Ben Nighthorse Campbell
|Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee|
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2005
|Preceded by||Daniel Inouye|
|Succeeded by||John McCain|
January 3, 2001 – June 6, 2001
|Preceded by||John McCain|
|Succeeded by||Daniel Inouye|
|United States Senator|
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2005
|Preceded by||Tim Wirth|
|Succeeded by||Ken Salazar|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Colorado's 3rd district
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1993
|Preceded by||Michael Strang|
|Succeeded by||Scott McInnis|
|Member of the Colorado House of Representatives|
from the 59th district
January 1983 – January 1987
|Preceded by||Robert E DeNier|
|Succeeded by||Jim E. Dyer|
Benny Marshall Campbell
April 13, 1933
Auburn, California, U.S.
|Political party||Democratic (before 1995)|
|Education||San Jose State University (BA)|
|Branch/service||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1951–1953|
|Rank||Airman First Class E-4|
|Awards|| Korean Service Medal|
Ben Nighthorse Campbell (born April 13, 1933) is an American Cheyenne politician who served as a U.S. Representative from 1987 to 1993, and a U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1993 to 2005. He serves as one of forty-four members of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe. During his time in office, he was the only Native American serving in the U.S. Congress. As of 2021, he is the last Native American elected to the U.S. Senate, and the last Republican to be elected to the Class 3 Senate seat from Colorado.
Originally a member of the Democratic Party, Campbell switched to the Republican Party on March 3, 1995. Reelected to the U.S. Senate in 1998, Campbell announced in March 2004 that he would not run for reelection to a third term in November of that year. His Senate seat was then won by Democrat Ken Salazar in the November 2004 election. He later expressed interest in running for Governor of Colorado in 2006; however, on January 4, 2006, he announced that he would not enter the race. He later became a lobbyist for the law and lobbying firm Holland & Knight and afterward co-founded his own lobbying firm, Ben Nighthorse Consultants.
Campbell was born Benny Campbell in Auburn, California. His mother, Mary Vierra (Vieira), was a Portuguese immigrant who had come with her mother to the U.S. at age six through Ellis Island. (According to Campbell, his maternal grandfather had entered the United States some time before.) The Vierra family settled in the large Portuguese community near Sacramento. When Mary Vierra contracted tuberculosis in her youth, she was forced to convalesce at a nearby hospital, often for months at a time during treatment. It was there that she met an American Indian patient Albert Campbell, who was at the hospital for alcoholism treatment. Albert Campbell was of predominantly Northern Cheyenne descent but, according to Campbell biographer Herman Viola, Albert Campbell spent much of his youth in Crow Agency boarding school and may have had some Pueblo Indian and Apache Indian ancestry as well. The couple married in 1929, and Campbell was born in 1933.
During Campbell's childhood, his father continued to have problems with alcoholism, often leaving the family for weeks and months at a time. His mother continued to have health problems with tuberculosis, a highly contagious disease that limited the contact she could have with her children and continued to force her into the hospital for long periods of time. These problems led to Ben and his older sister Alberta (who died in an apparent suicide at age 44) spending much of their early lives in nearby Catholic orphanages. As a young man, Campbell was introduced to the Japanese martial art of judo by Japanese immigrant families he met while working in local agricultural fields.
Military service and education
Campbell attended Placer High School, dropping out in 1951 to join the U.S. Air Force. He was stationed in Korea during the Korean War as an air policeman; he left the Air Force in 1953 with the rank of Airman Second Class, as well as the Korean Service Medal and the Air Medal. While in the Air Force, Campbell obtained his GED and, following his discharge, used his G.I. Bill to attend San Jose State University, where he graduated in 1957 with a Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education and Fine Arts.
He is listed as Ben M. Campbell in his college records and records of his Olympic competition, but was given the name "Nighthorse" when he returned to the Northern Cheyenne reservation for his name-giving ceremony, as a member of his father's family, Blackhorse.
While in college, Campbell was a member of the San Jose State judo team, coached by future USA Olympic coach Yosh Uchida. While training for the Olympic Games, Campbell attended Meiji University in Tokyo, Japan as a special research student from 1960–1964. The Meiji team was world-renowned and Campbell credited the preparation and discipline taught at Meiji for his 1961, 1962, and 1963 U.S. National titles and his gold medal in the 1963 Pan-American Games. In 1964, Campbell competed in judo at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. This made him the first Native American on the United States Olympic Judo Team. He suffered an injury and did not win a medal. He broke his ankle and was out for two years.
In the years after returning from the Olympic Games, Campbell worked as a deputy sheriff in Sacramento County, California, coached the U.S. National Judo Team, operated his own dojo in Sacramento, and taught high school (physical education and art classes). He and his wife also raised quarterhorses, including a Supreme Champion and AQHA Champion, "Sailors Night". They bought a ranch near Ignacio, Colorado on the Southern Ute reservation in 1978.
In the book Ben Nighthorse Campbell: An American Warrior, by Herman Viola, Campbell tells of learning to make jewelry from his father and flattening silver dollars on train tracks for the materials. He also used techniques learned from sword makers in Japan and other non-traditional techniques to win over 200 national and international awards for jewelry design under the name, "Ben Nighthorse" and was included in a feature article in the late 1970s in Arizona Highways magazine about Native artists experimenting in the 'new look' of Indian jewelry. Campbell has works on display with the Art of the Olympians organization.
Campbell was elected to the Colorado State Legislature as a Democrat in November 1982, where he served two terms. He was voted one of the 10 Best Legislators by his colleagues in a 1986 Denver Post – News Center 4 survey. Campbell was elected in 1986 to the US House of Representatives, defeating incumbent Congressman Mike Strang; he was re-elected twice to this seat. In 1989, he authored the bill HR 2668 to establish the National Museum of the American Indian, which became PL 101–185.
The early 1990s marked a turning point in Campbell's political career. In 1992, following the announced retirement of Senator Tim Wirth, Campbell won a three-way Democratic primary with former three-term Governor Richard Lamm and Boulder County Commissioner Josie Heath, who had been the party's nominee in 1990. During the primary campaign, Lamm supporters accused Heath of "spoiling" the election by splitting the vote of the party's left wing. Heath's campaign pointed out that it was Campbell who should not have been running because his voting record in Congress had been much more like that of a Republican. Campbell won the primary with 45% of the vote and then defeated Republican State Senator Terry Considine in the general election. As a Democrat, Campbell was the first Native American elected to serve in the United States Senate since Charles Curtis in the 1920s.
In March 1995, after two years in office, Senator Campbell switched parties from Democratic to Republican in the wake of publicized disputes he had with the Colorado Democratic Party. The Senator said that the final straw for him was the Senate's defeat of the balanced-budget amendment, which he had championed since coming to Washington as a congressman in 1987. Others attributed the switch to personal hostility within the Democratic Party in Colorado.
In 1998, Campbell won re-election to the Senate by what was then the largest margin in Colorado history for a statewide race. After winning re-election, Campbell identified as a moderate Republican saying that ''[his re-election] shows the moderate voices within the Republican Party are dominating.'' During the trial of Bill Clinton, Campbell voted to convict Clinton on both articles of impeachment against him; in his final statement just before the vote, Campbell said "I took a solemn oath...simply speaking, the President did, too. And, so even though I like him personally, I find I can only vote one way. And that is guilty on both articles." That same day (February 12), Clinton was acquitted on both counts as neither received the necessary two-thirds majority vote of the senators present for conviction and removal from office—in this instance 67. On Article One, 45 senators voted to convict while 55 voted for acquittal. On Article Two, 50 senators voted to convict while 50 voted for acquittal. Clinton would remain in office for the remainder of his second term.
In the 106th Congress, Campbell passed more public laws than any individual member of Congress. During his tenure, Campbell also became the first American Indian to chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. In 1999, Campbell voted to support the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, a ruling which legalized abortion nationwide. He had also been one of seven Republicans who voted "to block an immediate vote" on a bill to ban what were called "partial-birth abortions." He became gradually more conservative during his time in the Senate; he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act while in the Senate and does not support same-sex marriage. However, in 2004, he was one of six Republicans who voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment, a constitutional amendment intended to ban same-sex marriage, on the grounds that it should be left to the states.
The Senate ethics committee investigated accusations that his former chief of staff inflated bonuses to an aide in 2002 so he could return the money to the chief of staff. In subsequent interviews, the chief of staff and aide both asserted that Campbell had approved of the deal.
Following the prisoner abuse in Iraq by American military personnel and viewing unpublished abuse images alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's senate testamony, Campbell admonished the administration and military leadership, saying "I don't know how the hell these people got into our army".
On March 3, 2004, Senator Campbell announced that he would not seek reelection due to health concerns, having recently been treated for prostate cancer and heartburn. He retired from office in January 2005 after two terms, reflecting later on his decision: "Somewhere along the line, I said 'I'm not gonna die in this place. I want to do what I can, but I'm not dying here.'"
After his retirement, Campbell was a senior policy advisor at the firm of Holland and Knight, LLP in Washington, DC. In July 2012, he left that firm to found Ben Nighthorse Consultants, a new lobbying firm. He also continues to design and craft his Ben Nighthorse line of American Indian jewelry.
In late 2018, Campbell joined with several former Republican and Democratic senators in signing a letter supporting the investigation of then-Special Council Robert Mueller into the alleged Russian-collusion in the 2016 election. However, he openly opposed the impeachment of President Donald Trump, defending the president and commenting that it was "a waste of time." He also questioned why the Democrats would move to impeach knowing they would fail to convict in the Senate, stating "The cost of this and what it does to the country, it kind of tears the fabric of the nation apart."
In late June 2020, Campbell appeared on Breitbart News radio to respond to and defend President Trump's use of the Veterans' Memorial Preservation Act (which Campbell had introduced while in the Senate in 2003) to defend American statues during the civil unrest. During the interview he voiced his disgust at the vandalizing of War Memorials around the country, and also defended the statue of Andrew Jackson which had previously been targeted by rioters and vandals: "Leave it there, but tell the whole story. I don’t think you can rewrite history to only tell your point of view. Seems to me, if we’re really going to learn from history so that we don’t make the same dumb mistakes, we must look at the bad things that happened at the same time...but to do away with it, I don't think it's the right thing. You know, you can't sanitize history by getting rid of all the symbols of oppression." Campbell compared the destruction of statues to that of the Taliban's destruction of cultural and religious sites, and said the law must be enforced to protect the monuments or otherwise "We’re in for a full-fledged insurrection, if we don’t stop it." He also condemned the violence in the 2020 protests: "A lot of this is driven by, in my view, people who are basically anarchists. They want to change our whole national structure, and a little bit of white guilt thrown in there, too. There’s just a better way to do it if people don’t want those statutes to remain, because where does it end?" He concluded the interview by stating "I think part of the learning process and teaching our kids is not to totally sanitize things by getting rid of the things that we didn’t like from the old days. We need to explain it to our youngsters why the bad things happened."
In October 2020, Campbell appeared on Indian Country Today to speak on a variety of issues, including his party switch in 1995 and promoting free enterprise for Native Americans. Campbell defended his switch to the Republican Party, and when asked if the GOP's policies were better for Native peoples, he proceeded to list the historical approach of the Democratic Party contrasted to the Republicans to make his point: “The head of the Ku Klux Klan was not a Republican, it was a Democrat. It wasn’t a Republican who put 350,000 Japanese Americans in prison without any legal authority to do it, that was a Democrat, Roosevelt. And Andrew Jackson drove the Trail of Tears, of the Cherokees, the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, and many other tribes, taking their land by force: that wasn’t a Republican that did that. That was a Democrat… so when people say the Democrat Party has been more willing to help Native Americans, I dispute that. That's not true." He went on to say how optimistic he was that more Native people were becoming involved and running for office; he also expressed support for President Trump and his immigration policies, and voiced his concern with the rise of Antifa in the United States.
In 1966, Campbell married the former Linda Price, a public school teacher who was a native of Colorado. The couple have two married children, Colin (Karen) Campbell and Shanan (John) Wells. They have four grandchildren. The Campbells still reside in Colorado and are practicing Catholics.
Linda Campbell was the sponsor of USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) on January 15, 2005.
|Republican||Donald F. Whalen||7,216||46.09|
|Democratic gain from Republican|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||3,059||100.0|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell (incumbent)||14,405||71.80|
|Republican||Patricia “Patsi” Hart||5,658||28.20|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||29,422||100.0|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||95,353||51.86|
|Republican||Michael L. “Mike” Strang (incumbent)||88,508||48.14|
|Democratic gain from Republican|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||31,828||100.0|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell (incumbent)||169,284||78.04|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||36,722||100.0|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell (incumbent)||124,487||70.19|
|Colorado Populist Party||Howard E. Fields||2,915||1.64|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||117,634||45.48|
|Democratic||Richard D. Lamm||93,599||36.19|
|Democratic||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||803,125||51.78|
|Perot’s Independents||Richard O. Grimes||42,455||2.73|
|Christian Pro-Life||Matt Noah||22,846||1.47|
|Republican||Ben Nighthorse Campbell||154,641||70.59|
|Republican||Ben Nighthorse Campbell (incumbent)||826,966||62.47|
|Natural Law||Jeffrey Peckham||3,912||0.30|
|Concerns of People||John Heckman||3,230||0.24|
|US Pacifist Party||Gary Swing||1,903||0.14|
- List of American politicians who switched parties in office
- List of Native American artists
- List of Native Americans in the United States Congress
- List of Native American politicians
- Native American jewelry
- List of United States senators who switched parties
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- Tripathi, Namrata (June 27, 2020). "Indigenous ex-senator who brought monument protection laws defends Andrew Jackson statue despite gory history". Retrieved July 7, 2020.
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Media related to Ben Nighthorse Campbell at Wikimedia Commons