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Race is on for tribal elections: Hicks not seeking re-election

Cherokee will have a new chief when Election Day concludes this September.

Principal Chief Michell Hicks, who is serving his third four-year term, will not seek re-election, but five candidates have filed in hopes of taking his place.

The field for the tribe’s top executive office includes two Tribal Council members, a former executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission and two tribal employees. Likely campaign issues include curbing unnecessary spending, access to public documents, combating drug issues, defining and sticking up for tribal sovereignty and freedom of the press. 

The chief’s office won’t be the only one on the ballot. The vice chief is also up for re-election, as are all 12 Tribal Council seats and three of six school board seats. 

Chiefs and school board members serve four-year terms and Tribal Council members two from each community serve two-year terms. A primary election on June 4 will narrow the field down to two candidates for each seat, with the top two vote-getters moving on to the General Election. 

Incumbent Vice Chief Larry Blythe will face three challengers, and a total of 41 candidates will contend for 12 Tribal Council seats. All the incumbents for those seats are running for re-election, save Birdtown Councilmember Gene “Tunney” Crowe Jr. and Yellowhill Councilmember David Wolfe, who are leaving their seats in hopes of a successful bid for principal chief. 

Related Items

The incumbent Wolftown school board member, John “Dick” Crowe, will run uncontested, but Yellowhill board member T.W. “Price” Saunooke will face one challenger and Painttown incumbent Charlotte Ann Saunooke will face two. 


Who’s running for tribal office? 

Principal Chief

• Gene “Tunney” Crowe, Jr. Crowe represents Birdtown on Tribal Council. He holds a business degree from Montreat College and, in addition to eight years in the U.S. Navy, has served as chief of the Cherokee Indian Police Department and director of security and surveillance for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort. 

• Patrick Lambert. Lambert, a licensed attorney and U.S. Army veteran, graduated from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Law. In January, he retired from 22 years as executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission. He owns the Cherokee Grand Hotel and Car Wash Express in Cherokee. 

• Sam Frell Reed. Reed is a magistrate judge in Cherokee Tribal Court. In the past, he’s worked as a deputy sheriff in Buncombe County and sergeant in the Cherokee Indian Police Department. Reed attended magistrate school at UNC Chapel Hill and completed trainings at N.C. Justice Academy and Southwestern Community College. 

• Timmy Ray Smith. Smith is the tribe’s youth sports coordinator. His work history includes a few years teaching at Cherokee Middle School and a few more as an elementary school security guard. Smith studied sports management at SCC and Western Carolina University but did not earn a degree. 

• David Wolfe. Wolfe is a veteran member of Tribal Council representing the Yellowhill community. He holds a business degree from WCU and 14 years of work experience with UPS. 


Vice Chief

Larry Blythe, incumbent

Dan McCoy

James “Bud” Smith

Richard “Richie” Sneed


Tribal Council


Polly Jo Castorena

Bo Crowe, incumbent 

James David Jumper

Albert Martin, Jr.

Trina Sneed Owle

Quedi “Quet” Sampson

Dennis Edward “Bill” Taylor, incumbent

Marty Taylor

Francine Parker Watty


Gilbert Crowe

Ray Long

Jeffery Dwayne McCoy

Greg Owle

Albert Rose, incumbent 

Solomon “Slick” Saunooke

Travis K. Smith

M. “Dwayne” Stamper

Mernie Taylor

Terri Lee Taylor

Curtis Wildcatt


Arizona Jane Blankenship

Alan “B” Ensley, incumbent

Anita Welch Lossiah

Virginia Johnson

Tom Wahnetah

Richard “Twidge” Welch

Cherokee County/Snowbird

Bucky Brown

Brandon Jones, incumbent 

Janell Rattler

Adam Wachacha, incumbent 


Terri Henry, incumbent chair 

Marie Junaluska

Tommye Saunooke, incumbent

Big Cove 

Richard French

Consuela “Consie” Girty

Joseph “Buddy” Johnson

Teresa McCoy, incumbent 

Perry Shell, incumbent 

Otis D. Swayney 

Lori Taylor

Mary Welch Thompson


School Board

John “Dick” Crowe, Big Y, incumbent chair

Charlotte Ann Saunooke, Painttown, incumbent 

T.W. “Price” Saunooke, Yellowhill, incumbent 

Ned Stamper, Sr., Painttown

Jennifer Thompson, Yellowhill

Trista Welch, Painttown

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