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Incumbents ousted in Tribal Council elections

Incumbents ousted in Tribal Council elections

Cherokee voters delivered a clear message to the sitting Tribal Council when they cast their votes in the General Election Thursday, Sept. 7 — they want change.

Of the nine incumbents who ran for re-election this year, only five won their races, with one of the four who lost — Painttown Councilmember Marie Junaluska — not even making it past June’s Primary Election. The impeachment of former Principal Chief Patrick Lambert, which many voters contend was unwarranted, was one of the central issues of the past two-year term, creating a clear divide between the nine councilmembers who supported impeachment and the three who opposed it.

While pro-impeachment incumbents struggled to retain their seats this time around, the two anti-impeachment incumbents who ran for re-election won their races by margins setting them head-and-shoulders above their closest competitors. Councilmember Richard French, of Big Cove, came in 8.8 percent ahead of second-place Perry Shell, and Councilmember Tommye Saunooke, of Painttown, pulled in 7 percent more than second-place Lisa Taylor.

“We are very happy with the results, and I personally look forward to the opportunity to work with each of you on ways to move our tribe forward to help put us back on the right track. And also I want to congratulate the new candidates who were not successful this time and encourage each of you to stay fully engaged with our Tribe,” Lambert wrote in a Facebook post. Since his impeachment, he has been actively involved with the campaign season and vocal in his view that the current leadership has failed to perform with integrity.

Meanwhile, Principal Chief Richard Sneed delivered a statement congratulating all candidates — successful and unsuccessful, incumbent and newcomer.

“I would like to congratulate all the candidates who ran for Tribal Council in their respective communities. Congratulations to those successful candidates,” he said. “I look forward to working with you in the coming term for the betterment of our tribe and all tribal members. To those who were unsuccessful I commend you on your commitment to serve our community. Our tribe is made better by those who work to improve their lives and the lives of tribal members. I wish you success in your next endeavor.”

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After the elections, the Sept. 14 Tribal Council meeting will be the last one for Chairman Bill Taylor, of Wolfetown; Councilmember Travis Smith, of Birdtown; Councilmember Anita Lossiah, of Yellowhill; and Councilmember Marie Junaluska, of Painttown. Junaluska was defeated in the primary election, and the other three came in dead last in their respective communities in the General Election.

“I knew when I started this journey almost two years ago it wasn’t a permanent position. I have always tried to stand strong, speak up for what’s right, follow the law and be the best representative I could be for our Tribe,” Smith wrote on his Facebook page. “I worked 21 years for our Tribe before being elected and I will seek employment again.”

After deciding not to run again, September will also be the last council meeting for Vice Chairman Brandon Jones, of Snowbird, and Councilmembers Teresa McCoy, of Big Cove, and Alan “B” Ensley, of Yellowhill.

If results don’t change following a recount, the new 12-member Tribal Council to be seated in October will likely consist of five incumbents, five political newcomers and two new members who have previously served terms on Tribal Council. Former councilmembers Perry Shell, of Big Cove, and David Wolfe, of Yellowhill, both won election in their communities after Shell lost re-election in 2015 and Wolfe opted not to run for re-election in 2015 to launch a bid for principal chief, which he lost in the primaries.

First-time councilmembers this term will likely be Boyd Owle, of Birdtown; Lisa Taylor, of Painttown; Bucky Brown, of Snowbird; Jeremy Wilson, of Wolfetown, and Tom Wahnetah, of Yellowhill.

However, close races in Birdtown and Painttown will result in recounts — to be conducted Wednesday, Sept. 13, after The Smoky Mountain News prints — that could change the outcome of second-place finishes for those communities. Unofficial results for Painttown show second, third and fourth places separated by only three votes, with just one vote’s difference between second-place Lisa Taylor and third-place Terri Henry. In Birdtown, second place Albert Rose and third place Ashley Sessions are only 12 votes — or 0.7 percent — apart.

Rose’s narrow second-place finish is a marked departure from his 2015 results, when he won a decisive first place with 37.3 percent of the vote to the 25.7 percent he earned in 2017.

The other two pro-impeachment incumbents who won re-election finished in roughly comparable positions to 2015, though both did lose a few percentage points from the previous election. Like in 2015, Councilmember Bo Crowe, of Wolfetown, came in first by a wide margin — this time with 34.7 percent of the vote compared to the 39.7 percent he won in 2015. Councilmember Adam Wachacha, of Snowbird, maintained his second-place finish of 2015 with 26.8 percent of the vote, slightly below the 28.8 percent he held in 2015. However, in 2015 Wachacha had finished behind an incumbent; with Jones opting not to run for re-election, Wachacha finished behind a challenger in this race.

New councilmembers will be sworn in in early October.


The results

Tribal Council

The 12-member Tribal Council consists of two members from each of the six communities. The top two vote-getters in each community will hold office for a two-year term.

Big Cove

• Richard French*, 236 (33.5%)

• Perry Shell**, 174 (24.7%)

• Fred Penick, 162 (23%)

• Lori Taylor, 133 (18.9%)

Total: 705


• Boyd Owle, 506 (30.1%)

• Albert Rose*, 431 (25.7%)

• Ashley Sessions, 419 (25%)

• Travis Smith*, 323 (19.2%)

Total: 1679


• Tommye Saunooke, 208 (30.4%)

• Lisa Taylor, 160 (23.4%)

• Terri Henry, 159 (23.2%)

• Yona Wade, 157 (23%)

Total: 684

Snowbird/Cherokee County

• Bucky Brown, 237 (27.1%)

• Adam Wachacha*, 234 (26.8%)

• Larry Blythe**, 210 (24%)

• Janell Rattler, 193 (22.1%)

Total: 874

Wolfetown/Big Y

• Bo Crowe*, 513 (34.7%)

• Jeremy Wilson, 385 (26%)

• Sam “Frell” Reed, 344 (23.3%)

• Dennis Edward (Bill) Taylor*, 238 (16.1%)

Total: 1,480


• David Wolfe**, 254 (35.5%)

• Tom Wahnetah, 212 (29.6%)

• Charles Penick, 148 (20.7%)

• Anita Welch Lossiah*, 102 (14.2%)

Total: 716

* denotes incumbent

** denotes former Tribal Council member

School board

The school board for Cherokee Central Schools consists of one representative from each of the six communities, with three seats up for election in election year. The top vote-getter from each community will hold office.

Big Cove School Board

• Karen “French” Browning, 206 (55.2%)

• Tammy Bradley, 167 (44.8%)

Total: 373

Birdtown School Board

• Gloria “Punkin” Griffen, 505 (56%)

• Sasha McCoy Watty, 397 (44%)

Total: 902

Wolfetown School Board

• Isaac (Ike) Long, 290 (51.2%)

• Chelsea Taylor Saunooke, 276 (48.8%)

Total: 566

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