The Al Franken / Soul Asylum Conspiracy

Last Friday, as Al Franken’s vote total escalated post-election, KTLK radio ranter Jason “Mr. Right” Lewis postulated that it was no coincidence the additional votes were coming from St. Louis and Pine counties–St. Louis encompassing part of the DFL-dominated Iron Range, and Pine County, well, that was Indian country (part of the Mille Lacs reservation, with its Grand Casino, is in Pine County). And everyone knows that Native Americans, he asserted, are the sugar daddies of the Democrats.

In the face of Obama’s overwhelming victory last week, with its promise of less partisanship, you could almost hear the bandwidth of right-wing blather narrowing, squeezing shut, screaming as it swirls down the drain. Don’t get me wrong–as Democrats come to dominate, there will be a need for alternative voices. But voices of reason, not conflagaration; conversation not critical thinking, not shotgun suspicion. For the moment, though, this is the alternative we have–and it’s going after miners and Indians? Also, wouldn’t it be more suspicious if the additional Franken votes were coming from Republican strongholds?

The tribal assertion is most interesting. Native American tribes make stereotypically good targets–strong-arm tactics, a lack of transparency, and nepotism are familiar aspects, to a greater or lesser degree, of tribal politics on numerous reservations. And with the growth of tribal gaming revenues, it’s widely assumed that their influence in state and national politics is growing. It’s not at all clear, however, that any of this would benefit Al Franken. For one thing, while Grand Casino Hinckley provided about 23 percent of the jobs in Pine County in 2007, some 92 percent of those jobs were held by non-Indians. The tribe may have influence in Pine County, but not because of its bloc of tribal members.

Statistically, too, Native Americans have not voted in great numbers. Yet when their vote has been courted, it’s typically been the Democrats doing the courting–so should it be any surprise that in the last election many might have voted Democrat? In fact, in Minnesota, there are several reasons why Republicans would not fare well in Indian country, the greatest being Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s attempt to horn in on casino revenue a few years back. And former Sec. of State Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican, certainly didn’t make many friends when she directed that tribal ID cards would no longer be acceptable as voter identification for Indians living off-reservation. It’s even thought that Tom Heffelfinger, former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, had been on the list of targeted U.S. attorneys for removal by the Justice Department because of his strong belief that Kiffmeyer and others would end up discriminating against the voting rights of Indians.

As for Indians being sugar daddies, their lobbyists have typically been as opportunistic as any others–when the Jack Abramoff scandal broke, it was made clear that lobbying and the dollars associated with it on behalf of tribes had been directed largely at Republicans–because Republicans were in power. As for Native Americans’ personal political views? It helps to understand that Native American reservations are generally rural, and that Native Americans are generally a skeptical bunch when it comes to guys from D.C.: you would be, too, if you shared their history. And so, on at least one reservation, it was Dean Barkley who was winning favor–Coleman and Franken were both perceived as too slick, too partisan.

Now, where does Soul Asylum fit into all this? Well, I happened to be driving past Grand Casino-Hinckley as I listened to the radio, and noticed that Soul Asylum is slated to play there later this month. In addition to lamenting SA’s fall from popularity, I remembered how they played at President Clinton’s inaugural ball. They’re not likely to be playing in D.C. this January, but not because of a change in their politics.