- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - In a story Feb. 14 about the candidates running for principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, The Associated Press, relying on information from current chief Bill John Baker, erroneously referred to a type of aircraft the tribe sold under his leadership. The tribe sold a King Air C90B airplane, which has a turboprop engine, not a jet.

A corrected version of the story is below:

2015 Cherokee election features bitter rivals of 2011 race

2015 Cherokee Nation election dominated so far by familiar foes Chad Smith, Bill John Baker

By JUSTIN JUOZAPAVICIUS



Associated Press

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - The 2015 Cherokee Nation campaign for principal chief is picking up where the last one left off.

Although several candidates have declared they’ll seek the tribe’s top post June 27, eyes are already on two political veterans: current chief Bill John Baker and his predecessor, Chad Smith.

“Do we want to become a strong nation or settle for being a mediocre political association?” Smith asked in an early salvo at the incumbent. “For me, we should work hard to make the nation a great nation and not settle.”

Baker said he’s brought the tribe forward from Smith’s dozen years as principal chief, eliminating fraud and waste that plagued the government.

“We’ve achieved things for the Cherokee people that Chief Smith said could never be done,” Baker said.

The principal chief, similar to an American president, oversees a $750 million budget, 9,000 employees, casino operations across the state and the country’s largest tribal health care system.

Baker and Smith squared off twice in 2011 - the second time because results from a first round of balloting flipped back-and-forth during a series of recounts.

Smith says Baker has abused the power entrusted to him by the tribe’s 315,000 citizens - firing workers to settle political scores and hiring a chauffeur and a highly paid secretary.

“What I do find appalling is his behavior at the Cherokee Nation,” Smith said. “Where he’s taken the Cherokee Nation is off in the gutter, and it just breaks my heart.”

He said he wants to rein in misspending, increase the growth of Cherokee language immersion schools and build upon the tribe’s already flourishing health care system.

Baker said the tribe operates more efficiently under his leadership. He said he’s eliminated “ghost employees” and sold a much-hyped plane once owned by the tribe. He, too, wants to expand health care and put more Cherokees to work.

“I believe in what we are doing to improve the Cherokee Nation and I think voters will recognize that,” Baker said. “We have been progressive in our ideas and ideals and I think our people will respond to that.”

Baker was helped to victory by an untold number of descendants of the black slaves once owned by the Cherokees - known as freedmen- who turned out to vote after a deal was struck between tribal leaders and the descendants. The freedmen are still fighting to be included in the tribe and the matter is being weighed by a federal judge.

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