Hembree’s term-limit opinion challenged

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Former Reporter
02/21/2018 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Cherokee Nation citizen David Cornsilk on Feb. 19 petitioned the District Court to overturn Attorney General Todd Hembree’s opinion regarding four-year administrative term limits and block two current officials from another possible candidacy in 2019.

The petition asks the court to declare Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden ineligible for candidacy in the next general election because they have served after winning “two consecutive” elections in 2011 and 2015.

“I served on the Constitution Convention in 1999, and one of the main things that the Cherokee people had stated that they wanted at that time is term limits,” Cornsilk said. “I really believe in constitutional government and that the Constitution should be interpreted the way the common man understands it, not the way an attorney might twist the language to achieve an end.”

Assistant Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said the office has reviewed the petition and stands behind Hembree’s opinion. “We obviously believe that the AG’s opinion that we issued is correct on the law and the facts, and we plan to defend it.”

Article VII, Section 1 of the Constitution states the principal chief “shall hold office for a term of four years. No person having been elected to the office of Principal Chief in two (2) consecutive elections shall be eligible to file for the office of Principal Chief in the election next following his or her second term of office.”

The 2016 opinion defined terms as “four years” and that “any candidate for elected office having served less than two consecutive, four-year terms of office is eligible to stand for re-election in the next general election.”

The opinion states Baker and Crittenden could run again in 2019 if they chose because neither served a full four-year term after being elected in 2011 because of an appeal of the principal chief’s election. According to CN law, an attorney general’s opinion has the rule of law until overturned by a court or another attorney general’s opinion.

Crittenden won the deputy chief’s race and was sworn in on Aug. 14, 2011, but had to assume principal chief duties until Baker won the election. Baker was sworn in on Oct. 19, 2011.

Cornsilk’s petition argues that regardless of who is in the position of principal chief, the term Baker won was from Aug. 14, 2011, to Aug. 14, 2015, and “the fact that he didn’t step into the office until nine weeks after it began is not pertinent to the term.”

The petition also states that regardless of Crittenden stepping in while the principal chief race was decided, “it is not pertinent to the term” as deputy chief. As such, it argues his first term was completed from Aug. 14, 2011 to Aug. 15, 2015.

“I started investigating the opinion that (Hembree) had written and compared it to the Constitution, and it seemed to me that the chief and deputy chief, and of course I’m a supporter of both of them, but the circumstances that he was saying allowed them to run for a third term didn’t seem to match what I was reading in the Constitution,” Cornsilk said.

Cornsilk said he filed the petition ahead of the 2019 general election to give the courts time to decide on the matter.

“Our elections are so controversial anyway, that it’s better to get this over with early, get it out of the way that way we don’t even have to think about if they’re eligible to run and the court says they are, I’m fine with that. But if I’m right and the court says they are not eligible to run, I think it’s best for the people overall to know that as early as possible,” he said.

To view the petition, visit http://www.cherokeecourts.org/cv18122cornsilkvhembree.

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