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Caddo citizen becomes first Native chair of Oklahoma Democratic Party

OKLAHOMA CITY – A look around new Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Todd Goodman’s office reveals many influences and interests. These include posters of Franklin Roosevelt, a framed picture of a mother and infant child in a cradleboard by Kiowa artist Huzo Paddlety, and a group photo showing Goodman posing alongside Flaming Lips front man and lifelong Oklahoma City resident Wayne Coyne.

But there is one poster that says much more about Goodman and his deep commitment to his new position: a 1972 George McGovern campaign poster given to him by his parents who worked on the campaign.

“It was always a part of my upbringing,” said Goodman, 36, about growing up in a Democratic family. “I was working in campaigns when I was a teenager. We knocked doors together in high school. I must have been 5 or 6 at the time, but I remember the Carter-Reagan election. My parents were Democrats, so I knew I was for Carter. My two friends, both of their parents were Republicans. That was probably when I first became self-aware.”

Born in the Georgetown District of Washington, D.C., Goodman spent his childhood in Oklahoma City and Shawnee, Okla., where his father’s family has maintained a dairy farm for generations.

Goodman sold medical devices for Johnson & Johnson, and although he was successful, the results of the 2004 presidential election made him want to achieve more for the party of his childhood and for he and his mother’s people – the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma.

“I just decided that I could no longer sit on the sidelines. I had been doing a lot of volunteering for everyone from People for the American Way to I realized how much more passionate I was about the volunteering I was doing than my day job. On the Fourth of July, 2005, I took my two dogs and loaded us up in the station wagon and drove back home to Oklahoma with two goals in mind – to work with my tribe and work in Democratic politics in Oklahoma – and I had not done either of those professionally.”

Goodman has achieved his goal of working within the Democratic Party, beginning as a staff member with INDN’s List – the Indigenous Democratic Network; a field director for his childhood friend, Oklahoma Sen. Andrew Rice, and his 2008 bid for Senate; executive director to the 2008 Democratic National Convention’s Oklahoma delegation; and communications director to the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

Goodman’s goal of working with the Caddo Nation has also come to fruition; his first position with the tribe was as gaming liaison. He is currently a member of the Caddo Nation Housing Board, but will soon resign his post to be sworn in as vice chair, a position he was elected to July 11.

“I’m very, very proud of my heritage, and it informs everything I do. One of the things my dad said to me was, ‘try to speak with beauty.’ That’s from my Native American heritage. Across all tribes, there’s a tradition of the spirit and the mind and the body acting as one. That’s something that I try to emulate. That informs every area of my life, not just the chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

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“As chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party and with my Caddo heritage, I have already begun to help educate our legislators and some of our party leadership on issues of sovereignty and respect for the earth.”

In December 2008, Goodman became acting ODP executive director and took this experience into the ODP state convention in May, where he won a three-way election for chair with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

“One of the most important things for the Oklahoma Democratic Party as a whole is to unite,” he said. “In my speech at the state convention, I said from African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic, rural and urban Democrats, we all have to get together and work together. That’s the only way we’re going to move forward is together. We haven’t been able to do that as well as we need to in the past. That’s got to be the main goal right now.”

In addition to his primary responsibilities such as fundraising and being the spokesperson, Goodman sees his role as one that “helps set the vision and define the message for the party as a whole in the state of Oklahoma.”

When Goodman is not working on behalf of ODP or for the Caddo Nation, he spends time volunteering for causes including Red Tie Night, an AIDS benefit in Oklahoma City; Loaves and Fishes, a faith-based movement that feeds home-bound people at least once a week, which Goodman has been involved with since age 15; Habitat for Humanity; and Regional Food Bank.

For Goodman, some of the issues affecting Americans today are the primary platform issues of the Democratic Party, such as better education and improving health care. With Native communities specifically, Goodman adds problems such as gang violence and the deterioration of extended family units.

“Community and family are so important. It’s reflective of some of the other problems we have – absentee fathers and single mothers. When we have lost that cohesive unit – the philosophy that ‘it takes a village’ – I think it’s reflective of, but it’s certainly got to be one of the most pressing problems.”

Ultimately, Goodman sees the importance for Native Americans to seek political offices on the local, state and federal levels so tribes don’t have to spend time and money educating elected officials on Native issues, and encourages those Natives who are interested to do so.

“That’s the only way. For so long, we’ve tried. [Jack] Abramoff is a perfect example of when we try to get that influence from elsewhere or try to educate candidates or try to educate legislators on our issues, it doesn’t get us near as far as it would our own candidates. ... We get so much further ahead when we are the candidates ourselves that understand our issues, rather than having to educate and hope [elected officials] vote the way we need them to.”