Tom Daschle may be leading
in his bid for reelection to the Senate, but he might have a harder time than previously thought:
Tim Giago now plans to run as an independent for the U.S. Senate, a move expected to change the complexion of a South Dakota race full of national implications.
Giago, of Rapid City, publisher of the Lakota Journal, had planned to challenge Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle in the June 1 Democratic Party primary, with the winner to face Republican John Thune in November.
But Giago said switching his effort to the fall gives him more time to get petitions signed and gives him a greater forum for discussion of Native American issues.
"Our issues need to be analyzed, put on the table and discussed," he said...
The significance of Giago's decision "can't be overstated," said Dick Wadhams, Thune's campaign manager.
"This is clearly bad news for Tom Daschle," he said. "Anytime you have an election that appears to be as close as this one - any development like this is huge."
In 2002, Libertarian Kurt Evans ran against Sen. Tim Johnson and Thune, but decided to drop out a few days before the election. His name stayed on the ballot and he received 3,070 votes. Johnson defeated Thune by 528 votes.
Giago could split Native American votes, [Wadhams] said...
It is of no concern to Giago if his candidacy hurts Daschle or Thune, he said. "That is the chance you take," Giago said.
He looks to Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell's long-shot bid in his first election as a model of what can be done. "They laughed at him, and I am sure people will chuckle at me," he said.
We've heard all of that before. Giago seems to be a decent guy who's been widely honored for his journalism and advocacy on issues important to Native Americans. But putting issues on the table to be discussed doesn't by itself do anything to address the crushing poverty and roughly 50%-plus unemployment found on many reservations; a Republican-led Senate presided over by Bill Frist may listen to issues, but it won't be as interested in actually doing something about Native-American issues as would a Democratic Senate presided over by Daschle.
According to Giago, "the Indian nations should appoint an Indian candidate to run in every major election. This will give them the opportunity to get their issues out on the table. In some states, this may be the only way and the only time that Indian issues will ever be discussed or debated." Despite what Giago may think, this notion is completely at odds with the example set by Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Campbell didn't enter his first election to widen the debate. In 1982 Campbell was drafted by Democrats to run for the state legislature, and he spent $13,000 of his own money in an attempt to win. Campbell won that race and every one since.
Giago may honestly believe that his candidacy will help Native Americans in South Dakota and across the country. Let's hope that Giago steps back and looks not just as the example of Ralph Nader, but also reconsiders what he believes are the lessons of the 2002 SD Senate campaign:
The Indian vote put Senator Tim Johnson into office in the last election. He won the state by a mere 524 votes and those votes came from the last precinct counted, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. On his television show Crossfire, Robert Novak accused the people of the Great Sioux Nation of "stuffing ballot boxes."
It pointed out to me that the Indian vote has been taken for granted for far too long. I believe that if the Indians of South Dakota line up behind an Indian candidate and can show the power of their vote, it will wake up politicians across Indian country that the Indian vote is not to be taken for granted ever again.
The lesson here isn't that the Indian vote is being taken for granted, the lesson is that the Indian vote is invaluable to SD Democrats who hope to win a close statewide election. Just when the value of Native American votes in SD is highest, Giago's candidacy has the potential to diminish that value. Let's hope Giago realizes the destructive potential of his candidacy before it's too late.