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Choctaw tribal member runs for office in north Tulsa district

ANADARKO, Okla. - Seneca Scott originally moved from his job in Oklahoma City to north Tulsa to attend law school. Instead, Scott found his calling in neighborhood organizing, along with a passion for making Oklahoma a more environmentally sustainable state.

''Neighborhoods are an extension of family and community,'' he said. ''I think that's why I emphasize the neighborhoods so much. In an underserved area, you have to draw on what allows people to come together - a sense of neighborhood, a sense of belonging, a sense of community. There may still be problems and challenges, but there's a common ground there.''

A Choctaw Nation tribal member, Scott's interest in community service began while majoring in history and Native American studies at the University of Oklahoma. During this time, he worked with the Green Corn Organization, where the ''emphasis there was more with getting college students out to places like rural Indian reservations or African-American urban Oklahoma City, and find ways for us to contribute back,'' he said.

After graduating and working three years with a federal ''empowerment jump'' program for Oklahoma City's economic development office, Scott and his family moved to the Kendall-Whittier area of north Tulsa, where Scott became active with neighborhood-based groups as well as organizations with the city of Tulsa.

In addition to neighborhood involvement, Scott has been active with pursuing renewable resources, serving as the immediate past president of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network. During this time, one of OSN's accomplishments was to obtain a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant for the farmer's market of north Tulsa, where people living in the area could buy fruit and vegetables through WIC and food stamp programs. Yet his interest in renewable resources is also multifaceted - Scott's full-time job is in the oil and gas industry, where he has been an operations manager for Trivestco Energy for the past three years.

''We have a lot of potential here for innovation,'' Scott said about Oklahoma's potential in renewable energies. ''Our agriculture and energy heritage here in Oklahoma is the perfect foundation for us to be a leader with the global challenges we face - energy shortages and climate change. We have a know-how here that's natural. It's a common-sense sort of understanding of how to meet challenges head-on, and we've got the resources here to do it.''

Last year, Scott combined his two passions of neighborhood involvement and renewable resources by announcing his campaign for the District 72 seat of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Scott said his north Tulsa district is diverse in many ways, containing both inner urban and rural areas, and according to Scott is also the poorest house district within Tulsa County.

''A loss of home ownership probably is the No. 1 thing,'' Scott said about the problems that face his district, ''and that has rolled over towards decline in the neighborhoods. As the neighborhoods have gone down, we've lost our retail base in the six-square-mile area. Everybody has to go to Owasso or midtown Tulsa or places that are quite a ways away just for grocery shopping or banking, or just general functions. It's increasingly difficult with $4 [per gallon] gasoline to make those trips. The other strength is that it's pretty - a pretty part of Tulsa. There's a lot of attractive spaces that, if done right, could be well built. There's opportunity.''

The potential that Scott sees includes three major highways and three rail lines that cross through north Tulsa. Scott also sees a lot of potential for renewable industries such as biofuels and wind energy production that would create jobs for his district.

''For District 72, there are tremendous opportunities when it comes to alternative energies and green-collar jobs. Because of our infrastructure here with the rail lines and the highways, we really have an ability to clean up brownfields [environmentally contaminated industrial areas] and site on them wind turbine manufacturers and value-added biofuels.''

Running as a Democrat, Scott faces a tough primary July 29 with four other Democrats: Christie Breedlove, Elverez Allen, Monroe Nichols and John Slater. According to the latest quarterly filings with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, Scott is the top fundraiser, with reported net contributions of $13,319.43.

According to Oklahoma election laws, if a 51 percent majority is not obtained, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place Aug. 26. The Democratic winner of these elections will then face independent candidate Lawrence Kirkpatrick in the November general election.

With 80 percent of Oklahoma House District 72 being within Cherokee Nation jurisdiction and bordering the Osage Reservation, it is not surprising that Scott has received a great deal of Native support. He said that many of his contributions have come not only from individual Native people, but also ''strong support'' from the Choctaw, Seminole, Cherokee and Osage nations.

''Having a Choctaw background and a Native American studies degree from OU, I feel like it's a unique skill-set in addition to being able to work with people of different parties,'' Scott said about his interest of working with Oklahoma's sovereign nations. ''I really feel like the understanding of tribal development is one of the more unique qualities as a contender in this race.''