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June 18, 2007

Cherokee Nation debate first in modern history

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — In a year riddled with history-making tribal events, the Cherokee Nation added yet another first to its roster: a formal, public debate between candidates for principal and deputy chief.

Candidates included incumbent Principal Chief Chad Smith and Stacy Leeds, and incumbent Deputy Chief Joe Grayson Jr. and Raymond Vann. The event, sponsored by the Cherokee Phoenix, was held at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal Center, with over 300 people in attendance. KTUL News Channel 8’s Charles Ely served as moderator.

The chief candidate segment included discussion of subjects including services for citizens, how best to allocate tribal funds and language preservation.

According to Smith, job creation has grown exponentially during his tenure as chief - from 2,500 to 6,500 today. Leeds agreed but indicated much of the job growth came from tribal gaming operations.

“Our elders and many others who live in rural areas aren’t interested in working at casinos,” said Leeds. “Other tribes are better at diversifying business entities beyond gaming.”

One question dealt with a 30 percent dividend the tribe’s gaming industry returned to the Nation, asking if the candidates believed that amount was satisfactory. Previously, the tribal council had approved legislation raising the dividend to 35 percent, with the additional amount being allocated to contract health care. However, the measure was vetoed.

Smith used the analogy of putting away corn for seed for the future, as opposed to gobbling up any overages.

“We have to make the decision to invest in the future of our people,” said Smith.

Leeds said the seed corn analogy works in theory, but not in practice.

“[The seed corn analogy] just doesn’t work when you invest that money in businesses that fail,” said Leeds. “Businesses like GEG, Cherokee Connex and Cherokee Idling Solutions. Not one has succeeded. Cherokee Nation Businesses has never turned a profit.”

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