Dist. 7 council candidate clears Supreme Court challenge
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 17 that tribal council hopeful Canaan Duncan is eligible to run for office.
Duncan had already been deemed by the CN Election Commission eligible to run for the vacant District 7 seat in a 4-0 vote following challenges from Robin Mayes and Tim Houseberg. The pair sought a reversal of that decision from the Supreme Court on Monday.
They claimed Duncan should be disqualified because he violated tribe law by campaigning while still an employee of the nation’s secretary of state office.
“There is a timeline here,” Mayes said during the Supreme Court hearing. “You can become a candidate the moment you start collecting money, $1,000, and start campaigning. The election law says you can’t be a candidate and an employee.”
According to CN law, tribal employees and employees of CN majority-owned entities must resign before filing for an elective position. Duncan resigned from the nation one day before he filed, according to his attorney, Curtis Bruehl.
The challengers contended that Duncan became a candidate before resigning because he met the $1,000 fundraising minimum that makes a person a candidate, according to a 2016 amendment to the election law.
The amendments, Legislative Act 12-16, were in part targeting candidates who campaign, but never officially file for a seat, according to Tribal Councilor Dick Lay, who was called as a witness.
“There’s just a lot of things that came about — I guess the perfect storm — that caused 12-16 to come together,” Lay said. “It tells you in simple reading who a candidate is.”
Last month, the election commission indicated it found no constitutional provision or legislative enactment that prohibits a CN employee from becoming a candidate and campaigning for elective office while being an employee other than the provision stating an employee must resign before filing.
“We don’t take sides,” CN Election Commission attorney Harvey Chaffin said. “Our job at the election commission is to interpret the law and apply it to the facts that are presented to us. We submit the commission’s decision was based on the law and correctly interprets the law.”
Duncan is squaring off against Robert Eagle and Frankie Lee Duncan in the Jan. 5 special election. The vacant, Adair County-based District 7 seat was held by Frankie Hargis, who resigned in November to become the tribe’s new registrar.