Oklahoma Indian candidates do well in midterm elections

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ANADARKO, Okla. – One of Oklahoma’s mottoes that can be found on state license plates and tourism promotions is “Native America.” After election night returns, Oklahoma will have four new legislators from federally recognized tribes to bring a Native way of thinking to Oklahoma City. This is in addition to Choctaw Nation member Al McAffrey, who won his Democratic primary in July and did not have a Republican or an Independent challenger.

Eager and ready to begin work is District 36 Representative-elect Scott BigHorse, D-Pawhuska, whose voting district includes most of Osage County. A member of the Osage Nation, BigHorse won his election to Republican challenger Eddie Fields with a 53 percent majority after unofficial votes were tallied. BigHorse currently works as a consultant in the field of juvenile corrections.

When asked on the evening of the election how it felt to be the winner, BigHorse said, “It’s a very, very humbling experience. I had a large turnout for my watch party, with kids here from 8 to 80. It’s just overwhelming right now. It hasn’t quite soaked in yet.”

Once BigHorse gets sworn into office, he said that he wanted to begin work immediately. “I want to get right to work on core surplus monies and using the monies right,” he said, “To help our children, to help our elderly, and to work on our roads and bridges.”

For Oklahoma to have this many new Indian elected officials into state office, BigHorse said he hoped “it brings a good block of us together so that we can work together and pull a coalition together, a caucus,” BigHorse said, in order to study and vote on Indian-related issues.

Equally elated about victory is Oklahoma House District 6 Representative-elect Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita. Hoskin won his election against Republican Wayland Smalley with 60 percent of the vote. A Navy veteran and former educator, Hoskin’s previous political experience includes serving 12 years as a Cherokee Nation tribal council representative.

“It was extremely exciting, a humbling experience,” Hoskin said about winning his election. “We had a lot of folks who helped us. There’s no way on Earth that we could have won this without all those people out there working to get our campaign to be successful.”

Upon being sworn into office, Hoskin said that he wants to “be brought up to speed as quickly as I can on issues affecting the citizens of Oklahoma. Before you can work on a solution to a problem, you’ve got to completely understand the situation of the problems of the state.”

Like BigHorse, Hoskin also wants to see greater understanding in the Legislature on issues that affect the Native people of Oklahoma. “I want to set about the task of educating some of the other legislators in regards to sovereignty issues and the issues that Indian tribes and Indian people face throughout this state,” he said. “After all, we’re citizens of the state of Oklahoma also.”

Oklahoma’s state Senate also saw two new elected Native officials, both of whom have previously served as staff members to former U.S. Senator and current University of Oklahoma President David Boren – Sean Burrage, D-Claremore and Choctaw Nation member, and John Sparks, D-Norman. In the race for Oklahoma state Senate District 2, Burrage defeated his Republican challenger, Ami Shaffer, with 58 percent of the vote to represent the citizens of Rogers and Mayes counties. Burrage’s Senate district actually overlaps with the House district that Hoskin will represent.

Upon winning, Burrage said that “at first, I was very relieved,” he said. “I’ve since become very happy.”

Like many other Democrats in Oklahoma, the Claremore attorney ran his first campaign on a platform based on supporting public education and making health care more affordable to middle-class families. Problems with health care providers became one of the driving issues behind Burrage’s campaign. While on the campaign trail, Burrage shared the story of his 2-year-old son, Carter, with potential voters. Six months after Burrage’s son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Burrage’s insurance provider cut his son off from the occupational and physical therapy that he needed to help him continue to learn to walk.

In addition to health care and education, Burrage also has similar goals for Indian country as his new Native counterparts in the state House. “The state of Oklahoma needs to understand the Native American tribes are an integral part of the state’s economy,” said Burrage. “They provide thousands of high-quality jobs.” During his campaign, Burrage said that he received support from the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations.

Winning state Senate District 16 was Cherokee Nation member Sparks, who won his district against Republican Ron Davis with 58 percent of the vote. In a previous conversation with ICT, the Norman attorney and advocate for affordable health care to the elderly and disadvantaged said that he made his decision to run for political office when his law school colleague, former U.S. Representative and Cherokee Nation member Brad Carson, lost his 2004 U.S. Senate bid to Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee. Sparks’ campaign platform included changes to health care and education, with his primary Native issue being collaborative efforts between tribes and the state government.

On the federal level, Chickasaw Nation member Tom Cole, R-Moore, won re-election to Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional District with 65 percent of the vote against Democratic challenger Hal Spake. Cole’s campaign focused primarily on eliminating wasteful spending, better education, supporting active troops and veterans, and protecting Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City and Fort Sill near Lawton from base-closing lists. Both of these military bases are within Cole’s district.

After being declared the projected winner, Cole said he was at work “transitioning” into another campaign to run for the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee. According to John Woods, a district director on Cole’s congressional staff, if Cole won that position, he would be in charge of “the recruitment, retention, fund-raising and strategy behind the Republican conference’s attempt to win races in 2008.”