‘We need a record turnout’

Democratic Party rally draws 200 to Crow Agency
Thursday, November 1, 2018
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Photo by Andrew Turck

Big Horn County Superintendent of Schools candidate John Small (left) and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester laugh at a joke by Small during an Oct. 20 rally for Democratic Party candidates held at Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency. Also involved in the rally were U.S. House candidate Kathleen Williams and Montana Supreme Court clerk candidate Rex Renk.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Charlie Real Bird laughs while speaking with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester near the conclusion of the rally.

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Rex Renk, the Democratic candidate for Montana Supreme Court clerk, points to a campaign poster of his duct-taped to person in a tyrannosaurus rex costume.

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Photo by Andrew Turck

Kathleen Williams, candidate for the U.S. House, introduces a fellow Democratic Party member at the conclusion of her speech, where she spoke on Medicaid expansion and her work with water compacts.

An estimated 200 people filled the Little Big Horn College Student Union Building in Crow Agency amid balloons and campaign banners the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 20 as U.S. Sen. Jon Tester began his speech for a Democratic Party rally. His statements, many of which dealt specifically with his Crow Reservation audience, were met with clapping accompanied by staccato strikes upon a drum.

To start off, the Big Sandy farmer spoke about the late Carl Venne, a former chairman of the Crow Tribe who he called “a very good friend of mine and good friend of Crow Country.”

According to Tester, Venne once told him, “All I want is to get the tools so my people can determine their own destiny.”

“That is so true,” Tester said, “and I think about that every time I deal with issues – all issues, quite frankly – particularly issues that revolve around Native Americans or trust responsibilities.”

“There are a lot of issues we could talk about today. You know them because you live them each and every day,” he continued, “whether it’s inadequate health care; whether it’s missing and murdered indigenous women…whether it’s making sure you have enough water not only to drink, but to irrigate your crops; whether it’s [caring for] your veterans.”

As one of his recent actions that will affect the Crow Tribe, Tester sponsored the Native American Suicide Prevention Act on Sept. 20, designed to develop and implement suicide prevention strategies on reservations. Seven days previous, he also sponsored the Tribal School Federal Insurance Parity Act, designed to strengthen access to benefits for teachers in tribal schools.

In the senate, he serves on eight committees including those of Indian Affairs, Veterans’ Affairs, Appropriations, Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Close election

The Nov. 6 general election, Tester told his audience, is going to be close. Based on an Oct. 22 poll of registered voters by the Montana Television Network and Montana State University, Tester is ahead in support about 46.2 percent to Republican challenger Matt Rosendale’s 43.1 percent. This study was conducted via the mail with 2,079 people responding.

Accounting for the margin of error, the poll states, support for Tester could vary between 44.1 and 48.4 percent from residents. Support for Rosendale – currently the state auditor – could vary from 41.0 to 45.2 percent.

Accompanying Tester at the rally were candidates Kathleen Williams, running for U.S. House; and Rex Renk, running for clerk of the Montana Supreme Court. In addition, John Small – a former Lodge Grass school superintendent – spoke to those in attendance about his candidacy for Big Horn County superintendent of schools.

“This is an important election for everybody, including Indian Country, and I’m going to need your help,” Tester said. “Kathleen Williams…she needs your help. You’re going to hear from Rex Renk…Rex is going to need your help as well.

“You have a lot of challenges, but you have a lot of opportunity in those challenges. If we work together, you with us, we’ll see if we can get policy across the finish line in Washington, D.C. We can make a big, big difference for you, for your family, and your relatives and your friends.”

According to the MSUMTN poll, Williams – a water conservation expert and former Montana state representative – is behind incumbent Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) in support about 40.1 percent to his 47.6 percent. Accounting for the margin of error, the poll states, Williams’ support could vary from 38.0 percent to 42.2 percent. Support for Gianforte – a businessman and tech entrepreneur – could vary from 45.5 percent to 49.8 percent.

No information from the poll was available on the race between Renk – the state Supreme Court’s deputy clerk – and his Republican challenger Bowen Greenwood – a writer and public relations consultant.

Small garnered 1,099 votes to incumbent superintendent of schools to Vicki Gale’s 1,202.

“We need a record turnout in Crow Country,” Tester said. “We need a record turnout of voters.”

House ‘agenda’

Next up was Williams, who Tester said – if elected – “would be one hell of a partner in Washington, D.C. to get things done.” While in state senate, Williams served three terms from 2011-17 with Carolyn Pease-Lopez, who represented Big Horn County as a Democratic senator in District 42.

As a state legislator, Williams said, she worked on issues that would affect the reservation such as language preservation, suicide reduction, water compact negotiations and the expansion of Medicaid.

“I know more than 100,000 folks are benefitting from that,” she said of Medicaid expansion, before moving on to her work with water compacts. According to Williams, she spent “many” of her 34 years in natural resources to form water agreements that “respected sovereignty, ensured we were fulfilling treaties and were productive government-togovernment negotiations.”

Currently, she continued, U.S. President Donald Trump’s “agenda” includes cuts to Medicaid, Social Security and education. If Gianforte “thinks that’s all Congress is for,” Williams added, she doesn’t believe “we have an effective representative in the U.S. House.”

“Congress is about passing budgets, is about solving problems and passing legislation that moves Montana, Indian Country and the nation forward,” she said, “not just toeing the line and rubber-stamping whoever is in the White House.”

Prehistoric ‘shtick’

A laugh from the crowd accompanied the arrival of Renk who, since his first name is Rex, brought up a person in a tyrannosaurus rex costume that served as a campaign mascot. The mascot, as shown by Renk, was both holding a campaign sign and had another ducttaped to its back. “This is the most important election,” he told the crowd, “since dinosaurs walked the earth.”

“This is my only shtick,” he continued. “We get Rex coming and going, both ways.”

If elected as clerk of the Supreme Court, he said, it would be his responsibility to make sure “all Montanans have fair, and equal and open access to the courts.” With 23 years’ experience working in the Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court already, he believes he would be best suited for the job.

Those who enter the Montana Supreme Court, he said, “need to know” they will be treated fairly when they bring their cases forward for legal action. Though he’s running on a Democratic ticket, Renk – in his first attempt at political office – believes the job of court clerk should be strictly nonpartisan.

“This is a technical job – not a very glamorous job – but an important one,” he said. “I’m a proud Democrat, but I’m here to say that politics, in the Office of the Supreme Court, need to be kept out.

“I’ve got support from seven Montana Supreme Court justices who are now retired, I have the support of over 40 clerks of district court – including Karen Yarlott here in Big Horn County – and I’ve got the support of the former clerk of the United States Supreme Court Bill Suter.”

Crow leadership

Finally, Small approached the stand and touted his experience garnering Impact Aid funds during his time as Lodge Grass superintendent. On occasion, he said, he had traveled to Tester’s office in Washington, D.C. for that very reason.

If elected, he said, he would be the first member of the Crow Tribe to serve as county superintendent of schools. Crow members, he continued, have increasingly been exercising their right to vote, “and it’s been compounding.”

“To be a leader is to serve the people,” he said. “Always keep your focus and keep your thoughts on the people.

“Hopefully, I’ll get in and open the door for many of the young people.”

As the rally wound down, Small – noting that “I’m not an old man, but I’m not a young man, either” – had a final request for Tester.

“I’m starting to get a political chairman midsection, here,” he said. “I look at your patterned shirts [and], if you have any hand-me-downs, send them to Lodge Grass.”

None of the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, U.S. House or clerk of the Supreme Court visited Big Horn County for electoral reasons at press time.