Principal Chief Michell Hicks won Thursday’s election in Cherokee, becoming only the second chief ever to be elected to a third term.
All incumbents in Cherokee managed to hang on to their seats in the election, signaling that voters believe the tribe is on the right track and hesitant to upset that momentum with a change in leadership.
Hicks barely eked out a victory, however, besting challenger Patrick Lambert, by just 135 votes. But the gap was wider than the slim 13-vote margin Lambert lost by in 2007 when he took on Hicks for the first time.
Hicks believes it’s the advances he’s made and the continuity he provides that won over voters. They ultimately agree, he said, with the progressive track the tribe has been on and the advances it had made in the past eight years under his leadership.
“I think the real scare for people is they were afraid progress would not continue for the tribe and we would step backwards,” Hicks said. “I think that was one of the big decision makers.”
The tribe has built a state-of-the-art K-12 school, an emergency operations center, took over its own hospital, opened a movie theater, developed new parks and greenways, attempted a facelift for blighted commercial strips, and pushed a raft of green initiatives under Hicks’ tenure. It’s also focused on cultural renewal efforts, such as the Kituwah Academy, a school for children dedicated to keeping the Cherokee language alive.
There was no doubt the race would be close, with Lambert actually beating Hicks in the primary this summer. Though Hicks got more of the vote, he and Lambert split the six districts evenly.
In Yellowhill, Painttown and Big Y/Wolftown, Hicks carried the vote. In Big Cove, Birdtown and Cherokee County/Snowbird, the tally swung in favor of rival Lambert.
Stepping down to vice chief, Larry Blythe is back in for another term, beating opponent Teresa McCoy by a mere 76 votes. McCoy, who had 49 percent of voter favor, had challenged in 2007, but lost then as well.
McCoy’s bid for vice chief cost her a council seat. She currently sits on tribal council and couldn’t run for that seat and the vice chief position simultaneously.
Her vacant council spot hosts the only new face with a victory in this election. Bo Taylor will join incumbent Perry Shell in representing Big Cove at tribal council.
Elsewhere on the reservation, the other 11 sitting tribal council members held onto their posts, all with margins of at least 35 votes between the winner and the next closest challenger.
Turn out was average, with 62 percent of the 6,704 registered voters in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians coming out for the election.
During exit poll interviews, few were willing to hazard a guess as to the winner or share their personal leanings.
Many at the polls were tight lipped about who they voted for. One man in Painttown, Bryson Catolster, refused to divulge his choice before walking back to a car plastered in signs supporting Lambert.
In Big Cove, Carol Long cited professional concerns as the reason she wouldn’t open up about her preferred candidate. Long works with a drug and alcohol addiction program in tribal court and must keep good relationships with whomever is in power for her program to be a success.
Her concern is shared by others here, where so many rely on the tribe for jobs, whether it’s at Harrahs’ Cherokee Casino or in tribal government or the many programs it provides.
Margie Taylor would say she voted for Hicks in the Yellowhill community, but the woman who exited the polls just after wouldn’t give her name, even though she said she left the box for principal chief unchecked on her ballot.
With his win, Hicks is only the second chief to serve a 12-year term. He’ll now have to live up to his biggest campaign promise — eradicating tribal debt by 2014.
Hicks had said throughout the election season that he wanted to hold onto the seat to take care of the unfinished business of tribal debt, excluding the ongoing $633 million expansion at Harrah’s.
In addition to paying down the tribal debt, he listed better social services as another priority going into the next four years.
“I want to make sure the social services system is restructured so it truly takes care of Cherokee families,” Hicks said. The tribe currently relies on the Department of Social Services in Jackson and Swain counties to provide child welfare services, including intervening in cases of child abuse or neglect. After the death of a Cherokee child in Swain County earlier this year, Hicks is leading the charge to bring social services under the tribal umbrella.
Bringing tribal services in-house is a currently a theme in Hicks’ administration.
A new justice complex is also on the to-do list this term. Tribal members are now held in neighboring county jails, but the completion of the complex will allow them to stay in Cherokee and get drug and alcohol rehabilitation if they need it.
The center will also house the tribal court, where the tribe is working to get Tribal Prosecutor Jason Smith appointed as a federal prosecutor, too, so more Cherokee cases can stay in tribal hands.
“Our goal is to become self-sustaining and obviously we are well on our way to doing that in all areas,” Hicks said.
Meanwhile, Lambert, who wasn’t taking calls after the results came in, maintained throughout the campaign that spending and debt under Hicks were out of control and not accountable to the people.
“We can do better than we are doing, we can make the tribe a better place by paying down the debt, getting more resources going towards the families,” said Lambert in July.
Hicks wouldn’t say if he’s planning to run again in 2015, but did say he wanted to pass on a solidly positioned government to the next administration.
“In four years, by the time I leave, that is what I want to leave the next leaders is a foundation that is secure,” Hicks said.
The numbers aren’t yet official and probably won’t be until at least Friday.
Candidates have five business days to protest any voting irregularities and two business days to ask for a recount if the results showed less than 2 percent difference.
Only Teresa McCoy could ask for a recount this time. She lost to Blythe by just 1.83 percent. The other 0.17 percent went to the seven write-in votes for vice chief.
Hicks retained his place by a margin of 3.22 percent. There were 80 write-in votes for principal chief.
Yellowhill, Painttown and Big Y school board members were also chosen.
Official results are scheduled for presentation to tribal council on Oct. 5.
Winners in bold; top two vote-getters win council seats.
• Michell Hicks: 2124
• Patrick Lambert: 1989
• Write-in: 80
• Larry Blythe: 2112
• Teresa McCoy: 2036
• Write-in: 7
• Alan ‘B’ Ensley: 289
• David Wolfe: 351
• Jimmy Bradley: 211
• John D. Long: 91
Big Cove Council
• Frankie Lee Bottchenbaugh: 190
• Bo Taylor: 230
• Perry Shell: 303
• Lori Taylor: 157
• Gene ‘Tunney” Crowe Jr.: 696
• Jim Owle: 691
• Terri Lee Taylor: 420
• Faye McCoy: 112
• Write-in: 1
• Tommye Saunooke: 346
• Marie Junaluska: 241
• Yona Wade: 181
• Terri Henry: 280
• Write-in: 1
Big Y/Wolftown Council
• Dennis Edward (Bill) Taylor: 525
• Mike Parker: 531
• Dwayne “Tuff” Jackson: 354
• Kathy “Rock” Burgess: 363
Cherokee County/ Snowbird Council
• Diamond Brown: 266
• Adam Wachacha: 285
• Brenda Norville: 163
• Angela Rose Kephart: 211
Cherokee tribal elections are little more than a week away, and with the economy topping the list of major issues, the salaries of tribal officials are raising eyebrows and some ire on the reservation.
Both candidates for principal chief have stumped relentlessly on debt-reduction and spending-control platforms.
Whoever wins, however, will enjoy a sizable paycheck and a generous, lifelong pension, despite enrolled members seeing their per capita checks decline last year because casino profits were down.
Current Principal Chief Michell Hicks enjoys a base salary of $142,458, plus a car and an extra 30 percent of his base pay in fringe benefits, such as health care. That adds up to a total compensation package of about $185,000, not counting the car.
Vice Chief Larry Blythe is paid $129,896, plus given use of a car and 30 percent in fringe benefits, like the chief. Total, the vice chief earns nearly $169,000.
If challenger Patrick Lambert wins the top post, however, he’ll actually be leaving a much more lucrative position.
Lambert is executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission, which makes sure the tribe’s gambling operations, whether in the casino or tribal bingo, are on the up and up.
The TGC regulates gambling licenses, monitors casino payouts to ensure compliance with federal regulations and provides other oversight, such as background checks into managers and internal investigations.
Lambert’s base salary this year was $250,000, according to a gaming commission budget provided to The Smoky Mountain News. When you add in the fringe benefits, bonuses and vacation pay, the total comes to $446,355.
Lambert said that weighing his salary against the pay of public officials isn’t a fair comparison. Elected tribal leaders are public servants, while he is in the gaming industry, he said. It’s business versus government, and the two will never be equal, he argued.
“It’s no secret that I make a substantially larger amount than the chief does, and my salary is graded on a national comparison level with my years of experience and qualifications,” said Lambert.
Lambert believes his opponents are publicizing his pay as a tactic to divert public attention from what he considers the real issues of the campaign.
Lambert’s pay doesn’t come directly from the tribe like the principal and vice chief’s salaries.
The gaming commission gets its money from the businesses it’s regulating: it is funded by the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, the management entity that oversees Harrah’s operations. To a lesser extent, the commission is also funded by the Tribal Bingo Enterprise and revenue generators such as background checks and license fees that it charges the gambling operations.
Indirectly, however, both salaries spring from the same fiscal headwaters: gaming revenues.
And both are significantly higher than the average in Cherokee.
In Jackson and Swain counties, which the reservation straddles, the median household income is $36,761. Statewide, it’s $43,754.
Principal Chief Hicks makes more than North Carolina’s governor. Lambert’s base pay surpasses that of the vice president of the United States.
Lambert’s compensation is based on the results of a tribal pay scale study done every few years by an outside firm, which looks at comparable jobs around the country and what people in those posts are paid.
The principal chief’s salary is decided by tribal council. Tribal council also vote on their own salaries ($70,000 a year each), and that of the vice chief.
It’s difficult to gauge whether Hicks’ or Lambert’s incomes match comparable positions elsewhere. Salaries in the private gaming sector aren’t public information, and a good many tribal governments don’t offer that information up, either.
A few tribes do have pay stats out there, mostly as a result of a public row over whether the pay is too high.
The principal chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma currently makes $122,444, but a committee suggested this spring that the number be raised to $170,697 over the next four years. The Sisseton–Wahpeton Oyate in South Dakota pay their top guy $80,000, decreased from $100,000 just this year.
For Lambert’s position, it’s even harder to determine. He maintains that a fair comparison would pit him against people such as Darold Londo, general manager at Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino. Londo’s salary isn’t public, and neither are those of many other top gaming officials, making the suggested comparisons impossible.
Recruiting firm Bristol Associates does an annual survey of gaming executives, and it reports that top spots in gaming can bring from $100,000 to $400,000 on average.
Lambert defended his pay, and said that if he won the chief’s seat, he wouldn’t keep his current job or the salary that comes with it.
“I’m a licensed attorney, I’ve got over 18 years of experience in this field, and we’ve been very successful. And the pay classification study proves that out,” said Lambert. “To me, if a man’s willing to take a cut in pay to do public service, to me I think that’s a good sign.”
Tribal council members also will have to defend their pay to voters. Their $70,000 annual payout far surpasses the $13,951 made yearly by North Carolina state legislators. In fact, only three states pay their lawmakers as much. However, it’s far below the $174,000 paid to members of the U.S. Congress.
Tribal council isn’t allowed to raise the pay of a sitting council; they can only decide what the next council should make. Usually, those raises are given in the October lame-duck council session.
Council Chairman Jim Owle wouldn’t speak directly to whether he thought the council members’ salaries were fair.
“The pay is what it is, it’s set by tribal council. It’s something that’s voted on in council, and if they think that’s what’s right, that’s what’s voted on,” said Owle, noting that any tribal member could bring a resolution to change it if they were unhappy with the pay.
Salaries aren’t the only benefits afforded to tribal officials. Starting at age 50, all former chiefs, vice chiefs and tribal council members are afforded a pension that can be up to half of their in-office salary, depending on how long they served.
Tribal council in a split vote in 2009 made the decision to increase pension benefits, a controversial move in the midst of a recession.
Should Hicks lose the election and leave office, when he hits 50 in three years he’ll start getting a pension that’s worth half of his salary — or $71,229 a year for the rest of his life.
The chief’s spouses is also entitled to a lifelong pension if the chief dies, equal to a quarter of the chief’s last salary for two-term chiefs and an eighth for one-term chiefs.
The vice chief’s retirement plan follows the same rules as principal chief.
Tribal council members don’t get quite as much. When they hit 50, they’ll get between 12 and 75 percent of their salary depending on how many years they served.
Winners of principal and vice chief, the 12 tribal council seats and some school board positions will be decided during the Sept. 1 election.
Principal chief candidate Patrick Lambert is calling foul after refusing to divulge his pay information to the tribe’s internal auditors. Lambert said they were trying to expose his personal information as a political smear.
The tribe’s internal audit office told Lambert it needed to know his salary at the Tribal Gaming Commission to prepare taxes for the Cherokee Youth Center/Boys & Girls Club. Lambert is a board member. The IRS, it claimed, needed the income paid to any board member of the Boys & Girls club by a related entity.
Both the Boys & Girls Club and gaming commission are tribal operations, so that means related, said the auditor.
Lambert, however, said “no.” Of all the people who sit on that board, why, he asked, was he being singled out?
“Nobody else was contacted to my knowledge,” said Lambert. “I refused to give my W2s. There’s often times people on these volunteer charity boards refuse to give these things, and the IRS accepts that fact if the organization has used reasonable effort.”
Auditor Sharon Blankenship, however, wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. She came to the office of the Tribal Gaming Commission, looking for the documents herself.
She was rebuffed there, as well, and asked to leave after Lambert’s staff put in a call to the Cherokee Police Department. Cherokee Code says that no one but a gaming commissioner can access gaming commission files.
Lambert charges that the effort to uncover his salary is politically motivated, an attempt by the current administration to use it as a smear campaign against him. Blankenship contends that she’s just trying to follow the rules set by the IRS.
The issue came up in a special session of tribal council last Wednesday, where Council Member Teresa McCoy asked why the audit office was going after the papers now.
“I was on that board in 2010 and nobody came to my house and said, ‘I want to look at your tax papers,’” said McCoy.
Blankenship, however, defended her actions. They did, she said, get in touch with everyone and the gaming commission is the only one that didn’t provide salary information.
In the end, Lambert’s attorney turned in an IRS form, but maintained that Lambert is in no way obligated to give out his W2s.
The race for the title of principal chief has tightened in Cherokee, where Chief Michell Hicks found himself in second place in last week’s primary election.
Challenger Patrick Lambert, who fought Hicks for the seat four years ago, won the primary with just over 46 percent of the vote. Hicks trailed with just over 40 percent of ballots on his side.
The incumbent vice chief, Larry Blythe, also lost to his challenger, reflecting possible dissatisfaction with the current administration.
The results were a coup for Lambert. Though he lost the general election by only 13 votes in 2007, he had not fared particularly well in the primary leading up to the final election that year. He garnered only 24 percent of the vote in the 2007 primary compared to 42 percent for Hicks.
“The large vote count was surprising,” said Lambert. “If you look back at where we’ve come from, I’ve increased my overall vote count from the first primary by almost 250 percent.”
Lambert emerged the victor in four of the six voting precincts, trailing Hicks in Yellowhill and Painttown.
For his part, Hicks said the second-place finish isn’t too distressing, especially given the voter turnout of just more than 50 percent.
“It’s a primary, a lot of people don’t concern themselves with the primary,” said Hicks. “I knew it was going to be close coming in. He’s got his base, and I’ve got mine. Now it’s just going to be a matter of who runs the fastest.”
Though turnout was high for a primary — slightly more than half of the tribe’s 6,704 registered voters — it still leaves more than 3,000 voters who could weigh in on either side.
Hicks, who is going for a third run as chief, doesn’t have the statistics of history on his side, however. If he wins in September, he would be only the second third-term chief.
Then there’s the 446 votes that were split among the three other chief candidates, who are now out of the race.
Which candidate will claim those votes come the general election could be anyone’s guess.
“The thing is with Cherokee elections and Cherokee politics, it’s a very personal campaign style that we have here,” said Lambert, pointing out that many vote because of a personal trust in the candidate, not a distrust of the incumbent.
While both candidates are staying tight-lipped about their courtship of the three former challengers, and their voters, it’s clear that they’re seeking to pull in the support.
Juanita Wilson, the next highest vote-getter, in the days after the primary said that she’d been contacted by both camps, but hadn’t yet decided which side to endorse.
“I have a lot of reflection [to do], because if I could’ve supported either, I wouldn’t have gone through the expense and trouble of putting a campaign together,” said Wilson. She said that, although nothing is final, she may choose to avoid endorsements altogether.
Meanwhile, both remaining contenders said their biggest challenge in the general election would be getting voters to hit the polls. Both are confident in their ability to pull off a win, if members will take the time to cast a ballot on Sept. 1.
Jumping down a rung to the race for vice chief, the general election is going to be yet another repeat matchup between sitting vice chief Larry Blythe and challenger Teresa McCoy, currently a tribal council member.
McCoy has made it clear from the outset that she was in it to win against Blythe, and she got her chance, taking first place with about 39 percent of the vote. Incumbent Blythe pulled a close second with just under 36 percent.
McCoy won in four out of six communities, tying Blythe in Painttown and trailing in Snowbird.
But her margins weren’t large enough to call it a runaway — McCoy won by a single vote in one district — and the two vice chief challengers now out of the race showed more sizeable totals than those at the bottom of the ballot in the principal chief race. Blythe and McCoy have more at stake in courting those votes.
Looking toward the next two months of heavy campaigning, both remaining candidates for principal chief listed the tribe’s debt as the major issue that will define the general election.
With a new school complex and $683 million expansion at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the tribe’s central revenue source, they were, at one point, on the hook for close to one billion dollars in debt.
While tribal finance officials say they’ve paid down a significant chunk of those notes, they’re still likely paying on tens of millions, if not more.
In the run-up to the primary, eradicating the debt entirely and diversifying the tribe’s income streams were both hot topics. Each candidate proposed a different strategy for a more varied financial model, but all played to the public sentiment of moving away from a casino-centric mentality.
Throughout the pre-primary season, Hicks said he had a plan to eradicate the debt in the next four years. As a certified public accountant and the man at the helm for nearly a decade, Hicks said he’s the only man who can make that happen.
Lambert, though, now says that he’s got a plan for debt reduction, too. And what people want, he maintains, is a departure from the last eight years.
“I think everyone here is hungry for change,” said Lambert. “As I went out and visited homes and Cherokee families, that’s one of the primary messages I kept hearing.”
Hicks, though, is confident in his fiscal strategies and believes he can move past the change mentality his challenger described.
“I feel good and I’m confident,” said Hicks. “I think it’s more of an education of the people. We’ve definitely done our homework as it relates to the debt and how were managing it. We’re going to work hard and we’re going to be determined.”
The general election will be held on Sept. 1. Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will vote in a new principal chief and vice chief, as well as a new 12-member tribal council and school board.
The July 7 primary is drawing closer in Cherokee, when the field for principal chief will narrow from five to two.
Current Principal Chief Michell Hicks is making a play for his third four-year term. He’ll again be facing his 2007 rival, Patrick Lambert, whom he defeated by a mere 13 votes to reclaim the seat.
Lambert is an attorney and head of the Tribal Gaming Commission Enterprise, and brought a lawsuit protesting the 2007 election results that was rejected by the tribal Supreme Court.
Also in the race are some newcomers, but they are in no sense novices to the hurly burly politics of the tribe.
Longtime political activist Mary ‘Missy’ Crowe has stepped back into the fray, after protesting the results of the 2003 election, when she failed to win a seat on tribal council.
Juanita Wilson, a former assistant to Chief Hicks, is also coming back to have another try at the top spot. She ran in the last primary, but threw her name in at the last minute and campaigned little in the primary run-up.
Gary Ledford, public safety director for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is the only candidate who hasn’t run for office before. That’s because his 20-year military career, which ended in 2006, precluded him from taking office. He’s been in public safety with the tribe since 2007, and he believes his two decades of public service have prepared him for taking the post.
The candidate list isn’t yet official — that won’t come out until absentee ballots are printed in mid-May — but registration for new candidates has already closed.
One of the issues likely to dominate the debate this year is, of course, the economy. Most of the five candidates listed it as one of the major issues facing the tribe in the upcoming four years, and Chief Hicks, the tribe’s former finance officer, is focusing his campaign on the basis of his fiscal leadership.
The Eastern Band, unlike many other local governments, isn’t hemorrhaging funds and doesn’t appear to be facing cuts thanks to its glittering cash cow, Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino. Half of what the casino pulls in is distributed evenly among members, while the other half goes to tribal operations. But not everyone is pleased with how that’s handled.
“There seems to be very little planning in how we’re spending money, even to develop, even to expand the casino,” said Wilson, who also mentioned the Sequoyah National Golf Club (a tribally owned operation in Whittier) as a concerning drain on tribal finances, and she characterized it as an unwise decision by tribal leaders.
Crowe echoed those sentiments of fiscal caution.
“We have seen a lot of things happen because of the economy, and they do have a direct effect to our economy here on the boundary. I feel that we need to start working towards other funding. There’s a lot at stake, so we have to be diligent in protecting our sovereignty and our assets,” said Crowe, suggesting that maybe relying solely on Harrah’s to continue buoying the tribe through tough economic times might not be the best idea.
Ledford’s also pitching diminished dependency on the casino.
“At very great financial risk, we’ve put all of our eggs into one flimsy non-double-weave basket. We have effectively turned our back on the small businessman by focusing all efforts on the casino, in a declining casino market,” said Ledford. “You have to — not should, have to — drive down your debt, build your cash reserves and eliminate or postpone unnecessary expansion projects that increase that debt.”
Meanwhile, incumbent Hicks is seeking to protect his perch by pointing to his accomplishments at the helm as the economic downturn has deepened.
“The biggest concern for this tribe right now is paying the debt off,” said Hicks. And, he said, as a CPA with 23 years of tribal service under his belt, he’s just the guy to keep working on it.
“I’ve helped bring us through the worst economy we’ve ever seen, and the tribe is doing great,” said Hicks.
Money’s not the only issue on the table in this race, though. Transparency is a buzzword that keeps surfacing when candidates discuss what led them into the fray.
Lambert said the desire for transparency is part of what pulled him back into the political arena.
“One of the things that we’re going to do is make sure that there’s audits and assurance of fairness and that all the tribal audits are made public,” said Lambert. “People are just looking for a change and that’s primarily the reason I got back into it.”
Crowe said that she, too, is lobbying for a more informative government than what she sees now.
“I’ve been the first one to be screaming transparency, all the way back to 1986,” said Crowe. “We have to be vigilant in knowing exactly what the government is doing with our land and our money. Would you not want the CEO of a business to allow the shareholders to know exactly what’s going on with that business?”
Wilson, who has seen the cogs of the tribe’s executive branch turning from the inside, said increased government transparency is one of her top campaign priorities and what pushed her to run in 2007 and now.
“Our government isn’t transparent. We don’t have our own constitution, despite the fact that we are a sovereign nation,” said Wilson. “It amazes me that we’re making the kind of money we are from the casino and we’re cutting programs. I want to get in and figure out exactly where things are going, how things are being spent, because it just doesn’t add up for me.
“I’m not on a witch hunt, I simply want to do this for the people.”
Hicks himself called for openness in campaign-finance disclosure during a debate with Lambert in the last election.
But as the two-term sitting leader, Hicks will be on the defense when it comes to touting the merits of open government. It’s an issue that’s popped up for the chief before, when Joe Martin, former editor of tribal newspaper The One Feather, brought a wrongful termination lawsuit against the tribe, saying Hicks tried to quash unflattering coverage of the tribe in the paper, then pushed Martin out when he didn’t acquiesce. The suit settled out of court late last year.
Though the primary is still two months out, Hicks is already mounting a concentrated offensive to win the affections and ear of the voting public.
Though it’s hardly a gauge of public opinion or popularity, if judging by publicity alone, Hicks takes the race by a landslide.
It is difficult to drive a few hundred yards on any major thoroughfare in Cherokee without encountering at least one sign seeking a vote for his re-election. And then there are the two massive tractor-trailers in downtown Cherokee, parked less than a mile from one another, draped with gargantuan banners that bear his stoic image and the phrase ‘Re-Elect Hicks’ in 10-foot-high letters.
At a re-elect-Chief-Hicks cookout this week, he told gathered supporters that he was going back for a third helping because he felt that there was more left to do.
“My work isn’t finished yet, at this point. We’ve accomplished a lot over the last eight years, but I’ve got a lot more that I want to do on behalf of this tribe,” said Hicks.
And he’s got the weight of two campaigns behind him, which offers a high level of brand recognition among voters; a few at the rally were sporting T-shirts emblazoned with ‘Chicks for Hicks,’ and though they planned for 400, stores of burgers and hot dogs were running low only an hour in.
But other candidates think that their freshness is what offers them an advantage. Wilson said she doesn’t see the benefits of keeping a many-term chief in office.
“I’m going in with a mindset of being one term,” said Wilson. “I supported [Hicks] in his first term. I went to work for him. And after the first three-and-a-half years, the policy shifted,” which she said she feels is due in part to the pressure for re-election.
Hicks himself, though, didn’t point to his eight-year incumbency as a challenge in this year’s campaign, but seemed to see it as an asset.
His greatest challenge, he said, will be getting voters out to the polls.
“This can’t be a lazy election,” said Hicks.
Challenger Lambert, though, believes this election will be about changing, not staying, the course.
“This election’s going to be about the tribe and trying to change the direction of the tribe,” said Lambert.
Elsewhere in primary battles, the field is broad, but not quite as crowded as it has been in previous elections. Vying for vice chief, the only other position elected by the tribe at-large, are former opponents Teresa McCoy, currently a tribal council member for Big Cove, and Larry Blythe, the incumbent. Also running for that seat are Carroll ‘Peanut’ Crowe and Joey Owle.
The six tribal council districts, which operate on two-year terms, have anywhere between four and eight hopefuls, and each group will be whittled to four in the primary, with two winners chosen. All sitting tribal council members are running for re-election.
The general election will be held September 1, but the last chance for voter registration is June 8.