By DAVID ALIRE GARCIA 05/09/2008
SANTA FE -- If Sen. Barack Obama needs a mere 170 more delegate votes to clinch the Democratic presidential nomination outright, he just got one vote closer.
That's because Laurie Weahkee, New Mexico's newest -- and most coveted -- superdelegate, just threw her support behind Obama.
"After the primary elections in Indiana and North Carolina, it is now absolutely clear that Barack Obama will be our nominee," Weahkee, lead organizer for the Native American Voters Alliance, writes in a statement e-mailed to the Independent. She adds, "Obama has proven that he can campaign in a difficult environment and still inspire thousands of new voices to take part in the democratic process."
Weahkee also had good things to say about Hillary Clinton -- "I’d like to recognize Senator Clinton for her many years of service to this country, and for laying the groundwork for women across this country to run for office" -- but in the end that wasn't enough to push the long-time New Mexico activist into her corner.
With Weahkee now a committed Obama vote, that leaves U.S. Rep. Tom Udall as the only Democratic superdelegate from New Mexico who remains neutral in the race. Clinton won the popular vote in New Mexico on Feb. 5 by a slim margin just north of 1,000 votes -- the closest presidential primary or caucus anywhere in the country except Guam. As a result, she netted 14 of the state's 26 pledged delegates. On the New Mexico superdelegate front, Clinton now leads by a margin of six to five.
Weahkee, a 42-year-old Cochiti and Zuni Pueblo member, was elected to be superdelegate amid some controversy on April 26. Since then she's kept mum on coming to a decision. But in an exclusive interview with the Independent, Weahkee explains how she made up her mind.
NMI: Why Obama?
LW: Well, I really believe it's highly unlikely that Clinton can catch up with Obama at this point. I think she would have to win all the rest of the six races with a high margin of victory and I don't think that's gonna happen. Even her fundraising efforts are now waning and that concerns me especially since she's been pushing this idea that she's the viable candidate. Those are, I guess, additional reasons behind why I think it's clear that Obama will be our nominee.
NMI: When exactly did you reach your decision?
LW: Well, I've been talking with family and close friends since Tuesday of this week. I also really believe we need to get on with the campaign against McCain. And so, I kind of felt it was the appropriate time to make my decision. So since Tuesday I started really asking people for input in terms of what is her viability and I've been saying that to different media outlets. And my own research showed that she's really unlikely to catch up and I decided to do it now so I can get on with my regular work. This has kind of been all consuming.
NMI: Which medial outlets have been calling you lately?
LW: The big one was ABC News and, of course, AP. But a lot of native newspapers, Native Times is one. And there's just a lot of people that have been really calling and asking where I was standing as a super delegate. In terms of just people, I've got a list of 500 Democratic women sending me an e-mail petition for Hillary Clinton. All kinds of people from California and many other places, just different places. I've been getting email and actual letters asking me to consider one candidate over the other. I've been keeping a little tally about where people are going and by my tally Barack Obama is slightly ahead (laughing).
NMI: Was it a hard decision?
LW: It actually was. Because I think both Hillary and Barack have a lot to offer the country. I'm extremely happy both are competent, which I think is very important. And so it was a hard decision, but I really feel that the turning point in my mind was the North Carolina and Indiana races and the fundraising. Those three factors really shifted my thinking.
NMI: Were you truly undecided when you were recently elected by the State Central Committee of the state Democratic Party on April 26 -- or were you leaning toward Obama then?
LW: I really was undecided. Even with in my own family we've been having debates about which candidate to support. And so, at that point in time I was really undecided. I understand it's a high stakes situation, but I was a little disappointed by the aggressive tone of the New Mexico Clinton campaign to challenge my selection as a delegate, because I really was at that time undecided. The aggressive tone from folks here locally just added into the my overall sense that the Clinton campaign was really aggressive. It was disappointing. I was truly undecided and they were already putting me in one camp or another. I just felt it was a bad representation on Hillary Clinton and her overall campaign.
NMI: You're half pueblo Indian and half Navajo... seems like being tugged in two different directions is nothing new for you?
LW: (laughs) No, it's not. Yeah, I deal with that pretty much on a daily basis. But I think a lot of Native people do. I don't think I'm special in that regard.
NMI: In an April 27 interview with the Albuquerque Journal you said you were most concerned with Native American issues as well as health care issues in terms of deciding between Clinton and Obama. What did you learn since then in those two areas that made you choose Obama?
LW: You know, throughout Obama's campaign he's proven to be an honest and genuine leader and to me that's key to improving relations between tribal nations and the U.S. government. I really believe that we need an honest and genuine leader who has realistic solutions for issues facing the native community and I really believe that he's going to follow through. One thing he's planning on doing is an annual tribal summit. To commit to doing that annually is really key to building a good relationship between the U.S. government and tribal nations because there's so much diversity on tribal issues and you can't really get that by one town meeting or lay it on one or two people to work those out. The other thing that was key for me making up my mind is that I believe he really looks at the root causes of issues and he understands the need for comprehensive solutions. I feel like that's real key as opposed to band-aids, not saying that Hillary is about band-aid type solutions, I really do appreciate Obama's willingness to dig in a lot deeper to the issues and recognizing structure and infrastructure as a part of the key to creating realistic solutions.
NMI: Did you ever feel any sense of obligation to go for Clinton since she narrowly won the popular vote here in New Mexico?
LW: Actually, (long pause) for me, I was selected to be a super delegate. Because as a native woman I'm representative of a voice that rarely gets heard. I truly believe that part of my responsibility is to give voice to the overlooked concerns of disenfranchised people. For someone who's from small native communities, we usually lose to majority rules and often times our communities get overrun and have to go with the majority when it's not good for the community. So I don't really feel like that was an argument as to why I was selected as a superdelegate.
NMI: Are you looking forward to casting your ballot in Denver?
LW: Actually I am. I'm not sure what to expect. I'm really honored by this opportunity and am excited to participate in this process. This will be my first time. I usually watch the (convention) news late at night but this time I'll actually be there.