Chairman Alvin "A.J." Not Afraid of the Crow Tribe, right, announced his endorsement of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in Lewistown, Montana, on October 28, 2018. Photo: Matt for Montana
Thursday, November 1, 2018
By Acee Agoyo
Organizers of a protest taking place outside of tribal headquarters in Crow Agency on Thursday say they were shocked by Chairman Alvin "A.J." Not Afraid's public announcement earlier this week. They don't think Rosendale, who has aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump, has Indian Country's best interests at heart.
"President Trump’s recent visits to support Rosendale have not been in the best interest of the Crow or other tribes," protest organizers said on Wednesday. "Matt Rosendale’s ambiguous support of Medicaid, Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps in the state legislature are troubling. With 90% unemployment rate on the reservation, such programs are crucial."
Critics also say Not Afraid should have talked to other elected Crow leaders before endorsing Rosendale. who called the chairman's endorsement the "honor of a lifetime" at a campaign event in Lewistown on Sunday. In a follow-up post on Twitter on Tuesday, when he visited the reservation, he implied that the entire tribe is backing him, which protest organizers say is not the case.
"Without consultation with the tribe’s legislature, the endorsement is not representative of other tribal members," protest organizers, including BethYana Pease and others, said on Wednesday.
Not Afraid's endorsement comes at the expense of Democrat Jon Tester. As a long-serving member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, where he has served as its chairman and vice chairman, he has repeatedly supported the tribe's agenda in Congress, notably helping secure passage of a $460 million water rights settlement in 2010.
Tester, who has served in the Senate since 2007, also has championed the issues of other tribes in Montana. In the coming days, he has a slew of campaign events taking place in reservations across the state.
"Folks in Indian Country are ready to get out the vote!" Tester's campaign said in a post on Twitter on Monday. In September, he shared a video in which Crow citizens said they supported his re-election bid.
But Tester's advocacy for the first Americans isn't paying off, at least among political pundits. Though most polls show him with slight leads, the non-partisan Cook Political Report has rated the race as a "Toss Up," a sign of the difficulties the Democrat is facing in a year in which he has repeatedly clashed with the president and has opposed the White House's agenda.
Rosendale, on the other hand, has benefited from repeated appearances by Trump, who is coming back to the state on Monday, and the president's family. Trump won the state by 21 percentage points in the 2016 election.
“President Trump knows how important it is that we defeat Jon Tester this November and that’s why he’s making this historic fourth visit back to Montana to campaign for us,” Rosendale said in announcing the upcoming rally at the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Trump has appeared at events in Great Falls, Billings and Missoula this year.
Not Afraid, who has faced political turmoil of his own on the reservation, has aligned himself not just with Rosendale but with Trump as well. During the campaign event in Lewistown on Sunday, he said the Republican Party's focus on energy development, self-sufficiency and other issues "fits" with the Crow Tribe's.
"Again, that agenda fits the Crow today, to side with the [Trump] administration and with Matt Rosendale," Not Afraid said to applause in Lewistown, hundreds of miles from tribal headquarters.
Historically, most tribal citizens in Montana have not felt the same way in a state where they represent about 6.7 percent of the population. Native voters overwhelmingly supported Tester during his first election in 2006, which helped the Democrat defeat the incumbent Republican, who had been tied to a tribal lobbying scandal in the nation's capital.
In Big Horn County, home to the Crow Reservation, Tester won in 2006 by a nearly 2 to 1 margin over the Republican and he improved on that record in 2012, securing more than 2.3 times the votes of the GOP candidate. That record will be put to test on election day on November 6, in a race will help determine whether Republicans retain control of the closely-divided Senate.
As the vote approaches, Crow citizens will be gathering at Noon on Thursday in the parking lot of the old Sun Lodge Motel at 71 Heritage Road in Crow Agency.
Office of Inspector General Reports
Investigation of Misuse of Crow Transit Building Funds (October 2016)