EDITORIAL: Open letter to candidates and voters

by Mar 22, 2019OPINIONS





“Politicking was not to my liking. I had spent my lifetime giving and taking orders, where everyone was treated in like manner, where no special favoritism could be shown. I did have friends out there where the voters were, and I met many fine people, but like (a friend) would say to me in later years, ‘Everyone wants something.’ which is true to a certain degree.”

– Principal Chief Robert Youngdeer.

Platform and popularity – two essential pieces of the election puzzle. As we have mentioned before, public service in the elected seats of the Tribe is not a walk in the park. Elected officials can experience some of the worst criticism and must make some of the most heart-wrenching decisions on the Boundary. Sure, by most of our standards, it is good money, and you get a lot of accolades. For a time, you are the popular kid on the block, everybody wants you to come to their parties, and many want to bend your ear. But some constituents will ask for favors for you to continue to be in their support. They will want more than their fair share while letting you know that they (and their families, and their friends) may give your seat to someone else if they don’t get their way.

You may run against a challenger that doesn’t have the moral code. Bribing people, aka vote buying, may be as routine as mowing the lawn for some. If you resist joining in the practice, it could cost you the seat. Or it could show your voters the sign of integrity that they have been seeking.

As a candidate, there will be a tendency to say yes to everyone and to every need. It is hard to tell someone who holds your political future in their hands that they are wrong or cannot have what they are asking of you. There are people out there who only want to hear truth if it means they get what they want. And they will not care how you get it or if you have taken it away from someone else who is more deserving.

What do you stand for? My vote is valuable. I only get to cast it so often. I will not haphazardly spend it.

You have just over two months to convince enough Cherokee voters to vote for you to get you through the Primary and on to the General Election. Some folks are proponents of doing away with the Primary process, but without it, an even smaller group of voters would control the seats. And that is not what we need. Primaries help to ensure that the voices of as many of the community as possible are heard. In a community where there are numerous candidates, the top vote-getter could get a single digit percentage, not the best representation of the majority will of the people in that community. So, as a candidate, use the Primary to get your message out and fine-tune your campaign, in the event that you move on to the General Election.

Spend time with the people. Especially in the school board and council seat races, it is entirely possible that you could have face-to-face, one-on-one interaction with most people voting in your community. These are much smaller populations of voters than in the Executive elections. Name recognition is vitally important for you, especially if you are a first-time candidate. Have material ready with your name on it to give to your voters. Spend time with your voters. Do community service for and with them. The old saying is true, “people will not care about you and what you have to say until they know you care about them and what they have to say.”

Avoid boilerplate platform statements when speaking or printing materials. Listen to the community, not the rhetoric. It is a mistake to decide for yourself what is necessary instead of seeking the input of the people. Remember, you are asking to be a public servant in high office, but still a servant of the community.

Whatever you have in your closet, get it out in the sunshine now. Voters forgive if they see a candidate who is transparent and repentant. They will show no mercy to a candidate who waits until negative behavior is exposed, then tries to do damage control.

The One Feather is necessarily nonpartisan. We will not endorse any candidate. We will provide the voter as much information as possible on all candidates. We will give equal opportunity for candidates to share their credentials for the positions they seek and the vision they have for the future of the tribe. We will not allow attacks on candidate families. We will provide a forum for issue and platform discussion.  Our policies are available for anyone, and we also have a written and codified code of ethics that we follow.

In fairness to all candidates, all ads will continue to be sold at full commercial rates at least until after the Primary. Candidates should avail themselves of some free opportunities: any candidate may provide their contact information for publication for regular publication free of charge; each candidate will be afforded one 250-word space to present a brief resume and platform; and until two weeks prior to the election, candidates and supporters are welcome to submit letters of endorsement and position statements on issues affecting the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

After the Primary, the One Feather is scheduled to conduct candidate debates for the Executive Office and Tribal Council seats. These will be happening in June, much earlier than we have held our previous debates. I encourage candidates to attend for it is another opportunity to share your platform and tell the public why you want to serve the public. This year, write-in candidates will not be permitted to participate in the debates.

I provide my suggestions with the knowledge that running for office are seasoned politicians who already know how to run campaigns. I have never run for office, nor do I ever intend to. My comments are from observation, as a concerned citizen and deliberate voter. The future of the tribe is more valuable to me than any temporary, impulsive gratification. I want every candidate to share their vision for the future of this tribe and what they are willing to do to achieve it. There are both incumbents and hopeful candidates in the races heading for the June Primary. There are those who have served well, and there are those who hope to serve well.

Tribal elections should be a time of excitement for our people. It is a time for us to search our souls for what we want to be and what we want to do for the generations to come. It is a time when the power is put directly into the hands of the people. Many may attempt to trivialize it, saying your vote doesn’t count for much or it won’t make a difference. I challenge you to discard such ignorance. Get a copy of the past elections and do the math. The difference between two candidates may hang on a single vote. It has happened and, odds are, it will happen again. My vote matters. Your vote matters. And it matters what kind of leadership we choose for the years to come.