A rapid fire debate hosted by Rogers State U in Claremore crammed 8 questions, answers, rebuttal and closing statements into roughly 30 minutes. A lot of information and relatively few fireworks compared to the Tahlequah debate. In this case, we’re just reporting what the candidates said. We’ll try to come back with the TRUTH on anything that’s iffy here, so keep that in mind. We haven’t had time since the debate to fact check all these claims, though some of them have already been dealt with.
After a brief intro of each candidate they started in on questions. The first one was about protecting Cherokee interests in compacts with the state. Smith went first and said he would ‘jealously protect our sovereignty’ and ‘we will not yield.’ Very patriotic sounding stuff. Baker didn’t disagree, and said that he was part of a team that negotiated a successful motor vehicle compact between the Cherokee Nation and the state back in the mid 90s.
More agreement on the second question, which was about the citizenship status of the Freedmen. Baker went first and said it’s in the courts now and ‘when the courts decide I’ll follow’ what they say. Smith agreed, and pointed out that as Chief his duty is to defend the Constitution, and since the Cherokee people decided in the Constitution what the citizenship qualifications are, it’s his duty to defend that. He also brought up a point about the opportunity for reconciliation with Freedmen after the court decision, however it turns out.
The candidates disagreed on term limits. Smith again said he was against them and saying that we fought for the rights to elect our Chief since 1907 and questioned why would we want to give it back. Baker disagreed, and says that since Smith has been Chief for so long, he’s appointed every judge on the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General, and others, and that ‘when you get in that position, you think you are above the law.’ Smith countered by saying that the council, which includes Baker, has to approve all his appointments and that when the Cherokees had a Chief who fired the court judges and the newspaper editor, the Cherokee people put a 1-term limit on that guy by voting him out.
The next question had to do with improving health care. Baker said “we’re doing pretty good,” but that we could do better by spending money on paying off our clinics instead of building more casinos and hotels, and that way more money would go for health care. Smith listed off numerous clinics constructed or expanded since he took office…we lost track but we think he mentioned Vinita, Salina, Sallisaw, Muskogee, Nowata and maybe Jay. He also talked about improving services at Hastings and how the health budget has increased from $18 million to more than $300 million since he’s been in office.
Another question was on making education more accessible. Smith talked about how 23,000 students have received scholarships since he’s been in office, and that education has to build leaders for the future. Baker said that the Cherokee Nation education department just cut scholarships ‘to the poorest of the poor kids’ who get Pell scholarships. He reminded us of the Cherokee Nation’s great history in education, dating back to our missionary schools and seminaries.
Things got slightly more heated on the question of involving Cherokees who live outside the Cherokee Nation boundaries. Baker answered first and said that he feels they’ve been ‘left out on the car tag compact,’ especially the people who live across the border in Tulsa or Muskogee who can’t get tags even though the tag money goes to their public school system. Smith countered by saying the Nation has established at-large communities to provide a connection with heritage and the Nation, and offered the history class to more than 10,000 people. On the car tag issue, he said a candidate who will say anything to get elected will do anything once he is elected, but he ‘can’t change the boundaries of the Nation and to suggest otherwise is unlawful.’ Baker disagreed, saying ‘Osages, Creeks and Keetoowahs’ all have car tags in Tahlequah, so Cherokees in other parts of the state should be able to have tags as well.
They asked a question about jobs, and Smith talked about creating 5,000 jobs by planning for the future. He said “the greatest service we can provide our people is a job,’ and pointed to jobs in aerospace, environmental, and IT companies that give people a chance to support their own families. Baker said he disagrees with Smith about the number of jobs created, but the real issue is that ‘the Chief will not demand we hire Cherokees.’ Smith replied that Indian preference is the policy in place and that more than 70% of the workforce is Native.
The last question was about top priorities in office. Baker led off by saying that he wants to ‘take away the fear and intimidation from employees’ and make them feel like ‘it’s their Cherokee Nation.’ He would start construction for houses and start hiring Cherokees. Smith took exception to Baker’s comments about fear and intimidation, pointing out the pre-Smith era, when Baker was on the council and supportive of the previous Chief, where hundreds of Cherokees were laid off and furloughed, and the budgets couldn’t be audited, as a time for embarrassment for all Cherokees. Baker responded by giving a shout out to the folks at the Cherokee Phoenix and their truth report, saying that wasn’t true, and that he was going to work for better health care, not jobs in Colorado.
The candidates each got a closing statement, with Smith going first. He said the voters had an opportunity to look at the 12 years each have spent in office. Smith pointed out his accomplishments again, including kids ‘texting in Cherokee’ and said Baker won’t tell you what he has done since he’s been in office, instead, ‘ using negative, deceptive mail’ and ‘slurs and attacks.’
Baker closed with a prepared, written statement saying ‘good isn’t good enough’ and that he wants to ‘build 100s of homes with money we already have,’ and that he’ll sell the CN/CNB plane.
That’s our blow by blow but you should take half an hour and watch it for yourself.