After a primary election with the highest turnout in decades, the stage is now set for the November 6 general election — and the stakes are high for Indian Country.
Although 22.7 percent turnout doesn’t sound like much, it was the highest percentage turnout for a primary in Minnesota since 1994, and the total number of voters — 902,119 — was the highest since 1982.
The high turnout reflected the importance of contests in both parties for significant positions, including Governor and Lieutenant Governor (who run as a team), Attorney General, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Representative.
In the Governor’s race, Band-supported candidates Tim Walz and Peggy Flanagan won the primary on the DFL side with 41.6 percent of the vote, compared to 32.03 for Erin Murphy and Erin Maye-Quade and 24.59 percent for Lori Swanson and Rick Nolan.
Peggy Flanagan, a White Earth Band member, hopes to become the state’s first Native American Lieutenant Governor. She has been a friend of Mille Lacs and other tribes in the State House, representing Minneapolis suburbs.
On the Republican side, Jeff Johnson and Donna Bergstrom won a surprising victory over former Governor Tim Pawlenty and Michelle Fischbach, 52.61 percent to 43.86 percent. Bergstrom is also a Native American with membership in the Red Lake Nation, so no matter who wins, the state will make history by electing its first Native American to statewide office.
Johnson has allied himself with people from the business and angling communities who say co-management of Mille Lacs Lake is not working and favor going back to court if necessary. Johnson says on his website, ”The decline in sport fishing and the massive impact on the local economy are clear evidence that it's time to end management systems and policies that don't work. If we need to try and convince the courts, then so be it.”
Keith Ellison won the DFL primary for Minnesota Attorney General and will run against Republican Doug Wardlow.
The Band supported Democrat Joe Radinovich to succeed Rick Nolan as Eighth District U.S. Representative in Congress. Radinovich received 44.1 percent of the votes to defeat four other DFL candidates. He will face Republican Pete Stauber in the general election.
Democratic Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar won their primaries easily. Klobuchar will face Jim Newberger, who won 69.5 percent of the vote in the Republican primary.
Smith will run in a special election after she was appointed to fill the seat of Al Franken, who resigned last year in the face of sexual harassment allegations. She will run against Republican Karin Housley, who won the primary with 61.95 percent of the vote.
In the Fourth U.S. Congressional district, which includes St. Paul, long-time Democratic Congresswoman (and friend of the Band) Betty McCollum will run against Republican Greg Ryan.
In the Fifth U.S. Congressional District, which includes the Minneapolis area, Democrat Ilhan Omar will run against Re- publican Jennifer Zielinski for the seat vacated by Keith Ellison when he decided to run for Attorney General.
The Band-supported candidate for Mille Lacs County Attorney, former Tribal Court Judge Richard Osburn, finished third in the primary behind current County Attorney Joe Walsh and former County Attorney Jan Jude.
Neither Walsh nor Jude has been a consistent friend of the Band. Jude opposed the Band’s request for federal law enforcement help under the Tribal Law and Order Act and the Band’s trust land applications when she was county attorney from 2002 to 2014, and she repeatedly stated her belief that the 1855 Mille Lacs Reservation had been disestablished.
The Band had high hopes for Joe Walsh when he defeated Jude in 2014, but he supported the County Board’s decision to rescind its law enforcement agreement with the Band in 2016, and he has not shown a strong desire to put the agreement back in place.
Jude, whose husband is former Tribal Police Investigator Russ Jude, has said she would attempt to restore the agreement, which would give Mille Lacs Tribal Police authority to enforce Minnesota criminal law on the reservation.
In the City of Wahkon, long-time Mayor Sandy Reichel, who has repeatedly stirred up conflict with the Band, is being challenged by Deb Lawler.
Don Lorge is running unopposed for County Sheriff to succeed Brent Lindgren, who chose not to run for reelection.
Another opponent of the Band, State Representative Sondra Erickson, is being challenged by Emy Minzel, who has been a regular at Band events this summer, including the District I powwow and community picnic.
Erickson has authored many bills over the years that have had no chance of passing but attacked the Band’s sovereignty. She has aligned herself with anti-Indian groups like PERM, MERF, and CERA.
Erickson was criticized last Legislative session for comments she made about Indian schools, saying, “Well, if they’re going to argue they’re sovereign, then they don’t have to take this money that we’re giving to them.”
If you would like to get involved in the general election campaign, please call Jamie Edwards at 612-850-2124, Katie Draper at 320-515-0846, or Shena Matrious at 320-279-3132 (Government Affairs) for more information.