Cherokee candidates square off in US House race
Special to Indian Country Today
As one of only four Native Americans out of 535 members of Congress, Oklahoma Republican Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, has been active in American Indian-related legislation and seeks to continue that work for another two-year term.
Standing in his way in the 2nd Congressional District on Nov. 3 are 45-year-old Democrat Danyell Lanier, Cherokee, and Libertarian Richie Castaldo, 38.
Mullin, 43, is seeking a fifth straight term, having been first elected in 2012 after the retirement of longtime popular Democrat Dan Boren.
Since then, the Stilwell, Oklahoma, native and Cherokee Nation citizen has swamped three straight opponents in the district, which encompasses most of eastern Oklahoma and is 17 percent Native.
Along with the three other Natives in Congress — Democrats Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, of New Mexico and Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, of Kansas, and Republican Tom Cole, Chickasaw, also of Oklahoma — Mullin was an original co-sponsor of Savanna’s Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on Oct. 10 and requires federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies to update and create protocols to address missing or murdered Native Americans.
Likewise, he was an original co-sponsor of the companion Not Invisible Act, passed into law on the same day, which requires the Interior Department to designate an official within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to coordinate prevention efforts, grants and programs related to missing Indians and the murder and human trafficking of Indians.
“As a member of the Cherokee Nation, I take great pride in the role Native Americans have played throughout history,” Mullin states on his website.
(Related: US Rep. Tom Cole, Chickasaw, eyes 10th term)
“Native American tribes in Oklahoma and across the country have spent generations developing treaty negotiations and trust authorities that must be adhered to. I understand the importance of preserving sites significant to our cultural heritage and am committed to being a voice for Native Americans in Congress.”
Mullin has been the original sponsor of 12 Native American-related bills, including the Pay our Doctors Act, which would keep Indian Health Service doctors paid during an extended federal government shutdown.
His other sponsored legislation includes extending funding for special diabetes programs for Natives.
He holds an associate degree in applied sciences in construction from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee.
He and wife Christie have five children and live in Westville, Oklahoma, where he ranches and runs a plumbing business.
His son, Jim, was an elite high school wrestler until sustaining a traumatic brain injury earlier this year. He is recovering at home after rehabilitating at a Bakersfield, California, neurological center.
Lanier, an Oklahoma political newcomer, was running for county judge in Collin County, Texas, two years ago. County judges in Texas oversee boards of county commissioners in nonlegal or nonjudicial capacities. She lost 193,990 to 145,130 to Republican Chris Hill.
The Navy veteran, who also identifies as African American, was born in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capital of the Cherokee Nation, and raised in Hugo, Oklahoma, where she resides. She’s running on a campaign of protecting resources, improving health, investing and justice reform.
She joined the Navy after graduating from Hugo High School and was a logistics specialist, serving in a NATO-led peacetime operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was honorably discharged in 1999. Lanier has a son, Kendall.
“Whether it be COVID-19, the seasonal flu or mental health we must have enough medical resources available to help protect the people who live in rural areas, not just those who live in Tulsa and Oklahoma City,” Lanier said on her website.
Castaldo is running on a platform of protecting property rights and the environment.
“I believe individuals have the inherent right to justly acquire property and protect it as they see fit without government interference,” he said on his website, “but also with responsible consideration of their neighbors and environment.”
Longtime Oklahoma political observers see an uphill battle for Lanier or Castaldo as Mullin is well-funded and has name recognition.
“Most of the votes are north of I-40, so it’s really hard for someone from Little Dixie (southern Oklahoma, where Lanier lives) to win,” veteran political reporter Randy Krehbiel of the Tulsa World told Indian Country Today.
“That district is hard because it’s so spread out and there’s no dominant media market.”
In 2018, Mullin defeated Democrat Jason Nichols 140,451 (65 percent) to 65,021 (30 percent). In 2016, he trounced Democrat Joshua Harris-Till 189,839-62,387, or 70 percent to 23 percent.
The last woman to represent the district was Muskogee’s Alice Robertson in 1921-23.
The district runs from the Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas borders north and east to Texas and the Red River in the south, and west to Tulsa, comprising parts of the Creek and Chickasaw nations and all of the Cherokee, Ketoowah Band of Cherokee, Choctaw, Quapaw, Miami, Ottawa, Peoria, Eastern Shawnee, Modoc and Seneca-Cayuga nations.
Principal cities include Muskogee, Miami, Claremore, Pryor, Checotah, Eufaula, Tahlequah, McAlester, Tishomingo and Durant.
Following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling reaffirming that a large portion of eastern Oklahoma remains tribal land, Mullin and other members of the state’s congressional delegation released a joint statement saying they look forward to working with tribes and other stakeholders to "develop a legislative framework that honors tribal sovereignty and gives consistency and predictability to all those living and working in Oklahoma."
Eddie Chuculate, Creek/Cherokee, a native of Muskogee in Oklahoma’s Second District, is a writer based in Minneapolis.
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This story has been updated to remove Wagoner from the list of cities in District 2.