EDITORIAL: Why the primary process is important to leadership selection         

by May 27, 2016OPINIONS0 comments





There has been some discussion about the possibility of eliminating the primary process from the election scheme for future EBCI tribal elections. Some of the concern arose because write-in candidates came in after the primary was over, signed up as write-in candidates, as the law allows them to do, and participated in debates and other public forums. The write-in candidates did nothing wrong in this, per tribal law, but it did cause many to wonder what value a primary is if anyone can run as a write-in after the fact.

The other concern for elected officials and candidates is cost. Their take on primaries is that it forces them to have to fund two campaigns per election; one to best the field of candidates that sign up for a seat, then a second to beat the person or persons who make it through the primary with them. A primary makes it hard on their pocketbooks and, depending on how tough their primary opponents are, can put them at a disadvantage financially coming out of the primary to wage war against their opponent(s).

I agree that something should be done to address the ability of prospective candidates to wait until after the primary is over to “write-in”. It is a hard, uphill battle for a write-in candidate anyway since the name does not appear on the final ballot. It may be that the structure of that process needs to be amended to only allow write-ins on the primary ballot. Then, if they make it through the primary, they would have a claim to have their names printed on the ballot.

As to the cost of office, I am not sure that is something we should allow the candidates to decry with any degree of success. Part of the due diligence of seeking office is what you are willing to invest to gain the seat. I believe the sports analogy is “having skin in the game”. If an incumbent or candidate wants your vote and desire to serve in an elected seat, he or she should have skin in the game.

Incumbents usually have the upper hand when it comes to elections. Their jobs, once they gain a seat on Tribal Council, in the Executive Office and School Board, put them in the public eye for two or four years. It is like having election public relations throughout their terms.

Let’s chase a rabbit for a moment. Particularly with regard to the very short terms of Council, short terms put our legislative leadership in a position of almost perpetual campaign mode. The short terms cause our leadership to have to focus too much on short-term fixes to issues. I am not saying our Council doesn’t have long-term vision. I am saying that our election process paints them in a corner when it comes to finding resolutions to pressing issues. With longer terms (and staggered terms), our leadership would be more free to engage some of those painful decisions that are good for the people long term.

Without primary elections or heightened thresholds for run-off elections, it is possible for a candidate to win a seat with a super minority of votes. For example, with 11 candidates running in the Birdtown community in the last election, it would have been possible for the top two vote getters to have won the two available seats with less than 20 percent of the vote. That would mean that 80 percent of the registered voters (and community representation) would not have an opportunity to weigh in on those candidates before they took office. I think the voters of any community would want the opportunity to cast their vote in a narrower field. Those voices need to be heard. This decision regarding community and tribal leadership is much too important to leave to 20 percent of any constituency.

Talk with our tribal leaders. That is the great thing about life on the Boundary. The leaders of our nation are truly next door neighbors. We know most, if not all, of our Tribal Council members and Executive Office leaders on a first name basis. Speak to them and share your opinions on this and other important decisions that are being made that will affect you. And, feel free to send your thoughts and comments in letter form to the One Feather for print. You have a right to be heard, and it is your elected official’s responsibility to listen.