By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
Next month, filing for tribally-elected seats will begin and end. The window for registering for the primary election is March 1 through March 15. All Tribal Council seats are up for election, as are the offices of Principal Chief, Vice Chief, and half of the Cherokee School Board. Now is the time to ask questions, check records, and listen. In politics, being able to read between the lines is a critical skill.
Throughout the next several months leading up to the election, you will have multiple opportunities to gain insight into the candidates that will be running for office. No one should choose for you who you will vote for in the upcoming elections. It is your right to vote for what and who you please. It is your responsibility to yourself, your family, your community, and your future to make an informed vote. Whether you think we have good governance or believe we need new management, back your thought with substantial evidence. Solid evidence is not hearsay. It is not gossip. It is not social media. It would be an interesting study to find out how many great leaders we have missed out on because someone had a public relations firm or campaign manager who didn’t mind slinging mud and destroying reputations for the sake of getting their client elected and promoting their agendas for the sake of a buck or a little power.
Let us make election season a time of truth-telling and transparency, for all candidates, not just the incumbents. There was a recent, although months’ long debate in Tribal Council regarding the election ordinance. Part of a long discussion was whether candidates should be held to the same reporting and ethical standards as someone who is already holding a seat and has taken an oath of office. I believe that if we are not going to hold candidates to the same scrutiny as elected officials, then how can we, the constituents, go to effectively gauge these candidates? If the hang-up is that they haven’t sworn an oath, then let’s create one that they can take when they pay their filing fee and register as a candidate. A candidate’s record and their ethics should be open for all to see. Any candidates. Regardless as to whether they hold a seat. Period.
There is a fine line between the blame game and accountability. In a political season, we, the people, are making decisions that the generations after us will live. We must examine critical decisions made by our leaders and hold them accountable for them. Many of those choices will be something to celebrate, some of the options will cause us to condemn.
There is no clear regulation within the Cherokee Code regarding vote buying. Some of us, sadly, have no problem with being bribed for our vote. With no thought about the future and what that vote might mean to their children and progeny beyond, one of the most valuable privileges in our tribal democracy is traded for what equates to 30 pieces of silver. The good old boy (or girl) system of back scratching for votes is a stumbling block for good governance. In this regard, it is not only candidates who must be held to a high standard. There are those in our community who will engage in manipulative behavior at the cost of high standards. Remember you are constituents of a seat, or position, not an individual.
You set the criteria for the chair that a person is vying to hold, whether it be a Tribal Council representatives’ seat, the seat of the Chief or Vice Chief, or a seat on the School Board. It is your moral responsibility to set the standard for the position and to ensure that you select, either through election or re-election, the person who best fits the qualifications you have set for that seat. And no bribe, short term gratification, promise, or compliment should sway you from your obligation. I think vote buying, bribery, or any coercion of that sort should be reported as a potential ethics violation to the Office of Internal Audit, whether it is an elected official or a candidate who doesn’t hold a seat. Our tribal leadership should get behind stiff penalties to be placed in law that would deter that behavior. To speak with someone regarding any suspected violation of ethics, contact the EBCI Office of Internal Audit at (828) 359-7030. The Ethics Officer is Barak Myers (828) 359-7074, email@example.com and the Ethics Specialist is Donald Parker II (828) 359-7072, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The only excuse for less than 100 percent turnout of registered voters in our tribal elections should be mental or physical incapacity. There is no excuse for voter apathy. The mindset that “nothing is going to change, so why bother” is a copout for the laziness of mind and body. If you are not going to vote, then do not bother to register to vote. Voting is serious business. It is our foundation. A government of the people, by the people, for the people depends on the citizenry to be active and a part of the process.
If you plan on being a candidate for any of the elected offices of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the One Feather would like for you to provide us with your contact information. Please send your mailing address, a phone number that you don’t mind the community having, and an email address. We want to provide the community every opportunity to talk to you all. We already highlight the contact information of Tribal Council, Principal Chief, and Vice Chief. We have requested additional contact information from the CCS School Board to share with the public as well. You may start sending your info in now. We will publish it. If for some reason, you decide against filing or are disqualified, we will remove that contact information from our public notices.
We are now taking question suggestions from the community to consider for the 2019 Tribal Government Debate series coming up in June. We hope that you will either submit a question to us at the One Feather, or bring your questions to the debate, or both. We would love to see a full house there at the Chief Joyce Dugan Cultural and Performing Arts Center on the CCS campus. EBCI Communications will also be providing cable and streaming access to the debates, as well as replays on the internet and channel 28 as in previous years.
Why do we bother? Because you are important, and you make the difference. We believe that we have the best government when you are informed, you engage, and you make a choice. I always find it sadder than amusing that many of the tribal members who complain about government likely do not vote (based on voter turnout figures) in tribal elections.
You and I have much to think about over the next few months. People will tickle our ears with things we want to hear but are not necessarily good for us in the long run. Listen, be mindful, not just to what they say, but how they say it. Don’t let family feuds or unfounded gossip lead you to poor decisions. Don’t use your vote like a purchase on the impulse aisle at Walmart. They put trinkets there to entice you to buy things you don’t need and will not add value to your life but are cheap and make you think they will take care of an immediate desire in your life, a quick fix. You have instincts, use them. When something sounds too good to be true, question it; research it. Remember that no one person embodies absolute good or perfect evil. You and I must use wisdom and discernment when evaluating the people who will either continue to move the tribe forward or be the new person to carry the tribe forward. Whether you are a potential candidate or constituent, it is time to step up to the plate.