is remarkably divided, voters rejected a number of candidates whose sole qualification was fealty to the previous occupant of the Oval Office. Most of the election-deniers – those who parroted Trump’s bogus claim that the 2020 presidential election was “rigged and stolen” – lost their races.

Democrats held their majority in the Senate, while Republicans will hold a narrow majority in the House when it reconvenes in 2023. However, the GOP is riven by contending factions; notably, the so-called Freedom Caucus in the House, populated by demented right-wingers like Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert and Paul Gosar, will create problems for their more pragmatic (slightly less demented) GOP colleagues, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who aspires to the speaker post.

And Indian Country had some outcomes to celebrate. In Alaska, Democrat Mary Peltola defeated Sarah Palin, former governor and the 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate, and will become the first Native person to represent Alaska in Congress. Peltola “assembled a coalition of Democrats, centrists and Alaska Natives behind her ‘pro-family, pro-fish’ platform,” according to the New York Times.

And Sharice Davids, an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin, won reelection to the U.S. House from Kansas – the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation. Davids was one of the first Native women elected to Congress, in 2018, along with Deb Haaland, who is now Pres. Biden’s secretary of the Interior. Davids also is the first openly LGBT Native elected to Congress.

Finally, as far the 2022 vote, I suggested in my October column that readers of “Political Matters” vote for the DFL incumbents in Minnesota constitutional offices. I mentioned that the Minnesota GOP “nominated a remarkable assortment of right-wing cranks” for these statewide offices, including Dr. Scott Jensen, an anti-vaxxer, for governor, and Kim “Election-Denier in Chief” Crockett for secretary of state. And the DFLers all prevailed, although Attorney General Keith Ellison won an extremely close race against Jim Schultz, a hedge fund lawyer who ran a despicable campaign. State Auditor Julie Blaha won by an even narrower margin.

When the dust cleared in Minnesota, the DFL won back control of the Senate and retained their House majority. Among other agenda items, Minnesota likely will see a recreational cannabis bill signed into law. This year, THC-infused edibles were legalized; the bill passed while Republican lawmakers, who oppose such things, were asleep at the switch.

Climate crisis is now
In my column last month, I wrote about the dilemma posed by mining for “clean energy” minerals to remediate global warming. Talon Metals, which has partnered with global mining ravager Rio Tinto, is advancing a scheme to mine for nickel in Aitkin and Carlton counties. While alternative technologies might avoid the environmental destruction that often comes with mining, we should be aware that the climate crisis is not something looming in the future. It’s happening now.

I recently read a story by Emily Witt in The New Yorker (Nov. 28, 2022) about the threat to isolated Native communities in Alaska that are threatened by rising sea water and storms. She visited Kivalina, a tiny barrier island 83 miles north of the Arctic Circle on Alaska’s northwest coast. The Inupiat village is home to some 450 people and climate scientists warn that the island will be fully under water by 2025.

Witt writes that on a visit to the state in 2015, Pres. Barack Obama “flew over Kivalina and posted a photograph of the island on social media from the air. ‘There aren’t many other places in America that have to deal with questions of relocation right now,’ Obama wrote, ‘but there will be.’ He described what was happening in the village as ‘America’s wake-up call.’”

On Nov. 30, the New York Times reported that the Biden administration will give three Native tribes $75 million to move away from coastal areas or rivers, “one of the nation’s largest efforts to date to relocate communities that are facing an urgent threat from climate change.”

According to the Times, the three communities – two in Alaska, and one in Washington State – will each get $25 million “to move their key buildings onto higher ground and away from rising waters…. The federal government will give eight more tribes $5 million each to plan for relocation.”

There was no mention of Kivalina.