By Tim Leeds
he unofficial winner of Blaine County's special primary election Thursday for county commissioner said she feels wonderful about the results for herself and for the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
"It's also a shared victory for Fort Belknap," M. Delores Plumage, a Democrat, said today. "It's just a wonderful victory for our area."
With official results yet to be tallied, the unofficial results show Plumage, a Native American, garnered 157 votes, Blaine County election administrator Sandra Boardman said.
The unofficial results for the other candidates, also all Native American and Democrats, were 105 votes for Janice Hawley, 48 votes for Carletta Benson, 47 votes for Wesley Main, and 36 votes for Ruben Horseman.
Three or four people received one or two votes as Republican write-ins, Boardman said. Without having the official results tallied, she did not want to release any names, she said.
Republicans have until 5 p.m. Oct. 21 to file as write-ins for the general election on Nov. 5.
The election was encouraging because of the participation of voters from the reservation and because of the other candidates, whom Plumage lauded for running.
"I also congratulate them for having such strong beliefs and commitments to participate in this election. It's definitely a message that there is an interest from our area," she said.
The special primary was the result of a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pro of Las Vegas in March. Pro, ruling in a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999, said Blaine County's at-large voting system violated the voting rights of Native Americans in the county.
Pro ordered the county to draw up new districts, including one with a majority of Native American residents. He ordered the county to replace its at-large system, where everyone in the county could vote in every commissioner election, with a system in which only residents of the commissioner's district could vote in the election.
Blaine County has appealed Pro's ruling on the at-large elections. Scott Detamore of Mountain States Legal Foundation, who is representing the county, said appeals like Blaine County's take about 18 months, as a rule of thumb. It could be resolved much quicker, or take longer, he added.
If she wins the general election, she'll have some work to do to learn the job, Plumage said.
"It's going to take some time to acquaint myself with the procedures of county government," she said.
One of Plumage's ambitions if elected is to facilitate communication and cooperation between the county and tribal governments, she said.
"My biggest goal would be to open up really good communications with the Fort Belknap Tribal Government," Plumage said.
Work in Big Horn County is an example of agencies of county and tribal governments cooperating, she said. The county government and the governments of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations have been collaborating on some programs for years, she said. One area of cooperation being looked at in Big Horn County is mosquito control, which has extra concerns because of the West Nile virus.
That is a major concern for Blaine County, too, Plumage said, with more horses recently confirmed as being infected with the virus. The county and tribal governments both have programs for mosquito control, and their efforts should be coordinated, she said.
Finding areas to coordinate, and finding issues of concern to the residents and government of the reservation, will be part what she does to train herself for the position if elected, Plumage said.
"It's going to take time for the communication of the needs and to prioritize them," she said.