Rules Committee passes 15-district map
7/9/2012 8:36:01 AM
 
A 15-district map introduced by Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts includes Cherokee citizens with ‘bad addresses” as directed by the Cherokee Nation District Court. The Rules Committee rejected the map in a 10-7 vote on June 28. COURTESY MAP
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A 15-district map introduced by Tribal Councilor Cara Cowan Watts includes Cherokee citizens with ‘bad addresses” as directed by the Cherokee Nation District Court. The Rules Committee rejected the map in a 10-7 vote on June 28. COURTESY MAP
BY WILL CHAVEZ Senior Reporter TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Racing against an Aug. 1 deadline, the Tribal Council’s Rules Committee on June 28 voted 10-7 to re-apportion the Cherokee Nation’s five representative districts into 15 districts. The legislation, sponsored by Councilor Jodie Fishinghawk, now heads to full council on July 16. It calls for amending Legislative Act 36-10 by increasing districts within the CN jurisdiction from five to 15. Currently, each district has three councilors. If amended, LA 36-10 would create 15 districts with one councilor per district. Councilors first approved the 15-district map during a Rules subcommittee meeting in May using data from CN Geographic Information Systems. GIS Administrator David Justice said 7,115 CN citizens is the optimal number of citizens for each of the 15 districts and that all of the districts are within 10 percent of that optimal number. He also said the map is “representative” of the jurisdiction’s citizenship count. However, Councilor Cara Cowan Watts disagreed, saying the map did not include citizens with bad addresses or who have not provided the Nation with updated or correct addresses. A current GIS report states 12,000 jurisdictional citizens have bad addresses. Fishinghawk said citizens with bad addresses were sent two mailings or visited twice to ask them to update their address with the CN. After two attempts, those addresses were no longer counted, she said. Cowan Watts said Fishinghawk’s map also “gerrymandered” or manipulated the districts’ boundaries to favor a few councilors and prevents Councilor Buel Anglen from running in 2013. Anglen serves Tulsa and Rogers counties, but if the 15-district map is approved on July 16, his home in Sperry would be part of Dist. 12. That district would include parts of Tulsa, Rogers and Nowata counties and all of Washington County and would be represented by Councilor Dick Lay until 2015. “If I’m going to be voted out, I’d like to be voted out by the people,” Anglen said. Councilor David Thornton said when the council changed from nine districts to five districts, Delaware and Adair counties lost seats to other districts. “Mr. (Lee) Keener is sitting in one of those seats right now that went over to that district,” Thornton said. He added that gerrymandering may be a problem, but that it also took place two years ago. “This gerrymandering business can go two different ways,” Thornton said. Cowan Watts introduced an alternative map during the June 28 meeting that she said “gerrymandered for all seated officials so everyone has a seat to run for in 2013” instead of only councilors in the majority. “If we’re going to gerrymander for one, we need to gerrymander for all,” she said. But Councilor Tina Glory Jordan interrupted her, saying there was a motion to approve Fishinghawk’s map and that Cowan Watts’ map was not “germane” to the discussion. Cowan Watts said her map was germane and that her map includes citizens with bad addresses as instructed in 2010 by the tribe’s District Court. She said the court ruled that people with bad addresses could not be “arbitrarily stricken.” Glory Jordan said citizens with bad addresses would be counted as part of the at-large population (citizens living outside the jurisdiction) until they give a new address to the Registration Department. She said she believes the bad address count for Cherokee County is too low at 359 and that it’s not fair for some councilors to want to count bad addresses numbering in the thousands because it gives them an unfair advantage when re-apportioning districts. “She’s (Cowan Watts) trying to substitute a map that’s other than the map in the (committee) book that we have worked months on. I’m just not in favor of that substitution,” Glory Jordan said. “The gerrymandering was done four years ago. It’s not being done now.” Cowan Watts also said her map meets the 10 percent criteria set by the court. She said if bad addresses are added to Fishinghawk’s map as instructed by the court, nearly all of the 15 districts are above 10 percent deviation. “One is even 22 percent greater than it is supposed to be,” she said. Glory Jordan said she the court’s ruling that bad addresses be counted was “faulty” and needed to be corrected, which she said the Rules Committee did on June 28. She added that “more than likely” citizens with bad addresses are now at-large citizens. In October 2006, the council created 15 districts, replacing the nine districts it had been using. However, then-Principal Chief Chad Smith vetoed the act. The council attempted twice more to create 15 districts, but again Smith vetoed the acts. After two years of working on redistricting and taking part in lawsuits over whether districts were properly apportioned, the council approved a five-district map on Dec. 24, 2010, six months before the 2011 general election, which caused confusion among candidates and voters. Keener said there’s potential for voter confusion with Fishinghawk’s map because voters at some precincts may find themselves voting for candidates from three districts. “We want to do the will of the people, not the will of the few,” he said. “I don’t see any benefit from this map except for the dictionary. When you look up gerrymandering there will be a picture of that map.” The committee rejected Cowan Watts’ map by a 10-7 vote and approved Fishinghawk’s map. Those councilors voting for against Cowan Watts’ map and for Fishinghawk’s map were Joe Byrd, Fishinghawk, Janelle Fullbright, Frankie Hargis, Chuck Hoskin Jr., Glory Jordan, Lay, Curtis Snell, Thornton and David Walkingstick. Cowan Watts said she sees more lawsuits in the future with the Fishinghawk map. “I feel strongly this map is violating the principles that our court set out. It doesn’t meet the 10 percent standard. It doesn’t meet the use of bad addresses standard, and it doesn’t meet fairness standards that were talked about during court proceedings in putting contiguous communities together and such,” she said. “I just think we are headed to court. That doesn’t do our people any justice.”

will-chavez@cherokee.org

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