COMMENTARY: Beating a dead horse

by May 22, 2019OPINIONS





Have you voted yet? You can. I did. My ballot only had Principal Chief and Vice Chief candidates on it because I vote in Snowbird and the slate of candidates was small enough not to require a primary. So, my civic duty is done, for now. 

Do you know what the candidates are saying? Do you know what they are doing? There are important issues we face as a Tribe, and each candidate has a unique viewpoint. Do you know each one’s take on the issues that affect you and your community? Have you asked them?

If you are on social media or if you have a water cooler or a “smoke hole” (a.k.a. break area) at your workplace, you know that your fellow community members have some strong opinions about the candidates; some with strong support, others with strong condemnation. 

The candidates are trying to communicate with you. They each have their strategy and style. Some are using sign language; that is, they are putting up temporary, corrugated cardboard signs at a furious pace. I have always wondered if the constituency bases their votes on how many signs they see for a candidate. Are you swayed by a pretty sign? Maybe the thought is that you can visually beat a constituent into submission. 

I have always seen our elections as a very personal process. Not for me, of course, I live off Boundary, so, the best I can hope for is a piece of mail with a partial platform enclosed. I am okay with that; I like to do my own research and make my decisions based on my findings. It is understandable that, when a candidate knows that the voters are getting close to going to the polls, they strenuously accentuate their positives and stick the negatives in a drawer somewhere. Disagreeing with a voter that is nearly walking into the voting booth is a sure sign that a candidate isn’t a student of human psychology. If you can’t say “yes” to that voter, it is best not to say anything. Saying “no” to a voter in voting mode is almost assuring a no vote to your getting past the primary. 

To me, particularly with the Tribal Council and School Board elections, and within the small populations with those communities, it seems that any candidate would be able to see each family personally (or at least enough of them to ensure most of the votes). So, when you don’t see them, you wonder just how committed they are to (1) hearing the individual concerns of those they intend to serve and, (2) caring about the community. You also have to scratch your head a bit when they only come around when it is election time. 

Elections give people another topic of gossip, and sometimes facts become elastic. Old timers (and I am proud to say I number myself among them) used to call a tall tale a “stretcher.” It referred to stretching a fact into something that you wouldn’t recognize. Some folks call it “embellishment.” Whatever you call it, it typically won’t hold up in court, and it shouldn’t be given any weight when you are trying to decide who sits in the seats of power in tribal government. People would sometimes tell stretchers to impress their people or get a laugh. The problem is that elections are no laughing matters. 

There are those who would do away with the primary, some already holding seats of power. I disagree with going straight to a general election. I prefer that preliminary vote for even those races where our current law doesn’t require it because there are not enough candidates. It would engage the electorate more effectively if we did it for all communities regardless of the number of candidates. And, it would urge all candidates to engage in public discussion.  

The problem with beating a dead horse is that you aren’t likely to get a satisfactory result. The horse will not do what you want it to do, because it is gone, you see. It can’t feel your urgings, even if you curse at it and expose it to physical violence. It has lost its ability to hear you and the horse has lost all its feelings. It doesn’t care what goes on from now on because it is no longer in this world from a spiritual standpoint. Sometimes we act like that. I am hoping that we have not become dead horses. We have been through some perilous times as a Tribe, and yet we are still strong. We have had people at the extremes of personal agendas tugging at us from all sides. Being beaten in this way makes us numb and apathetic at times, maybe most of the time. 

A small, volunteer (meaning they don’t get paid and they do it on their own time) group of community members have been trying to communicate and assemble a constitution of the people for two years. This is the latest in multiple attempts to engage the people in discussion to create a valid governing document of the people. Public engagement has been sparse and, based on the most recent Tribal Council work session on the subject, it looks like we are far away from any genuine consideration of a change in governance. The public response to efforts to bring a constitution to a public vote would make you think that the people have no interest in civic protections that the document would afford. 

I am fascinated by our propensity only to participate providing a meal or a door prize is involved. I don’t get to see the candidates’ budgets, but I am betting that they may spend more money on food for meet and greets than they do on signage. And, I know that I am generalizing right now, but please don’t be offended unless this applies to you. If you are basing your vote on who fed you the most hot dogs or who had the best BBQ, we are in worse shape than we think. 

By the time you read this, early voting for the primary may have concluded and, if you didn’t take advantage of that opportunity, I hope you are going to the polls June 6. Hopefully, this plea will wake up a few dead horses.