Ben Nighthorse Campbell

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Ben Campbell
Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
In office
January 3, 2003 – January 3, 2005
Preceded byDaniel Inouye
Succeeded byJohn McCain
In office
January 3, 2001 – June 6, 2001
Preceded byJohn McCain
Succeeded byDaniel Inouye
United States Senator
from Colorado
In office
January 3, 1993 – January 3, 2005
Preceded byTim Wirth
Succeeded byKen Salazar
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Colorado's 3rd district
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1993
Preceded byMichael Strang
Succeeded byScott McInnis
Member of the Colorado House of Representatives
from the 59th district
In office
January 1983 – January 1987
Preceded byRobert E DeNier[1]
Succeeded byJim E. Dyer[2]
Personal details
Benny Campbell

(1933-04-13) April 13, 1933 (age 87)
Auburn, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (before 1995)
Republican (1995–present)
Spouse(s)Linda Price
EducationSan Jose State University (BA)
Meiji University
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Air Force
Years of service1951–1953
RankE3 USAF AM1.svg Airman First Class E-4
Battles/warsKorean War
AwardsKorean Service Medal ribbon.svg Korean Service Medal
Air Medal ribbon.svg Air 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.

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.[3]

Early life[edit]

Campbell speaks at the commissioning of the USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) in 2007

Campbell was born Benny Campbell[4] 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.)[5] 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 Nighthorse 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[edit]

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.[6][7]


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. 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.

Jewelry career[edit]

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.[8]

Political career[edit]

Campbell with Christopher Cox in 2002
Campbell with President George W. Bush in 2004

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.[9] 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.[citation needed] Campbell won the primary with 45% of the vote and then defeated Republican State Senator Terry Considine in the general election.[citation needed] As a Democrat, Campbell was the first Native American elected to serve in the United States Senate since Charles Curtis in the 1920s.[10]

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 has championed since coming to Washington as a congressman in 1987.[citation needed] Others attributed the switch to personal hostility within the Democratic Party in Colorado.[11]

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.''[12] In the 106th Congress, he 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.[13] 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."[14] He became gradually more conservative during his time in the Senate; he opposes same-sex marriage and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act while in the Senate. 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.[15][16] 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.'"[17]

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.[18]

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.[19][20] He also continues to design and craft his Ben Nighthorse line of American Indian jewelry.

Completed in 2011, Lake Nighthorse, a 120,000-acre-foot reservoir in southwestern Colorado, is named in his honor.[21]

Campbell is a member of the ReFormers Caucus of Issue One.[22]


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.

Lake Nighthorse in La Plata County, Colorado is named in Campbell's honor.[23]

He endorsed then-Ohio governor John Kasich in the 2016 Republican primary.[24]

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.[25] However, he openly opposed the impeachment of President Trump, 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."[26]

In late June 2020, Campbell appeared on Breitbart News radio to respond to 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." 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."[27][28]

Electoral history[edit]

United States Senate election in Colorado, 1998[29]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell (incumbent) 829,370 62.49% +19.78%
Democratic Dottie Lamm 464,754 35.02% -16.76%
Libertarian David S. Segal 14,024 1.06% +1.06%
Constitution Kevin Swanson 9,775 0.74%
Natural Law Jeffrey Peckham 4,101 0.31%
Independent John Heckman 3,230 0.24%
Independent Gary Swing 1,981 0.15%
Majority 364,616 27.47% +18.40%
Turnout 1,327,235
Republican hold Swing [?]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CO State House 59 Race - Nov 02, 1982". Our Campaigns. Retrieved March 2, 2020.
  2. ^ "CO State House 59 Race - Nov 06, 1984". Our Campaigns. Retrieved March 2, 2020.
  3. ^ "Ben Nighthorse Campbell Leaves Holland & Knight to Start Own Lobbying Shop". Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  4. ^ According to the State of California. California Birth Index, 1905-1995. Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California.
  5. ^ "INS Delays Deporting Honor Student". September 27, 2002. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  6. ^ 1964 Summer Olympics official report. Volume 2. Part 2. p. 620
  7. ^ profile Archived November 3, 2012, at the Wayback Machine (Listed as Ben Campbell). Accessed October 31, 2010.
  8. ^ "Ben Nighthorse Campbell / Judo / Jewelry". Art of the Olympians. Archived from the original on February 21, 2017. Retrieved February 21, 2017.
  9. ^ "3 Democrats to Run for Senate in Colorado". Associated Press. April 12, 1992. Retrieved August 1, 2016 – via The New York Times.
  10. ^ "Democrats geared to retain Senate control (1,550)PARA:". UPI. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  11. ^ "Democrats Lose Senate Seat With Switch by Coloradan". The New York Times. March 4, 1995. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  12. ^ Brooke, James (August 13, 1998). "G.O.P. Senator Sees Victory in Colorado as Signal to Moderates". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
  13. ^ Kellman, Laurie (October 21, 1999). "Senate Supports Abortion Rights". The Washington Post.
  14. ^ Gray, Jerry (November 9, 1995). "Abortion Foes Dealt Setback By the Senate". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  15. ^ " - Same-sex marriage Senate battle over, war is not - Jul 15, 2004". Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  16. ^ "Senate Says No to Marriage Amendment". Los Angeles Times. July 15, 2004. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
  17. ^ "Colorado Experience: Ben Nighthorse Campbell". PBS. April 11, 2019. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  18. ^ Janofsky, Michael (March 4, 2004). "G.O.P. Senator Campbell of Colorado Will Retire". The New York Times. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  19. ^ "Ben Nighthorse Campbell Leaves Holland & Knight to Start Own Lobbying Shop". Durango Herald. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  20. ^ "Lobbying World". The Hill. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  21. ^ "Lake Nighthorse reaches capacity". Durango Herald. Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  22. ^ "ReFormers Caucus". Issue One. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
  23. ^ Rodebaugh, Dale (June 30, 2011). "Lake Nighthorse reaches capacity". Retrieved March 2, 2020.
  24. ^ "Former U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado Endorses John Kasich for President". November 13, 2015.
  25. ^ "We are former Senators. The Senate has long stood in defense of democracy — and must again". December 10, 2018.
  26. ^ Winter, Allison (November 19, 2019). "Two Colorado congressmen take center stage on impeachment". Retrieved November 25, 2019.
  27. ^ Kraychik, Robert (June 25, 2020). "Exclusive – Native American Senator Who Introduced Monument Protection Law Defends Andrew Jackson Statue". Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  28. ^ Tripathi, Namrata (June 27, 2020). "Indigenous ex-senator who brought monument protection laws defends Andrew Jackson statue despite gory history". Retrieved July 7, 2020.
  29. ^ "1998 Election Statistics - Legislative Activities - Office of the Clerk". Retrieved August 1, 2016.
  30. ^ "Cidadãos Estrangeiros Agraciados com Ordens Portuguesas". Página Oficial das Ordens Honoríficas Portuguesas. Retrieved March 20, 2019.

External links[edit]

Media related to Ben Nighthorse Campbell at Wikimedia Commons

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Michael Strang
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Colorado's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Scott McInnis
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tim Wirth
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Colorado
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Dottie Lamm
Preceded by
Terry Considine
Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Colorado
(Class 1)

Succeeded by
Pete Coors
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Tim Wirth
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Colorado
Served alongside: Hank Brown, Wayne Allard
Succeeded by
Ken Salazar
Preceded by
John McCain
Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Dan Inouye
Preceded by
Chris Smith
Chair of the Joint Helsinki Commission
Succeeded by
Chris Smith
Preceded by
Dan Inouye
Chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
John McCain