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Certified Election Results Show Clear Majority For Incumbent Cherokee Chief

"I voted" in the Cherokee language.
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Cherokee Nation

The Cherokee Nation Election Commission certified results Monday showing Principal Chief Bill John Baker won a second term.

Baker earned roughly 53 percent of the vote. He needed 50 percent to avoid a runoff with any of the other four candidates, including his predecessor, former Principal Chief Chad Smith, state Rep. Will Fourkiller, and Charlie Soap, the widow of former Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller.

Baker told KWGS Public Radio Tulsa the results avoid a possible repeat of the bitterly contested 2011 election between him and Smith.

“We’ve got term limits, so maybe we won’t have folks working the next for years to see that we don’t make progress just for political reasons,” Baker said.

Deputy Principal Chief Joe Crittenden won also won re-election with more than 62 percent of votes cast. Voter Dustin Pumphrey told National Native News he hopes the tribe’s leadership will help make the Cherokee Nation known for something more than gambling.

“I don’t like the fact that when you say Cherokee, that people immediately think about casinos,” Pumphrey said. “I don’t think it does good things for our youths’ self esteem and identity to be immediately grouped in with just a casino.” There were also eight Tribal Council seats on the ballot. At least two council seats will be decided in a runoff set for July 25. Election commission officials reported 18,600 Cherokee citizens voted in the election either by absentee, early voting or at the polls on election day. The tribe’s jurisdiction stretches across 14 eastern Oklahoma counties.

Baker oversees a 317,000-member tribe, which the Cherokee Nation says is the largest in the state. It also has 9,000 employees and a nearly $1  billion budget.

Baker plans to use his final term to focus on jobs and healthcare.

“I’d like to see every clinic that we’ve built fully staffed, taking better care of our people,” Baker said. “I’d like to see us having even more kids convinced that they can get a college education through our scholarships.”

Baker will be inaugurated in August in the tribal capital of Tahlequah.

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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