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Tim Johnson: A Voice in the Process

The following is an op-ed from Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota).

Democratic leaders from around the country have initiated the most significant effort ever to empower and organize Native Americans in the electoral process. We will continue our pursuit of putting political power directly back into in the hands of this country�s Native peoples so their voices are loud in clear in the electoral process.

Along with my colleague and Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), I want to bring more Native Americans to the democratic process with the new Native Vote 2004 initiative.

My own reelection campaign in 2002 in South Dakota was a clear example of the power of voter participation. When you win an election by 524 votes, every vote counts and many groups can take credit. However -- I can say that without the efforts of Native Americans, I would not be here today.

Whether it was volunteers or organization, the tribes in my state came together, had their voices heard and made a difference in the election. People on reservations were invigorated by playing a strong role in the political process.

I�m not just grateful for this for my own reelection, I am grateful because of what the organizing efforts did for all of the nine South Dakota tribes. The efforts created a ripple effect that will benefit the whole community. For the first time, Indian sheriffs, school board members, county commissioners and state legislators are being elected to office in larger numbers -- not just to tribal governments, but throughout the state.

The 2002 election changed the face of politics in South Dakota forever. Everyone in South Dakota knows that tribes are a political force that cannot be ignored. It is past time for this to be recognized nationally.

We must remain diligent in engaging the Native American community though many on the Republican side may seek to suppress the Native vote � including slinging false charges of voter fraud. False attacks seek only to reverse the progress that has been made.

My Democratic colleagues and I have made a commitment to Native Americans and tribal leaders that we will continue working to uphold tribal sovereignty and promote the interests of Indian communities when it comes to funding tribal programs in health care, roads, education, housing and resource protections, to name a few.

Like my race in 2002, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), U.S. Representative Brad Carson (D-OK) and former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles (D-AK) are running for the Senate in states with significant Native American populations. All have committed to participate in efforts to reach out to, organize, empower and turnout Native American voters. In South Dakota, my colleague and friend Senator Tom Daschle is running for reelection. He has made a strong commitment to working with Native Americans to ensure their voice is heard in the electoral process.

We will stand up against attacks on our successful grassroots efforts. We must not allow the divisive comments of some Republicans to exclude any American from the political process. In getting to the polls, Native Americans continue to empower themselves and ensure a strong voice for their community in our nation's affairs.

Relevant Links:
Sen. Tim Johnson -
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -