Although the will of the Cherokee people was made clear with the passage of a 2003 Constitutional amendment limiting elected offices to two consecutive terms beginning in 2007, Principal Chief Baker and his council members are trying to change the law to get themselves a third term. Baker and his council members say if an elected official serves 3 years and 10 months in a four-year term that it does not count toward a two-term limit and they would be entitled to run for two more terms for a total of three terms.
The circumstances that Baker and his council members face is the same as the President in the U.S. Constitution, which says the President gets only two terms even if one is short. The U.S. Constitution Twenty-second Amendment Section 1. Says, “No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.” So under Baker’s circumstances, the U.S. President would only have two terms, not three as Baker is seeking.
Before the Cherokee Nation Council is an act (LA 16-025 Section 3EE.) which defines an elected term as “a term shall not include the remainder of an unexpired term or partial year.” The sponsor of the act is Council member Victoria Vazquez who would be eligible for a third term if the act was passed, In short, Baker and Vazquez would get third terms because their first term was several months short. In the same situation is Councilmembers Joe Byrd and Frankie Hargis. Everyone that benefit from the act are Baker supporters. There is nothing in the act, which stops an elected official from resigning several months before his term is up so he or she can evade term limits.
The Cherokee Nation Constitution provides for a four-year term for elected office seats. Constitution Article VI. Section 3. It states “All Council members shall be limited to two (2) consecutive elected terms on the Council. All Council members having served two consecutive terms must sit out one (1) term before seeking any seat on the Council.” Since 1979, Cherokee law says that the term of “the Principal Chief, Deputy Principal Chief and Council Members shall be a term of four (4) years from the date of August 14, 1979, and each August 14 every your (4) years thereafter…” LA 9-85. 26 CNCA Section 51 E.
It is simple. The term of Cherokee Nation elected officials is four years beginning on August 14. However, Baker and his council members want to change the definition of a “term” for purposes of two-term limits. They want to extend term limits pass two terms if the Principal Chief or Council member was elected after the term began or if the Principal Chief or Council member resigns before the term is over.
This act is political self-serving because the Baker administration and Council members caused several council members to serve in their seats for less than four years. In 2011, Bill John Baker and Joe Crittenden ran for Principal Chief and Deputy Principal and did not resign their positions as Council members. That meant in 2011 when they won, their council seats were vacant. In 2013, Chuck Hoskin, Jr. resigned his council seat to become Secretary of State. It cost the Nation a lot of money to run special elections for council seats in those districts. It was Baker’s political friends that won those seats at a special election. Now Baker and his Council members want a third term.
The political self-serving gets worse. The Constitution says the Council will pass no retroactive law. If the Council were to pass a law that says a partial service during a term does not count toward term limits, then it should apply to the future council members and not to present council members that benefit from it.
Also, the Council members who benefit from changing the definition of a term have a direct conflict of interest from voting on the change. However, in the Rules committee, Joe Byrd and Victory Vazquez both voted to get a third term for themselves.
Joe Byrd, Frankie Hargis, and Victoria Vasquez all ran for tribal council knowing their first term would be less than four years because Bill John Baker, Joe Crittenden, and Chuck Hoskin, Jr. did not resigned their council seats to run for other offices or accept appointed positions. Baker knew his first term as Principal Chief began two months later because of a second election in 2011.
We encourage you to contact your Council member and ask them to vote no on defining term of office as a full term.