Baker certified as winner in chief's race
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON World Correspondent
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
10/12/11 at 5:29 PM
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TAHLEQUAH — Bill John Baker is now officially principal chief-elect of the Cherokee Nation.
At about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday, The Cherokee Nation Election Commission certified the results from the tribe’s special election. The certified results show Baker defeating former chief Chad Smith, 10,703 votes to 9,128.
“I’d just like to thank every person involved in this election,” said commission chairwoman Susan Plumb. “First and foremost, a big thank you to the voters, who came out in record numbers. We received ballots from all 50 states and four foreign countries.”
Almost 20,000 Cherokee citizens voted in the special election, an increase of 5,000 people from the June 25 general election.
Recount requests must be filed by Wednesday and appeals requests must be submitted by Oct. 24.
Smith’s campaign has not responded to inquires on whether he plans to ask for a recount or appeal the election.
A timeline for inauguration has not been announced. Baker cannot be sworn in until after the appeals deadline has passed.
After watching commissioners sign the certification statement, Baker and his wife, Sherry Robertson-Baker, stepped outside to a cheering throng of supporters, distributing copies of the certification.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” Baker said. “Not just for me, but for my wife and for all of the people who have stuck by us through all of this.”
The certification came just 14 hours after the ballot count was complete. After spending almost all day Tuesday verifying and counting about 9,000 absentee ballots, the commission spent Tuesday night individually reviewing 150 challenge ballots, of which 99 were included in the final count.
An impromptu watch party sprang up in the election commission parking lot Tuesday night, as Baker, his family, campaign staff and more than 30 supporters waited for the final figures to come out.
Among the Baker supporters were several freedmen who came in part because of a tribal Supreme Court order issued Tuesday afternoon.
The order, filed at noon, declined to recognize an agreement brokered in federal district court that reinstated the tribal citizenship of 2,800 freedmen descendants.
“This is a time-out for all the racism that’s going on in all the tribes,” said Yvette Hill. “The large amount he (Baker) won by shows that the Cherokee Nation is not for that.
The people have spoken and the tribe needs to be an example.”
About 1,200 freedmen were registered to vote. It is unknown how many cast ballots in the special election.
The tribe’s attorney general, Diane Hammons, issued a statement Tuesday that the tribe does not have the option of ignoring a federal order. As of Wednesday, it is still unclear, what if any, impact the justices’ order will have on the election.
On Aug. 22, the tribe’s Supreme Court had upheld a 2007 tribal referendum that disenrolled the freedmen descendants and required at least one Cherokee ancestor on the final Dawes Rolls in order to apply for citizenship.
The court ruled Tuesday that Acting Principal Chief Joe Crittenden did not have the authority to make an agreement on the tribe’s behalf that would violate its constitution without bringing it before the rest of the tribe.
The court order came after the agreement reached in federal court was filed as a foreign judgment with the tribal Supreme Court Clerk’s Office on Sept. 22.
Because the Cherokee Nation is a sovereign entity, any rulings or orders involving the tribe that are issued by a judiciary other than its own must be filed with the tribe’s Supreme Court.
In the ruling, the court said it was acting of its own accord — meaning without a request for a ruling by any other party.
The Supreme Court justices could not be reached for comment.
Despite the court order, Baker and his supporters relished their victory Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon in the election commission parking lot.
“This is finally behind our nation,” Baker said. “It’s time to come together to work for one goal and that’s to improve our nation.”
Newly elected Cherokee Principal Chief Bill John Baker walks out of the election commission office with his wife, Sherry Robertson- Baker, waving the official certified results of the special election in Tahlequah, Wednesday. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World
Patsy Morton, Susan Plumb and Brenda Walker, members of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission, certify results of the special election, naming Bill John Baker the new principal chief of the Cherokee Nation Wednesday in Tahlequah. JEFF LAUTENBERGER/Tulsa World