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Thune's record on Indians at issue in debates

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Tom Daschle says he and Tim Giago struck two-part agreement.

By Denise Ross, Journal Staff Writer

In debates between South Dakota's U.S. Senate candidates Sunday and Monday, Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., criticized Republican candidate John Thune's record on American Indian issues as feebly thin.

"John Thune introduced more than 430 bills and resolutions, or co-sponsored them, and not one had a thing to do with Indian health or housing," Daschle said Sunday. "The record doesn't exist."

Thune's standard response is that throughout Daschle's 26-year career on Capitol Hill, little has improved on South Dakota's nine reservations.

"I don't equate the number of bills introduced with improving things down there," Thune said Sunday. "Shannon County is still the poorest in the country."

When asked about his record, Thune refers to three pieces of legislation he sponsored and to some votes for funding.

The hallmark of Thune's record on Indian issues from his six years in the U.S. House of Representatives is a bill he sponsored to honor Lakota code talkers of World War II. The House passed Thune's bill on June 18, 2002, but the Senate did not pass the bill. The bill would have awarded Congressional Gold Medals to the Sioux soldiers who, while serving in the U.S. Army, foiled enemy spies by communicating in their native dialects.

That same year, Thune sponsored a funding bill for the Mni Wiconi rural water system that serves reservations and nonreservation counties in western South Dakota. The bill allocated $58.8 million for Mni Wiconi through 2008.

Thune sponsored a bill that passed in 2000 to create the Wakpa Sica reconciliation place at Fort Pierre. Wakpa Sica will be home to a supreme court for South Dakota's tribes.

Beyond that, Thune's record on Indian issues consists of four votes in favor of project funding and assisting tribal leaders in communicating with other members of Congress.

The four funding votes include the following.

Thune voted in 2001 for $1.75 million to begin construction on a Wakpa Sica facility.

During his six years on Capitol Hill, Thune voted for a total of $125 million in funding for Mni Wconi.

Thune voted for $5 million to build the Sisseton-Wahpeton Indian Health Service hospital in 2001.

Thune voted to fund building of Indian schools, which now have an estimated $650 million construction backlog.

Daschle's record on bills specific to Indians and reservations is extensive. For a full reading of it, visit his official Senate Web site at http://daschle.senate.gov/sd_nativAm.html.

During Monday's debate, broadcast in western South Dakota on KOTA-TV, Daschle was asked to outline the details of an arrangement with former American Indian newspaper publisher Tim Giago. His answer offered a version of what happened that differs from what his campaign manager said a few months ago.

Last spring, Giago said he was dropping his plans to run for the Senate. When he announced his withdrawal from the race, Giago said he did so after getting a promise from Daschle.

When Daschle and other members of the state's congressional delegation prepared to meet with tribal leaders from each of the state's nine tribes at a summit late in the summer, Daschle campaign manager Steve Hildebrand said the summit, which was Sept. 25 at Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer, was not the result of an agreement between Daschle and Giago.

"There was never a deal struck with Giago. The dinner Tom had with Giago was Giago telling Tom he's not going to run," Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand characterized the summit at Crazy Horse as "one in a series of meetings that Tom is doing with tribal leaders."

On Monday, Daschle said he had agreed with Giago to have a summit.

"There really was only one agreement. It had two parts to it," Daschle said. "One was that we have a summit of tribal leadership. I think that tribal summit was really a very constructive step, and I'm so glad that Tim suggested it. The second was that we put greater emphasis on economic development, and we've been able to do that. We're going to continue to do that, because I think it's so critical."

Daschle's statements Monday match what Giago old the Rapid City Journal at the time Hildebrand said there had been no deal struck.

Monday's debate was the final such meeting of the two candidates before the Nov. 2 general election.

Contact Denise Ross at 394-8438 or denise.ross@rapidcityjournal.com

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