, Muskogee, OK

March 23, 2007

Election challenges fail to pass Cherokee commission

By Donna Hales

A Texas teacher has not decided whether to appeal to the Cherokee high court after his challenges to the legitimacy of several candidates were denied by the tribal election commission.

Cherokee Robin Mayes challenged the candidacy of the Cherokee chief and his lone opponent, the deputy chief and seven council candidates before a tribal election commission meeting Thursday.

Mayes questioned if Principal Chief Chad Smith was in violation of the Cherokee-by-blood requirement.

Election Commissioner Drew Wilcoxen, a Muskogee attorney, moved that the challenge be dismissed, saying Mayes could not provide proof. Smith was not present to be questioned. Election Commission Chair Patsy Morton said Smith had asked for a continuance.

Eddie Crittenden said Smith’s birth certificate was provided, but no one was allowed to take a copy of it. Mayes wanted to be assured Smith was not adopted.

Cherokee historian David Cornsilk was telephoned and asked about three specific points on the birth certificate that would indicate “paternity, adoption or a name change.” He said from what was described to him, the birth certificate had not been amended.

The chief and five incumbent councilors were challenged because they had served two terms, which is the limit set by the 1999 constitution that was ratified by the tribe in 2003.

Election Commissioner Jim Briggs argued the commission should not be making the decision — that it was a tribal court decision.

The commission voted 3-2 to dismiss the term-limit challenges, leaving Mayes to decide whether to take the issue to tribal court.

Several candidates, including the chief and his sole challenger, Stacy Leeds, a former tribal justice, were challenged on the residency requirement requiring elected officials live within the traditional boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. Those challenges were voted down by the commission.

All those challenged had residences inside the Cherokee Nation and outside the tribe’s boundaries.

Smith has residences in Tahlequah and Sapulpa, where his family resides. Leeds has an apartment in Kansas, her husband has one in Norman (while teaching at the University Oklahoma) and she owns a home in Cherokee County, which she said is their primary residence.

The challenge against council candidate Gary Keener was that he was a convicted felon. Keener argued he’d worked for Cherokee Nation Enterprises, got a liquor license and a gaming license and had purchased guns — all things that legally could not be achieved by a convicted felon.

Wilcoxen said Keener should provide proof that he did not commit a crime in Tulsa County in the 1980s.

Keener was given until the April 12 meeting of the Election Commission to produce evidence he is not a convicted felon.

Mayes challenged Councilor Buel Anglen on the two-term limit, allegedly lying to the Election Commission and tribal council about his residency in regards to an earlier election and being accused of being in violation of tribal nepotism laws.

Mayes said Anglen had daughters employed by Cherokee Nation Enterprises. Wilcoxen stopped the discussion on allegedly lying about his residency and nepotism. Commissioners dismissed the challenge in a 3-2 vote.

The allegation of nepotism is pending before the tribal court.

Mayes had planned to call on Anglen and Grayson regarding nepotism in the Cherokee Nation. Mayes said he had information and belief that Grayson’s son also is an employee of Cherokee Nation Enterprises.

Grayson did not show up for the hearing. Mayes said he was aware the election law did not require the Election Commission to disqualify candidates for reasons of nepotism. Wilcoxen moved the commission not address the complaint.

What’s next

Monday is the last day to file challenges against candidates in the Cherokee Nation election in June.

Reach Donna Hales at 918-684-2923 or Click Here to Send Email