CARLSBAD, Calif. – Twelve Osage Congressional candidates hit the West Coast to ask California Osages for their votes in the 2012 Osage Nation General Election with more than five weeks left on the campaign trail.
The United Osages of Southern California hosted its annual spring meeting on April 28 in Carlsbad and the Northern California Osage met the following day in Oakland. Both organizations invited this year’s 34 candidates to the meetings to discuss their campaigns and plans if elected to one of the six Congressional seats during the June 4 election.
The Osage News attended the UOSC meeting held at the Carlsbad by the Sea Resort, which had 12 Osage candidates participating.
Joe Mashunkashey, who spoke first, said he brings more than 30 years of professional experience in working with tribal and federal government and gaming entities. Mashunkashey, who is the facilities construction project manager for Osage Casinos, said he’s previously worked on housing, water and sanitation projects for several tribes and would like to see more economic development opportunities for the tribe and the tribe should ensure protection of the Osage Minerals Estate “for future generations.”
“My vision is to look into finding more money to benefit the tribal people,” Mashunkashey said, adding, “we need to look at what’s going to benefit the tribe.”
Becky Johnson, human resources director for Osage Casinos, shared her professional experience, which includes earning a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College and a law degree from the University of Colorado. Johnson said she previously worked as a prosecutor and staff attorney at Cherokee Nation where she gained legislation-writing experience.
While at Osage Casinos, Johnson said she has worked on the entity’s professional leadership program, which targets Osages interested in leadership programs. If elected, Johnson said she promised, “I will communicate with the public and will obtain input as much as possible to follow the will of the people.”
Olivia “Libbi” Gray said she also has legislation-writing experience, which includes writing the first draft of the Osage Limited Liability Company Act and said she would work on legislation dealing with employment law, the Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) and domestic violence if elected.
“My goal is to sit down with our employees because they have the best grasp on what laws need to be passed,” Gray said, adding she would “get out and communicate with the people.”
Maria Whitehorn said she has attended several 2012 Hun-Kah Congressional Sessions and believes the Nation has improvements to make to its government, which includes budgeting tribal funds. “I will do my best to keep you informed and include you in (Congressional) business,” Whitehorn said if elected.
“I believe we’ve done some things really well,” Whitehorn said, adding, “I see we’ve run into a few problems, we need to get better and look at what we have to appropriate.” She said if improvements aren’t made, it would be difficult to maintain tribal services, which include the health benefit card program available to all Osages.
Jim Ryan said, if elected, any action he takes as a Congressman will include the question of “how does this benefit the Osage people?” Ryan said one of his first forays into Osage government involvement was offering a health initiative idea (in response to a newspaper advertisement seeking suggestions), which has since evolved into the Nation’s health benefit card program passed as a 2008 law (sponsor is Congresswoman Shannon Edwards).
Edwards said the idea for the health benefit card came from a multitude of Osages and not just one individual.
Ryan said another piece of legislation he suggested is ONCA 11-78, which is a law rescinding the ON Treasurer’s authority of signing/endorsing written instruments on Osage Minerals Council accounts. Ryan said the idea was sparked by a 2011 Facebook discussion to keep the Nation’s and Minerals Council funds separate. Congresswoman Alice Goodfox sponsored the bill, which passed after Congress overrode a veto by Principal Chief John Red Eagle in October 2011.
Goodfox said Ryan was not the only person to suggest ONCA 11-78, that it was a collaborative effort made by 10 or more Osages, including Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear.
RJ Walker said he’s built good relationships with local entities around Osage County thanks to collaboration on road projects as the Nation’s Roads Department. While director, Walker said the Nation contributed $30 million to construction projects and added he’s proud the department has not received negative findings in handling the federal funds awarded to the Nation for those projects.
Walker’s other professional experience includes serving as chairman of the Osage County Industrial Authority. He said his collaborative experience on the board includes networking with entities such as the Tri County Technology Center, City of Pawhuska and the Nation to develop the Pawhuska Business Development Center, now under construction. When completed, the center will provide classroom facilities and business incubator space for prospective businesses.
Rose Mary Shaw, whose previous work includes director of the Nation’s Counseling Center, budgeting and grant writing, describes herself as “a mover and a shaker, there’s no wishy-washy – you get what you see.”
Shaw said she wants to see the Nation offer a supplemental insurance program for Osages over age 65 and education initiatives targeting college students such as assisting those who are taking college entrance tests.
Jacque Jones opened her address acknowledging her fellow candidates and attendees as “friends and relatives,” noting that she has spoken with several of those in attendance who call the Nation’s Constituent Services of which she is director. “I’m ready to move this Nation forward with a group of exceptional, educated, bright Osages,” she said.
“I believe in this Constitution, I believe the Minerals Estate is for the shareholders … I believe in family and I believe in unity,” Jones said noting the Congress members need to work together “or we’re not going to have enough money to provide services.”
Shannon Edwards, who is seeking re-election, said she is running again because she believes there is still work to be done and added that she is running on consistency. She referred to a story in that morning’s Daily Oklahoman newspaper in which a Clinton bank froze the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes’ bank accounts amid an ongoing fight over tribal leadership. “That’s what happens when there’s no consistency in government,” she said.
“Government doesn’t just work by itself, it needs people … with gifts to bring to our Nation,” she said. As an example of unfinished business, Edwards said no appropriation was approved by Congress to supplement the Nation’s health benefit card program during the 2012 Hun-Kah Session and said: “I think an amendment needs to be created so it can be perpetuated.”
Candy Thomas said her professional experience in public service includes working as a grant writer. “Planning is a very important process in how we realize our dreams,” she said.
Thomas, who currently serves on the Gaming Enterprise Board said the projected revenue for gaming funds distributed to the Nation’s government is likely to remain a steady $40 million for the next five years as the Osage Casino officials plan to expand two of the seven casinos. Thomas said one way to plan for the future would be to hold a government summit with all government branches and boards and commissions involved.
John Maker said fairness is one quality voters should consider in their choice for Congress members. He referred to oral tradition stories, which include lessons such as: “If someone doesn’t have food, you should share with them.”
Maker believes the Nation has “a great education program now,” but added: “as we all know, the cost of education goes up, we need to keep up with the cost of education.” He also said the Nation should consider creating its own college which would help address the student dropout rate and the Nation should also look into the need for “our own financial institution.”
Nicki Revard Lorenzo said she’s learned that many out-of-area Osages feel underrepresented and that there’s no follow-up on some issues. “I’ve made that commitment: the importance of listening to the people and following up,” she said
Lorenzo’s previous experience includes serving as a school superintendent and teacher in northern California, which includes working on budgeting and polices. She said Congress needs to improve budget work to avoid overspending, adding, “I’d like to see Congress more accountable.”
About 50 people including Osages, candidates and family members attended the April 28 meeting.
Bill Myers, leader of the UOSC, said the organization, a source of networking for Osages in the state, conducted a survey, which found that one Osage who attends the UOSC meetings talks to at least six other Osages.
To view more photos taken at the meeting, visit the Osage News Flickr Web page where a photo set has been created. The photo set link is: http://www.flickr.com/photos/osagenews/sets/72157629652399552/