WyoFile spent Election Day at polling places on the Wind River Indian Reservation, reporting on the closely watched House District 33 race, where Rep. Patrick Goggles was reelected, partly on the success of a huge effort to get out the Native American vote. Ron Feemster and Lindsay D’Addato blogged on events on and near the reservation during the day.

All WyoFile stories and photos are available free of charge to Wyoming and regional media, click here read our republishing guidelines. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates throughout the day!

Wind River Health Disparities Roundtable meeting (click to enlarge)

Wind River Health Disparities Roundtable meeting (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

‘Medicaid expansion still very important’ on reservation

By Gregory Nickerson
— July 29, 2014

American Indian mortality rates due to accidents are double that of Wyoming’s general population. The diabetes mortality rate is four times higher. The death rate for chronic liver disease is nine times that of the general population.

“It’s very difficult to see young people die before their time,” said Richard Brannan, CEO of the Wind River Unit of the Indian Health Service. “We think of all the good things that can happen in their lives that they miss out on.”link-box-medicaid

On a recent weekday at the Wind River Casino, the gaming floor buzzed with the flashing lights of slot machines and the sound of ringing bells. Just steps away beyond a set of tinted glass doors, a group of reservation leaders and government officials discussed the serious issue of improving the health of the American Indian community.

Wind River Casino gaming floor (click to enlarge)

Wind River Casino gaming floor. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

For the past two years, the Wind River Health Disparities Roundtable has worked on strategies for better healthcare among the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone. American Indians in Wyoming suffer from an array of health challenges that put life expectancy at 53 years, while the general population has an expected lifespan of nearly 79 years.

Health disparities among minorities result from lower levels of education, which translate to lower incomes and lack of access to transportation, according to Lillian Zuniga of the Wyoming Office of Multicultural Health. On the Wind River Indian Reservation, those factors mean people are less likely to go to health clinics and follow through with medical care.

Meanwhile, those very clinics are starving for revenue. Federal Indian Health Service (IHS) funding accounts for about $12 million of the $23 million in services provided by the clinics in Fort Washakie and Arapahoe last year. Another $11 million in funding comes from collections through private insurance and Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements.

“Without the Medicaid program, the doors on our clinics would not be open, or they would be open only half the time,” Brannan said. “The clinic is funded (by the IHS) at 45 percent of what you need.”

While IHS money pays for salaries for an array of nurses and specialists, it’s Medicaid that buys the 100,000 prescriptions filled by the clinics annually at a cost of $2.8 million, Brannan said. Medicaid also pays for most of the clinics’ primary care doctors.

“Medicaid money, that’s 99 percent of what pays our providers,” said Glen Fowler, health consultant for the Northern Arapaho. “If we don’t have that, we don’t have providers.”

Because of limited funding, the IHS regional office in Billings, Montana, requires all of its area clinics to provide only Level I care, meaning treatment to prevent loss of eyesight, loss of limb, or immediate death.

IHS does not provide level II and Level III care on the reservation, which include prevention and treatment of less serious ailments. That means patients have a lot of deferred care, or no care at all, Brannan said.

Richard Brannan, IHS director for Wind River Reservation with Alice Moore, also with IHS (click to enlarge)

Richard Brannan, IHS director for Wind River Reservation with Alice Moore, also with IHS (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“When the money is running out they go to Level I, and beyond that they won’t treat you,” said Allison Sage, Northern Arapaho Health Programs director. “You can’t get preventative care. It’s send you home, keep you comfortable, and die. Otherwise we go to the ER to get treatment.”

The two tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation face two main obstacles to increasing IHS clinic funding by pulling in more Medicaid dollars. The first comes from the popular misconception on the reservation that the IHS covers all medical expenses for tribal members. That leads patients to not sign up for Medicaid, or forego buying insurance through the federal exchange on Healthcare.gov.

Further, some tribal members are hesitant to report income on Medicaid eligibility forms. “Many tribal members are secretive because they think if they report income it will diminish their medical care,” said Gary Collins, tribal liaison for the Northern Arapaho.

In fact the Medicaid application form asks questions about income in order to deduct non-taxable tribal per-capita payments and land leasing payments from the income eligibility calculation.

The second obstacle to increasing Medicaid enrollment on the reservation is political. In the 2014 session, Wyoming’s legislature chose not to expand Medicaid to the state. Legislators also rejected House Bill 80 to study an “1115 waiver” for Medicaid expansion on the reservation.

Such a waiver would authorize expansion of Medicaid to an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 tribal members who are currently ineligible for the program. The bill only allowed for an investigation of the waiver. Authorization of the waiver would have required further legislative action. Read this WyoFile story for more.

“Medicaid expansion would allow you to provide contract procedures outside of the clinic that you are unable to do in the (IHS) clinic — preventative healthcare treatment, and procedures that are not crisis care,” Brannan said.

Thirty-three Wyoming Representatives voted to introduce the bill, but it failed to get the 40 votes needed for introduction on the floor of the House.

Four Fremont County representatives voted to introduce House Bill 80: Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander), Patrick Goggles (D-Ethete), David Miller (R-Lander), and Rita Campbell (R-Shoshoni).

Rep. Nathan Winters (R-Thermopolis) opposed introduction.

Healthcare dot gov poster for American Indians (click to enlarge)

Healthcare.gov poster for American Indian communities. (click to enlarge)

Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) didn’t vote on House Bill 80 because it never made it to the Senate, but he told WyoFile he supported the idea of gathering more information about the 1115 waiver — even though he opposes Medicaid expansion in principle.

“The Health Department can’t actually apply for a waiver under the bill,” Case told WyoFile during the session. “We need more information about the 1115 waiver. I’m not sure anyone has all the information.”

Fowler said the bill was part of an effort to get legislators informed with what is happening with healthcare on the reservation. “We wanted to push for Medicaid expansion,” he said. “It would mean about $4.5 million more to this area. It is very significant.”

Tribal officials say the money would help boost the IHS budget on the reservation, and it would also enable tribal members to seek Medicaid-covered care for special procedures at hospitals in Riverton, or elsewhere. The additional Medicaid money would inject money into the local healthcare system and be an economic boost to the reservation and Fremont County.

Importantly, the federal government would cover 100 percent of the expense for expanding Medicaid to Wyoming’s American Indian population. Without this 1115 waiver project, the state of Wyoming presently pays 50 percent of the cost for any tribal member who is a current Medicaid enrollee and seeks care off the reservation.

Expanding Medicaid for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho would not cost the state of Wyoming anything Brannan explained. It would save money by shifting existing Medicaid costs from the state to the federal government for this population. Further, the 1115 waiver requires the expansion to be cost-neutral to the federal government by preventing more expensive uses of medical services.

“Medicaid expansion is still very important,” Fowler said.

For now, the tribes will concentrate on boosting enrollment in conventional Medicaid, Medicare, or the federal health insurance exchanges.

“When we touch our patients, we need to make sure we are getting them on some program that will (provide payment),” Fowler said. “If you don’t do that, every day you are losing money and not resolving health disparities.”

Life Expectancy and mortality on Wind River reservation (click to enlarge)

Life Expectancy and mortality on Wind River reservation (click to enlarge)

One possibility for increasing enrollment is holding sign-up fairs or on-the-ground campaigns. The Northern Cheyenne implemented such a program with notable success, said Sunny Goggles, director of the White Buffalo Recovery program. The Northern Arapaho could include Medicaid and Healthcare.gov sign-ups as part of its back-to-school fair to be held at the Wind River Casino later this summer.

“Part of (increasing enrollment) is education. The second part is building the health information infrastructure so that when you touch the patient you have a process to get them on Medicaid, the health insurance exchanges, or Medicare, so you can reduce the amount of care that is uncompensated,” Fowler said.

The tribes will also keep pushing for Medicaid expansion in the state legislature, but that may be a tough sell.

“We have a component of the Wyoming legislature who don’t understand, and have never been without,” Collins said.

Sage said he’s known of a number of teen women who became pregnant but lost their babies due to a lack of prenatal care. That’s what motivated him to seek improved healthcare on the reservation, which led to the formation of the Wind River Health Disparities Roundtable.

“We’ve got to do something about it,” Sage said. In his view, getting better healthcare requires battling — and partnering — with the state and local government to get the same quality of healthcare that other people in Wyoming have.

“We are trying to do that, and keep the peace at the same time,” he said. “It might ruffle some feathers, but we’re going to do something about it.”

Upcoming meetings of the Wind River Health Disparities Roundtable will happen on Friday, August 22; Friday, September 19; and Friday, October 10 at the Wind River Casino.

For more on this topic, read:

Tribes seek Medicaid expansion on Wind River Reservation, by Ron Feemster.

Bill to expand Medicaid on Wind River reservation fails, by Ron Feemster.

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com or follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY.

If you would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.
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Posted by on July 29, 2014
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Voting Rights Act suit helps unseat incumbent in Fremont County

A teepee stands outside a home in Ethete, Wyoming

A teepee stands outside a home in Ethete, Wyoming. The success of a Voting Rights Act lawsuit meant to guarantee representation to Native Americans on the Wind River Indian Reservation has altered the area’s county commissioners. (Robert Durell/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

By Ron Feemster

The Voting Rights Act lawsuit that replaced at-large voting for county commissioners with district-by-district elections in Fremont County has shifted the balance of power on the commission, even in a year when the Native American district centered on the Wind River Indian Reservation was not before the voters.

Stephanie Kessler, a longtime environmental consultant and a former school board member from Lander, defeated Patrick Hickerson, an incumbent Republican county commissioner who had served for 10 years on the commission. Kessler, an independent, received 52 percent of the votes cast in District 4 to win by 149 votes.

Stephanie Kessler

Stephanie Kessler, newly elected county commissioner from District 4 in Fremont County. (Click to enlarge)

Although Kessler felt confident of winning in the district race, she said she did not like her chances under the former at-large format.

“I probably couldn’t win (an at-large race) because I’m not known in the other communities,” Kessler said. “It would have been too great a task, too big of a commitment of time and money, to campaign county-wide.”

Under the old format, every voter in the county could vote for any candidate, regardless of where the voter or candidate resided. Voters could vote for up to three candidates one election and up to two the next. In the district format, voters in each of five districts may vote for only one candidate.

The district system, introduced to comply with a federal district judge’s ruling in the lawsuit, is meant to guarantee representation to Native Americans on the Wind River Indian Reservation. The plaintiffs pushed through a claim that Native Americans were not adequately represented under at-large voting, even though Keja Whiteman, a Native American, was elected to the county commission in an at-large election while the suit was being litigated. Fremont County is the only county in the state with district voting for county commissioners.

If district voting has made it easier for Native Americans to get elected (Whiteman has since been re-elected as a representative of District 1) the new system has also enabled local candidates without county-wide name recognition to win by appealing to the interests they share with neighbors.

“We did anticipate that district voting would have positive effects on the county,” said Berthenia Crocker, a Lander lawyer whose firm represents the Northern Arapaho tribe and who represented the five individual plaintiffs in the voter rights suit.  “Districts are better for everyone. The fact that Steff [Kessler] was able to win was a result of districting. I don’t know that she would have won otherwise.”

Not everyone in the county shares the view that district elections lead to better representation. Among those are Doug Thompson, an incumbent who won re-election in District 5, which includes part of Lander and most of the southern part of the county, and Hickerson, the incumbent who lost to Kessler.

“In the old system, as a citizen you got to vote for all five commissioners,” Hickerson said, arguing that at-large voting made every commissioner accountable to every citizen in Fremont County, not just to the voters in one district. “As a county commissioner, your role and the things you do are largely based on county-wide issues.”

Thompson argues that the district elections elevate local concerns above countywide issues. “The districting changed the political dynamics of my and Hickerson’s district,” he said. “There was a lot of local influence that affected the outcome.

“The foundation of government,” Thompson went on, “is that you vote for the people who spend your tax dollars. You want to be able to vote for all of those people, not just one.”

Starr Miller, a cowboy at Arapaho Ranch in Wyoming rides along a corral fence on part of the ranch

Starr Miller, a cowboy at Arapaho Ranch in Wyoming, rides along a corral fence on part of the ranch. Patrick Hickerson, former county commissioner of District 4, says environmental issues boosted Kessler into his former spot. (Robert Durell/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

In fact, the candidates disagree about many of the issues that decided the election in District 4.

“The election was about environment and public lands issues,” Hickerson said. “My opponent and myself are on opposite sides of the issue when it comes to public lands: roaded access or wilderness. I have a long record of favoring motorized trails, snowmobile trails and so on. My opponent has a long record of environmental activism for wilderness. She sits on the boards of environmental organizations.”

Kessler, while she does not dispute her commitment to wilderness, believes that Hickerson’s portrayal of the race in environmental terms missed the issues she actually campaigned on.

She said her goal was to convince the voters of Lander that she would be a voice of compromise and reason.

“I ran on the position that I work with people, not litigate with them,” she said.

In her door-to-door canvassing, she spoke with voters about how the county commission had waged court battles with Lander Hospital and landowners who disputed the commission’s right of way for expanding Bunker Road, a county thoroughfare. In contrast, she pointed to her tenure on the school board, where, she said, she helped focus issues and achieve consensus.

“Bunker Road helped me get elected,” Kessler said. “I argued that the litigation wasted money instead of saving it.”

When it comes to conservation, she says she is not the radical her opponents made her out to be.

“My expertise is in oil and gas,” she said. “I’m actually pro-development in the right places. As county commissioners, we do have a responsibility to see revenues come in. We need to have a balanced representation of all interests in the county.”

Keja Whiteman, the Native American representative in District 1 who has also won an at-large election, is not the unqualified fan of the district voting system that outside observers might expect.

“The good part is that there will be representation for the Native community,” she said. “It was 2006 before someone representing the community was elected to the commission.”

But she cautions that the district system could also give too great an advantage to incumbents.

“Being elected once doesn’t entitle you forever to have a seat,” she said.  “There should always be the opportunity for others to serve. In general, I’m not personally in favor of districts, but I’m ready to follow the ruling like everyone else.”

One thing that all parties to the dispute agree on is that, once elected, a commissioner must act on behalf of the country as a whole, not just his or her own district. Using almost the same words, every present or former commissioner said the same thing: The job, if not the election, is focused on the issues of the county as a whole.

Although Fremont County was forced into district voting for the county commission, it is worth asking if other counties, especially very large or extremely heterogeneous counties, would be well served by district voting.

A brief and very informal survey of elected officials in the state suggests that the idea has little traction.

“I really don’t think there is any county in the state that is analogous to Fremont County, just because of the reservation,” said Bruce Burns, a Republican state senator from Sheridan who donated money to Kessler’s campaign.

Wind River Indian Reservation

While district voting has created an unusual situation in Fremont County, it’s unlikely to spread on to other counties in Wyoming. (WyoFile/Brad Christensen — click to enlarge)

In Lincoln County, residents of Star Valley in the north detour through Idaho to reach the county seat of Kemmerer. Southern residents of the county, which depends on mining, oil and gas, once petitioned the state legislature for permission to split off and form a county of their own. But even there, district voting is not seen as the answer.

“The county split idea is still very popular,” said Zem Hopkins, the newly re-elected mayor of Kemmerer. “But I don’t think district voting would work here. The north would not sit still for it. They’re the power.” Currently, two of Lincoln County’s commissioners live in the north and one comes from Kemmerer.

“It’s working well enough right now,” Hopkins said. “There’s no need to agitate anyone in the county with district voting.”

In Fremont County, the commission begins work in January with five commissioners who have been elected by district. Two are new. Kessler and Larry Allen, a Republican from Lysite who won his primary election and ran unopposed in District 2. Kessler is optimistic about what the new commission will accomplish.

“I believe it just takes one or two new voices and leadership,” she said. “The dynamics of the county can shift.”

EDITOR’S NOTEA previous version of this story misspelled the name of the lawyer representing the voter rights plaintiffs. She is Berthenia Crocker. Ms. Crocker represents the Northern Arapahoe tribe but not the Eastern Shoshone tribe.

— Read these related WyoFile stories:

10th Circuit upholds ruling in voting rights case, February 2012

Lawmakers pass ‘hybrid’ district vote bill, over tribal leaders’ objection,  February 2011

Fremont County Voting Rights Case: County to appeal, Fremont citizens will pay the bill, November 2010

— Ron Feemster covers the Wind River Indian Reservation for WyoFile in addition to his duties as a general reporter. Feemster was as a Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore, India, and previously taught journalism at Northwest College in Powell. He has reported for The New York Times, Associated Press, Newsday, NPR and others. Contact Ron at ron@wyofile.com.

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Posted by on November 13, 2012
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Final Results

A long day of voting on the Wind River Indian Reservation has produced some preliminary results: a re-election victory for Rep. Patrick Goggles while 70% of reservation voters supported President Barack Obama in his reelection campaign. Obama lost the election in Fremont County. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

By Ron Feemster (12:22 a.m. MST)

Rep. Patrick Goggles won re-election to the House in District 33 by just 26 votes, 1,473 to 1,447, according to unofficial results released by the Fremont County clerk. Given the high voter turnout, this was a closer election, on a percentage basis, than 2010, when Goggles won by 16 votes.

“I expected the race to be close,” Goggles said in a phone interview. “I knew the Republicans had a well organized, well funded get-out-the-vote effort.”

Young people organized a get-out-the-vote effort on the Wind River Indian Reservation this year, in part for Patrick Goggles, the only Native American member of the Wyoming state legislature who nearly lost his seat in 2010. The victory would seem to vindicate their ground-game strategy of intense, personal canvassing, coupled with traditional native feasts for voters.

“The closeness of the race says that we can’t take these results for granted,” Goggles said. “We have to register new voters every two years, to have a strategy to get out the vote, and to get people to vote early, to vote absentee and to vote regularly.”

The notion of changing voting culture on the reservation is complex. It’s not apparent that the many voters who skipped the 2010 election will go to the polls in 2014, when Goggles stands for re-election again. But he is optimistic.

“I’m a believer that voter ethic is becoming a factor on the reservation,” Goggles said. “That will help me and it will help other Native persons running for office after I am gone.”

But for now, Goggles says he will extend an olive branch to Allen.

“If he does not call me tonight, I will call him tomorrow. I will offer my congratulations for a good campaign and extend an offer to work with him and his voters. I represent them, too.”

WyoFile attempted to reach Jim Allen several times during the day, including after the final, unofficial results came in. We still hope he will call.

But that can wait until tomorrow. Election Day is over on the reservation. We expect to see a lot of happy voters there, not least because Barack Obama won. The president appears to have carried the reservation with almost a 70-percent majority, although he lost Fremont County 65 percent to 31 percent.

Posted by on November 6, 2012
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Turnout was strong, results slow to come

Voters wait outside a polling station in Arapaho, Wyoming.

Voters wait outside a polling station on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Wyoming. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

By Ron Feemster (8:20 p.m. MST)

The doors are locked at the Arapahoe Middle School boardroom. Everyone in the room – about 63 people who do not yet have a ballot in their hands – will vote. But no one else can enter the polling place. This is it for turnout.

Theresa Cunningham, the head election judge, just handed out ballot number 409. So our unofficial turnout is 472, barring mix-ups that disqualify voters, such as people showing up at the wrong precinct.

That number compares well with the 444 votes cast in Arapahoe in 2008, but falls short of the 513 votes cast here in 2004, the first year Patrick Goggles ran against then incumbent Jim Allen.

June Strickland, an election judge in Arapahoe

June Strickland, an election judge in Arapahoe, says the increase in voter turnout will slow the voting process. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

In our interview earlier this afternoon, Goggles spoke admiringly of the way young people like Micah Lott and Jenae Mandan got out the vote.

“We never canvassed like that when I was coming up,” Goggles said. “No one would walk up to a neighbor’s house and talk to them about the election. No one would try to tell another person who to vote for.

“In those days, the candidate sponsored a feast at Blue Sky Hall,” Goggles continued. “The people all came. Then the candidate talked to the people.”

On the reservation, Goggles said, most voters cast their ballots together as a family. Elders have always had great influence. Perhaps, he mused, that is breaking down as young people begin practicing politics in ways that Americans outside the
reservation would recognize.

It’s too early to tell if the political culture on the reservation is changing. No one will know for a few more election cycles if the many new voters this election will continue voting every two years. As no one can foresee how many young people will put so much spare time into politics.

But for now, it is obvious to June Strickland, an election judge in Arapahoe, that voter turnout slows the voting process. Registering new voters – and re-registering voters whose registration lapsed because they have not voted in more than two years – takes much more time than simply handing a ballot to a registered voter.

Strickland estimates that some 300 of the 400 people who have voted by now required registration. And if that percentage holds for the voters who are still in line, the election judges will have a long night. As will those waiting for returns.

“I have news for you,” she says. “At the rate we are going, we won’t get out of here until 10:30 or 11 tonight,” said Strickland.

Asked why so many new voters were coming to the polls, Strickland shrugged. “There’s a school board election. And it’s a big presidential election. It’s hard to say.”

What effect did the get-out-the-vote effort on the reservation have?

“I think that get-out-the-vote work was great,” she said. “I just wish they had done it all a few weeks earlier and gotten everybody registered. Then we could all go home.”

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Posted by on November 6, 2012
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We found a Republican, but he voted for Obama

Ron Feemster (6:55 p.m. MST)

It’s hard to say what is more popular in the Fremont 38 school district tonight. The basketball matchup between fifth graders at Arapahoe Elementary and Fort Washakie? Or the historic showdown between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney?

People are waiting nearly a half hour to vote in Arapahoe. “We’ve had 343 voters so far,” said Theresa Cunningham, the head election judge in the district. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

We were betting on basketball when we saw and heard the home crowd cheering on the Falcons, who were leading the Eagles 24 to 8 in the third quarter. But then we saw the line out the door of the polling place.

“We’ve had 343 voters so far,” said Theresa Cunningham, the head election judge in the district. “That’s a lot of voters. We’re on the way to a huge turnout.”

In fact, people are waiting nearly a half hour to vote – which is a long time in this rural area. But they don’t seem to take it too hard. “It’s our civic duty to stand in line,” one woman said.

We finally met a Republican voter. But Brandon Williams, 26, voted for President Obama.

“I know,” Williams said. “I’m a traitor, right.”

Williams, a former oil field worker who voted for George W. Bush in 2004, voted for Obama in 2008 and this year. After leaving the oil field, he went to work for the Northern Arapahoe tribe.

“Obama’s values are more in tune with what I want for the country,” Williams said.

Brandon Williams, 26, voted for President Obama. “Obama’s values are more in tune with what I want for the country.” (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“I really like his policies and how he presents himself, how he’s run the country in the last four years.”

Not that Williams goes for the whole Obama program.

“I’d have to disagree on Obamacare,” he said. But said it’s not a make or break. “Even if it’s wrong there’s an effort there.”

“I don’t like the general direction of Romney,” he said. “Especially the tax rates for the one percenters. And why keep a big army? Why not help ourselves before we go to help others? If we really needed an army, our men would hear the call to arms. We’re all very patriotic.”

We’ll keep watch here until the polls close. Then we’re stopping in at the Vote Feast in Arapahoe before we head for the Fremont County Election Office Lander to await results.

Williams excused himself and went home. In the meantime, Cunningham, the election judge, says 376 people have voted. And my colleague, Lindsay, counted 77 people waiting in line to vote.

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Posted by on November 6, 2012
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An Interview with Rep. Patrick Goggles

Rep. Patrick Goggles

Rep. Patrick Goggles, Democratic minority leader of the Wyoming State House, is running for re-election in House District 33. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Ron Feemster (4:45 p.m. MST)

We met up with Patrick Goggles, minority leader of the Wyoming House, who is running for re-election in House District 33. He joined us for a chat at Blue Sky Hall, where a few people are enjoying afternoon coffee and even a bit of leftover beef stew.

Goggles voted at 9 a.m. this morning in Ethete and then headed for Arapahoe for a business meeting. Afterwards, he drove into Riverton to check out the scene at the Armory, a major polling place.

“It’s an all out effort to get out the Republican vote,” Goggles said. Horse trailers are parked down the street from the polling place with big signs for Jim Allen, Goggles’ opponent, and for Doug Thompson, who is running for Fremont County commissioner.

“In Fremont County, the local campaigns are benefiting from the Romney-Ryan enthusiasm,” Goggles said. “In Lander, too. I was there last night to have a look. I expected this kind of effort. The reservation youth worked hard to get out the vote. So did the Republicans.”

Rep. Patrick Goggles

Rep. Goggles (D) is widely supported among the communities of the Wind River Indian Reservation. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Goggles views the race in his district as the reservation community, which is largely Democratic, versus the agricultural community, which is mostly Republican. The Native Americans hold the numerical edge, 63 percent to 47 percent, but he thinks
Republicans have the edge in resources.

“The Republican Party is synergizing its races. Local politicians pool their campaigns to get everybody to vote together, to vote for each other.” And they benefit from appearances of the statewide candidates, Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, he said.

The last time Goggles and Allen went head to head, in 2004, the race was much different.

“We started out closer to even then,” Goggles said. “He had eight months of legislative experience and I had zero. Now I have eight years and he has eight months.

“But this is a much more polarized political environment than we had then,” he said. “The deep division in presidential politics will get a lot more people out to vote. And they are much more passionate this year.”

Goggles thinks it will take between 1,500 and 1,700 votes to win the election this time. In 2010, he won with 1,066 votes.

“I think both of us could get more than 1,500 votes,” he said. “I think it will be close. I’m prepared for both outcomes. I’ve had eight years in the legislature and I understand what it is. I could win or lose the election.”

During the past two years, Goggles has lost two children and helped his wife go through breast cancer surgery.

“This is just a political election,” he says. “It’s not life and death. I know the difference. I want to win the election. But I would give back all eight years in government to have my children back.”

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Posted by on November 6, 2012
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Bread & Basketball

Voters line up to collect their ballots at Wyoming Indian High School’s Tech Center in Ethete, Wyoming

Voters line up to collect their ballots at Wyoming Indian High School’s Tech Center in Ethete, Wyoming. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Ron Feemster (3:06 p.m. MST)
A young girl watches on as ballots are passed out

A young girl watches on as ballots are passed out. Micah Lott, a leader of a get-out-the-vote effort on the Wind River Indian Reservation, was running a car pool throughout the day. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)


Everything stops for lunch. Especially on the reservation. As I typed the last blog post, one of our hosts was pulling my sleeve every two or three minutes.

“Lunch is almost ready.”
“It’s time to eat.”
“Let’s get in line.”

So the moment we hit send, and the blog post and photos headed for the editors, we lined up for the traditional meal of fried bread and beef stew. Micah Lott and Jenae Mandan, leaders of the get-out-the-vote movement on the reservation, joined Allison Sage and the two of us for the meal. Blue Sky Hall magically filled with people, the moment the food appeared.

And as often happens at lunch, talk drifted to basketball, bad referee calls, and Wyoming Indian High School championships. Basketball blends with all topics, including politics, at least in Ethete.

The strong turnout has not depended on Lott’s car service so far. He’s been available all morning to transport voters to the polls in Arapahoe, but only five voters have asked for a ride so far.

Voters fill out their ballots in Ethete, Wyoming

Voters fill out their ballots in Ethete, Wyoming. Head election judge Barbara Murray says turnout is on pace to set records. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

A young voter examines his ballot in the auditorium seating of Wyoming Indian High School’s Tech Center in Ethete, Wyoming

A young voter examines his ballot in the auditorium seating of Wyoming Indian High School’s Tech Center in Ethete, Wyoming. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

After lunch, we are at the polls in Wyoming Indian High School’s Tech Center in Ethete. Head election judge Barbara Murray says turnout is on pace to set records. Voters are lined up to register and people are marking ballots in all eight voter privacy booths.

“We’ve had 274 people through here already,” said Murray, who has been an election judge at this precinct for 30 years. “That’s as high as I’ve ever seen it this time of day.”

We’re busy buttonholing voters now. In our next post, we’ll speak with Ethete voters and interview Patrick Goggles, minority leader in the House, who is running for re-election against Jim Allen in District 33.

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“Representing our Interests”

Ron Feemster (12:50 p.m. MST)

Breakfast is over at the Blue Sky Hall. A few apples and cookies are set out under the basketball hoop — snacks until the beef stew and fried bread is ready.

Allison Sage, head of the Tribal Health Clinic. Sage expects a big turnout today, largely because of local races and the Goggles–Allen race in House District 33. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“12:30,” Allison Sage, head of the Tribal Health Clinic, calls out to people who wander in, looking askance at the empty table. “The food will be ready at 12:30.” Earlier in the morning, the Vote Feast in Blue Sky Hall had been seeing too few eaters, according to Sage.

“Somehow the message wasn’t getting through at the polls, that you are supposed to come over here to eat and get a T-shirt,” Sage said.

He went to hang flyers to direct voters to the feast, but the election judges said the flyers could represent campaigning. None could be posted within 100 yards of the polling place. So he paced off the distance and hung his flyers. Now, later in the morning, the news has spread.  Hungry voters are trickling in, chatting at the tables and admiring their T-shirts.

Sage expects a big turnout today, largely because of local races and the Goggles–Allen race in House District 33. He sees a certain amount of apathy about statewide races, such as the elections for Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Cynthia Lummis, but he does not necessarily blame the local voters.

“The voters should be interested in the statewide races,” he said. “But realistically, those guys don’t talk to us. Even though they represent us, they aren’t here on the ground visiting us. Even though they represent Wyoming and we are part of Wyoming, we don’t ever see them.”

But others see big national issues driving turnout.

“I think that more people will come out to vote today than in a long time,” said Virginia Sutter, executive director at Blue Mountain Associates, a non-profit group that group supports a farmers market on the reservation.

Virginia Sutter, executive director at Blue Mountain Associates. “We need to be out here supporting those that we feel will represent our interests best in Washington.”

“Because we are in a rural area, our agricultural programs make a huge difference in how well we live,” she said. “The decisions made in Washington regarding the Farm Bill and the Affordable Care Act affect us.”

She did not mention any candidates. But she said it was important for people on the reservation to be heard at the ballot box.

“We need to be out here supporting those that we feel will represent our interests best in Washington.”

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Democratic stronghold

Ron Feemster (11:30 a.m. MST)

There’s no getting around it. The reservation is a Democratic stronghold. We went looking for a Romney supporter and instead found a pair of senior citizens who drove many miles to vote for the president.

Juanita Stamp, 71, and her husband Mervin, 86. “Romney scares me because he doesn’t know foreign affairs,” said Juanita J. Stamp. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“Romney scares me because he doesn’t know foreign affairs,” said Juanita J. Stamp, 71. “He’ll get us into another war. I’m afraid he’ll send our young men over there, and we don’t need that.” She and her husband, Mervin Stamp, 86, have been married
51 years and talk like they’ve spent the last 20 years tuned in to MSNBC.

“We like that channel,” Juanita says. “It’s about Obama.”

The senior citizens from Kinnear vote in the Fort Washakie district. It’s a long drive, but they enjoyed a pastry and a big helping of biscuits and gravy before they headed home.

“We don’t like that plan for a voucher system,” Juanita said, starting what would be a general rundown on the problems with the Republican ticket. “Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. I think it would just confuse us.”

“Social Security,” Mervin chimed in. “They don’t have a great plan for that, either.”

The conversation went on like that for awhile. The Republican ticket failed the Stamp test on style and substance.

Mr. Aoun, 18, voted for Obama. He is afraid that if Romney is elected there will be no more reservations. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

When it came to problems with the Obama ticket, Juanita zeroed in on the debates. “I don’t know what was wrong with him in that first debate. He was good in the other two, but he wasn’t very good in that first debate. Joe Biden was a really
good debater.”

The Stamps care about the local elections, too.

“We want to see Pat get back in there,” Juanita said, referring to Patrick Goggles, the incumbent in House District 33, who faces a challenge from Jim Allen. “We know him. We can go right to him with a concern, if we have one.”

From Fort Washakie, we are heading on to Ethete and Arapahoe. If we can, we’ll bring you an interview with a Republican.

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Fort Washakie — Vote Feast

Ron Feemster (9:50 a.m. MST)

The first words out of Rachel Yinastrosa’s mouth are, “This is not where you vote.” She smiled at our alarmed look, and softened a bit.

Vote Feast cook Rachel Yinastrosa, Fort Washakie. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

“It’s where you eat, not where you vote.”

Yinastrosa, owner of High Country Catering, is a cook at the Vote Feast in Fort Washakie.  One of her unexpected jobs at the feast is directing people to the polls. The feasts were so well publicized that dozens of people showed up at Rocky Mountain Hall hoping to vote. She patiently directs them to the school administration building down the road.

“Sometimes I feed them first,” she says. “A few of them got to vote and say they’ll be back.”

By 9 a.m. she has fed 100 people at the feast, she says. When we pointed out that twice as many people had eaten as voted, she twinkles a bit, perhaps with the cook’s pride. “There’s voting and there’s food.”

She cooked at the feasts in 2004 as well. This year she said she’s ready for 400 people.

Evelyn June Boyd Sales arrives with her old friend, Rose Mary Ann. “We always vote together,” Sales said. “We vote at every election.”

Dionn Newlin, 46, is one of the voters who showed up at the feast looking for a ballot.

“I haven’t voted in a long time,” she said. “I think maybe it was in 1998.”

Two old friends, Rose Mary Ann (left) and Evelyn June Boyd Sales (right), always vote together.

It wasn’t the get-out-the-vote campaign that moved Newlin to vote this time. No canvassers reached her at home. No friend told her it was important.

“I read about it and decided that I need to support out nation,” she said. “Help our country out by voting for the right person.”

And who is that? “Obama.”

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Fort Washakie

By Ron Feemster (9:38 a.m. MST)

Head election judge Kay Pingree is bracing for a heavy day of voting. With a voter at every booth, she aid 44 people had cast ballots by 8:45. “It’s presidential,” Pingree said. “But we also have three seats of five up on the local school board.”

Ft. Washakie polling place

A voting booth at a Ft. Washakie polling place. (Lindsay D’Addato/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

She walks over to the ballot pasted on the door and counts. “Eight people are running for three seats. It will be pretty steady voting all day. We are ready for a pretty heavy turnout.”

Pingree had a stack of voter turnout flyers by RezAction stacked on the desk at the entryway. But they were turned face down.

“That’s a little too much like campaigning,” she said, holding up a flyer. “You know, ‘Go all native.’ We don’t need that here. The T-shirts and the food are all over at Rock Hall.”

Her slightly brusque and protective manner – mother to the voting precinct – thinly disguises her pride in being part of an election. She waves at the voters sitting down.

“Voting is a sacred rite, don’t you think?”

Pingree wouldn’t let us shoot photos of her. “This is about voting. It’s not about me,” she said. Then she shooed us out the door and sent us to the feast.

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Election Day on the Wind River Indian Reservation

Ron Feemster

Ron Feemster

Feemster covers the Wind River Indian Reservation for WyoFile in addition to his duties as a general reporter. Feemster was as a Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore, India, and previously taught journalism at Northwest College in Powell. He has reported for The New York Times, Associated Press, Newsday, NPR and others. Contact Ron at ron@wyofile.com.

Lindsay D’Addato is a photographer based is Lander, WY. She specializes in outdoor editorials as well as fine art photography. When not engaged in photography, she is riding horses and exploring the beautiful western landscape.

Posted by on November 6, 2012
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