Archived News

Visions of leadership: Principal chief candidates debate the issues

Candidates stand with the Right Path Leadership Alumni, who hosted the debate. Candidates stand with the Right Path Leadership Alumni, who hosted the debate. Holly Kays photo

Challengers call for change

Related Items

Sneed defends his record

Other candidates criticized him for approving hundreds of millions of dollars in expenditures for faraway business ventures, but in his opening remarks Sneed said that community projects and services are his first priority, with more than $200 million invested in these efforts during his administration. He couched economic diversification in the face of the gaming monopoly’s end as a priority that fits underneath the focus on community services, securing new revenue streams to support tribal programs should casino receipts falter.

“My commitment from the beginning is to ensure that the best-paying jobs and benefits that we have continue,” Sneed said. “We are a blessed community. My commitment is to ensure the benefits we enjoy now will be here not just for us but for our children, our great-children and seven generations to come.”

Sneed’s challengers agreed that the tribe is not “broke” but said its financial situation is worrisome — and not just because of the larger economic forces affecting the entire country.

Candidates discuss proposed constitution 

On the ballot

Six candidates are running to hold the office of principal chief for the 2023-2027 term.

• Michell Hicks

• Gene “Tunney” Crowe Jr.

• Robert Saunooke

• Richard Sneed

• Lori Taylor

• Gary Ledford

Early voting has now concluded. Polls will be open on Election Day 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 1. Registered voters can cast a ballot at the polling place in their township. These are Big Cove Community Center, Birdtown Community Building, Big Y Recreation Center, Cherokee County Health Clinic, Painttown Community Building, Jacob Cornsilk Complex, Wolftown Recreation Center and Yellowhill Activity Center.

Watch the debate

The full debate is available online at or via the EBCI Communications Facebook page.

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.