Cherokee Nation Election Commission disqualifies Hatfield

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
04/19/2019 08:00 AM
TAHLEQUAH – After an April 18 hearing, At-Large Tribal Councilor Wanda Hatfield has been disqualified from the 2019 at-large race, in which she was running as the incumbent.

The Cherokee Nation Election Commission, after hearing testimony from Hatfield and CN Attorney General Todd Hembree, voted unanimously to disqualify Hatfield from the June 1 general election.

“It is … the decision of the Cherokee Nation Election Commission that Wanda Hatfield is disqualified as a candidate for the At-Large Council for the Cherokee Nation 2019 General Election,” said CNEC Chair Shawna Calico, reading the decision.

CNEC counsel Harvey Chaffin informed Hatfield of her right to appeal. She can file with the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court within five business days.

The commission’s findings and conclusions stated that Hatfield had violated Cherokee statute by “providing anything of value to voter(s) for the direct purpose of influencing voter behavior in an election.”

Commissioners concluded that Hatfield mailed community assistance checks, each worth $500, to the Mount Hood Cherokees of Salem, Oregon, and the San Diego Cherokee Community, while also including campaign literature, business cards, and handwritten notes asking for their support in the election.

Hatfield said when questioned by Hembree that she received 14 community assistance checks intended for use as scholarship funding. She also said she did not ask for the checks, though Hembree called a rebuttal witness, Council legislative aide Gayle Miller, who said community assistance checks are only mailed to councilors as requested, and Hatfield had made requests. Hatfield told Hembree the checks were received with windowed envelopes.

During examination, Hatfield said the checks, campaign materials and white envelopes were on her dining room table, and that supporters and family members were assisting her with filling envelopes. Through the hearing, she suggested mistakes might have occurred when filling envelopes, and the campaign materials and checks were supposed to be sent separately. However, she further stated, “[the envelopes] left my house, with my stamp and they were put in a mailbox.”

Hembree said the envelopes were “distinctly different,” and mentioned that the Mount Hood card with the note found its way into the Cherokee Nation windowed envelope containing the check made out to the Mount Hood Cherokees.

Addressing the envelope to San Diego, Hembree asked Hatfield if she would answer similar questions any differently, to which Hatfield replied, “No.”

Hatfield identified her handwriting in the notes on the backs of her business cards, and agreed with Hembree that $500 was “something of value.”

Hembree also read Hatfield’s social media post in which she said she would cooperate with the Office of the Attorney General.

“Late last month I sent grant checks earmarked for scholarships to a few At Large Cherokee Community organizations in Cherokee Nation envelopes,” Hatfield wrote. “In some of those envelopes, I included a campaign walk card with a personal note. I mailed that correspondence from my home and personally paid for the postage, which is commonplace for me to do. While I took this action without any intention of impropriety, I now understand the unfortunate and unacceptable appearance I have given. Today I am reaching out to each group who may have received this correspondence to apologize. I will forward all records of this correspondence to the Attorney General and will work fully with his office to ensure the appearance of impropriety is quickly and thoroughly corrected.”

Hatfield closed with an appeal to the commission.

“I am aware of the allegations,” she said. “I would like to continue with this election for Tribal Council at-large. I would like your consideration in doing so…. I’m the candidate, and I am responsible for my candidacy.”

During his closing argument, Hembree suggested Hatfield must have been aware the checks, packaged with the campaign materials and messages, were “an inducement” for votes.

“The evidence is overwhelming,” Hembree said in his close. “It is very unlikely that I put all the ingredients – milk, flour, sugar, eggs – mix them all together, put it in the oven, take it out, and I didn’t intend to make a cake.”

No formal opening statements were made by either party. Hembree said “the facts are not in dispute in this issue,” and only read into the record the statutes of general prohibition and criminal sanction that his office considered applicable to the case.

Hatfield said her attorney was out of town, and was not accompanied by legal counsel during the hearing.

Pending a possible appeal by Hatfield, there are now four candidates in the at-large race: Steve Adair, Johnny Jack Kidwell, Julia Coates and Pamela Fox.
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