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Chief candidates square off: Debate gets candidates on record about issues

fr chiefdebateWhether from a seat in the auditorium or at home on the couch, more than 1,000 Cherokee people blocked out Thursday night (Aug. 6) to see the people vying for their vote as the tribe’s principal chief talk about everything from alcohol laws to government transparency to free press.

The first-ever open debate between chief candidates, the event drew about 75 people to the Joyce Dugan Cultural Arts Center at Cherokee Central Schools and logged 1,100 online views, with many more people likely watching the television broadcast on Cherokee’s cable channel. A debate between vice chief candidates held Aug. 6 clocked 840 online views.

“It is vitally important for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to make the best choice for our leadership as we move into the future,” said Robert Jumper, editor of The Cherokee One Feather. “Based on the attendance and viewership, these debates have provided a large portion of our people an opportunity to learn more about the next leaders of our tribe.”

The One Feather, together with the Junaluska Leadership Council, compiled the questions and organized the debates, with Jumper acting as moderator. Candidates received the list of questions one week in advance. 


What they said

What do you feel is the most pressing issue facing our tribe? What will be your first official action as chief?

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Patrick Lambert: “We’ve got a major debt problem, we’ve got a major spending problem and we’ve got a major drug problem.”

A three-pronged approach of education, treatment and punishment will be vital to addressing the drug problem, Lambert said. 

Tunney Crowe: “My first action as principal chief would be to make sure that every employee of the tribe signs an ethical pledge.”

In addition to tribal ethics, important issues facing the tribe include competition in the regional gaming scene, drugs and the need to diversify the economy. 

Mary Crowe: “I feel that the most pressing issue facing the tribe today is trusting our government. One of the first things I would do as principal chief would be to call for a referendum vote to the right to recall.”

Currently, elected officials can be impeached only by a two-thirds vote of council, not through referendum.  


Are there issues with ethics among elected officials in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians? If so, what will you do about the problem?

Tunney Crowe: “I’ve always supported the establishment of an ethics committee. The primary goal of my administration will be to deliver the most transparent and ethical administration in history.”

Mary Crowe: “[Ethics] starts at the top. You a have to have a principal chief that has high moral standards.”

Lambert: “I’ve seen a lot of thing that’s not right but there’s not laws against it, so one of the first things I’d do as executive would be to adopt a firm and strong ethics policy.”


What are your thoughts about term limits and/or staggered terms for Tribal Council and term limits for Executive Office?

Mary Crowe: “If someone dedicates their life and they’re elected to provide service and they do it well, I’d like to keep that person around as long as I can … we have those opportunities to not elect someone if you don’t like it.”

Lambert: “I do support term limits.” 

Lambert said he’d propose a two-term limit for executives and four-term limit for councilmembers, though noting councilmembers would need to vote limits on themselves in order to implement such a change. 

Tunney Crowe: “When you’ve got a good councilmember in there it’s hard to remove that person when you know they’re doing the right thing for the people.”

Crowe said he supports staggered terms, meaning Tribal Council would become a four-year job, with half of the seats up for election in a given election year


Should alcoholic beverage sales be allowed at public events or businesses other than the gaming enterprise in Cherokee?

Lambert: “My position is there will be no changes on the alcohol laws until we have another referendum vote.”

Lambert reminded the audience that Cherokee voters have consistently answered “no” to referendum questions about allowing alcohol sales on the reservation and expressed concern about the tribe sending lobbyists to Raleigh to promote legislation that had the effect of creating exemptions to the tribe’s alcohol ban. 

Tunney Crowe: “I support what the people’s decision is. If it comes up to another referendum I’ll definitely support whatever comes forth from the people, but I strongly believe that’s a people’s choice.” 

Mary Crowe: “We voted in 2009 to have it in the casino only. My problem is when we have appointed officials (lobbyists) that go down to Raleigh and negotiate anything on behalf of the tribe.”


What can be done to diversify the revenue streams of the tribe? Is Section 17 the answer?

Tunney Crowe: “The tribe definitely needs to move forward and get some other businesses in here. Not everybody wants to work at the casino.” 

Crowe said that Section 17, a controversial option that allows tribe to incorporate to facilitate business transactions, is simply one option among many.

Mary Crowe: “To diversify our economy I’m looking at proposing a major recycling merch station. There’s money in trash.”

Lambert: “We have to get back to doing what we know best.”

Cherokee should focus on improving itself as a tourism destination, Lambert said, calling Section 17 a “golden parachute for some outgoing politicians.”


What would you do as Chief to facilitate transparency in government income and spending?

Mary Crowe: “We need to get a hold of our wealth. We need to get a hold of our finances.”

Crowe said that she’d give a quarterly financial and state of the tribe report if elected. 

Lambert: “We don’t have a problem with income yet, but we do have a problem with spending.”

Lambert said that his financial strategy would focus on curbing spending and saving more.

Tunney Crowe: “Our information belongs to each and every tribal member. We should have access to that, but I don’t feel that anyone other than an enrolled member should have that access.”

Crowe said that he would require a monthly financial report and work to make that information available online to tribal members only. 


Do you agree with having an elected and separate judicial branch of our tribal government?

Lambert: “We have to assure that our tribal court system does not report to the executive office.”

Lambert pointed to the practice of U.S. presidents appointing federal judges with Senate approval as a possible template for selecting judges. 

Tunney Crowe: “I don’t think those people should report to the executive office. They should be a standalone by themselves.”

Crowe said he could “go either way” on the question of election, as it’s possible throwing an election into the mix could cause politically motivated bench decisions. 

Mary Crowe: “I feel that the Supreme Court judges and our prosecuting judges need to be elected.”


What is your vision of a free press in Cherokee?

Tunney Crowe: “As far as the freedom of press, I believe in that. I would like to see it set up to where enrolled members were the only ones that had access to our Tribal Council meetings.” 

Mary Crowe: “When it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I’m 110 percent.”

Lambert: “I think this is another one of those essential rights that belong to the people and need to be taken out of under reporting to the executive office.” 

Lambert said that, while The Cherokee One Feather is owned by the tribal government, he would like to reorganize it as an independent entity, similar to The Museum of the Cherokee Indian or the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise. 


What is the role and function of the Vice Chief beyond filling in for the Chief when he is not available?

Mary Crowe: “I feel that the vice chief and the principal chief should be working hand-in-hand. What we’ve seen in the past is that the vice chief took care of the community needs — the police, the fire department, whatever, which is good but I feel that both the principal chief and the vice chief should be participating in that manner.”

Lambert: “I think the vice chief has an important role to be a helper and help carry out the missions that are set forth by the principal chief. I think it’s important to have a vice chief here that can be a helper to the chief. 

Tunney Crowe: “The vice chief’s role to me is to take over if something happens to the chief … He’s there to help take care of the people when they come in with issues, the same way the chief is.”


Do you think there are any powers that the Chief should not have?

Lambert: “One of the things I think is important to change up here is the power of hiring/firing/reprimand.” 

Because the chief doesn’t work with most tribal members well enough to know their merits and shortcomings, many of those decisions have been “purely political,” Lambert said. He believes the human resources function should be pulled back from the executive branch. 

Tunney Crowe: “One of the things people bring up is the power the chief has in the hiring and firing process.”

Mary Crowe: “We need those administrative laws and policies and procedures that sets that realm of authority for the executive and legislative branches of government.” 


What are your thoughts on tourism and the marketing of Cherokee as a destination?

Tunney Crowe: You have to spend money to make money.”

Creating a destination like a water park or outlet mall would help capture more of the traffic along U.S. 441, Crowe said. 

Mary Crowe: “We need to start revitalizing our historic Cherokee. We need to strengthen up our historic Cherokee association.”

Lambert: “We don’t have one silver bullet to fix this issue, but we can have some silver buckshot.”

Cleaning up, revitalizing downtown and encouraging sidewalk cafes and boutique shops would all help build something tourists will return to, Lambert said. 


What is your vision for health care of the enrolled members?

Mary Crowe: “I love the Cherokee hospital, but we do have a lot of work to do there.”

A breast cancer survivor, Crowe said she’s well aware of the gaps that exist.

Lambert: “I think establishing a medical park with private doctors is the key toward the improving of health care here.”

Tunney Crowe: “There may not be new services that are coming in there (the hospital) right now, but as we go through I want to bring back babies being born in Cherokee.”


Would you change the way the Minors’ Fund is managed and distributed? How?

Tunney Crowe: “I support staggered distribution in four or five equal installments. This would lessen the tax burden on those young kids.” 

Crowe said that “vultures” await Cherokee youth when they receive their lump sum at 18, and that money disappears quickly. He said education on financial savvy needs to begin early in Cherokee schools. 

Missy Crowe: “We’re a sovereign nation, and sovereignty means that natives don’t get taxed. I don’t see why we can’t pass a resolution that says no one pays taxes on our per capita.”

Lambert: “As leaders of this community, we’re going to have to step up and start protecting our children. At 18 they’re still children. I do support staggered distribution for minors’ payment.”


In your opinion, does vote buying occur in tribal elections?  If so, what would you do to prevent it?

Missy Crowe: “You’ll never be able to prevent that. What my uncle used to say is take their five bucks then go in there and vote for whoever you want to.”

Lambert: “I do think that there is a problem with that and the real problem is because there’s not laws to prevent it. I think we need to ordinances to make that illegal and to follow up on it we need someone to come forward with affidavits stating this person tried to buy my vote.”

Tunney Crowe: “I’ve heard of vote buying existing. Vote buying is not a tactic I utilize in my campaign and I don’t support it.”


What would you do to improve land use on tribal property?

Lambert: “We have a severe housing shortage because basically what we’ve done is we’ve almost created a situation here where we’ve made building a home for an enrolled member illegal.”

The tribe needs to take a serious look at loosening up its land-use regulations, Lambert said, and should also consolidate the various housing services under one roof to make the process easier for tribal members to navigate. 

Tunney Crowe: “The tribe is in need of a comprehensive plan that lays out how we can use our land.”

Such a plan should increase accessibility to housing but should also protect natural resources, Crowe said. 

Mary Crowe: “How much land do we have? We need to determine how much land we have and then I propose a 25-year growth plan.”

The tribe should also work to be a leader in environmental protections for land and water, Crowe said. 


Do you feel that contradictions exist in the tribal code? If so, how would you address this?

Tunney Crowe: “There’s definitely contradictions in a lot of the laws passed by Tribal Council … We need to have somebody in place that’s looking at each and every law to make sure it’s not being put in there double.”

Missy Crowe: “It is kind of confusing. There are several ordinances that are repetitive. I will tell you there are more laws in there for signs than there are for rights of our enrolled members, so that’s a concern of mine.”

Lambert: “There are contradictions in tribal law but there are contradictions in all bodies of law … One of the things that is of vital importance is a constitution for our tribe. We’re talking about contradictions in law here. One of the ways to protect our members is through a strong bill of rights.”



Who they are

Patrick Lambert recently retired from 22 years as executive director of the Tribal Gaming Commission. He is a licensed attorney, U.S. Army veteran and business owner. 

Tunney Crowe has represented Birdtown on Tribal Council for six years. Previously, he served eight years in the U.S. Navy and was chief of the Cherokee Indian Police Department. 

Mary Crowe is a write-in candidate for principal chief who is a voice in Cherokee’s political issues. The mother of three, in the past she’s worked for organizations such as Cherokee Challenge and Cherokee Children’s Home. 

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