The Southern Ute Tribal Council saw substantial turnover as new candidates outcompeted incumbents during the tribe’s 2020 elections.
The Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s election in November drew 17 candidates for open positions on the council. The election yielded results that were too close to call, so the tribe moved to runoff elections between the candidates with the highest vote tallies in mid-December.
Although four council members ran for election, none were successful.
Melvin Baker, who has almost a decade of experience on Tribal Council, was elected to a three-year term as chairman with 214 votes.
“First, and foremost, I would like to thank everyone who supported and voted for me in this year’s election run for chairman,” Baker said in a news release. “I look forward to working with the current Tribal Council as well as the two newly elected Tribal Council members.”
Lorelei Cloud, a council member running for chairman, received 199 votes. Incumbent chairman Christine Sage did not have enough votes to be a runoff election candidate.
Stacey Oberly and Linda Baker took the two council seats with 243 and 205 votes, respectively.
The other candidates, James Olguin and Lindsay Box, received 165 and 159 votes, respectively. Council members Cedric Chavez and Cheryl Frost also did not receive enough votes to be candidates in the runoff elections.
The Tribal Council manages and regulates economic, land, water and mineral assets – which, for the Southern Ute tribe, means managing a multibillion-dollar economy.
In addition to working closely with the federal government, council members govern 16 departments, the general welfare of tribal members and the tribal justice system, among other duties, according to the tribe’s constitution.
Baker, who was sworn in as chairman Dec. 21, has previously served as acting chairman and vice chairman, according to a Southern Ute Indian Tribe news release.
Baker has worked on the development and implementation of the Sky Ute Casino Resort and Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. He has also served on various tribal and state committees, such as the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs and the Southern Ute Indian Housing Authority.
During the runoff elections, he focused his candidacy on creating more housing for tribal members, protecting the tribe’s water rights, increasing employment opportunities and evaluating the current status and future plans of the Sky Ute Casino, the Southern Ute Growth Fund and tribal departments and services.
“I ask that you all do your part in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Baker said in the release. “Stay safe and wear your mask. Take care of our elders and our children.”
Linda Baker previously worked for the Southern Ute Museum as museum director and for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
She focused on retaining tribal identity, providing equal opportunities and quality assurance in finance, performance and accountability.
“I would like to thank the membership for the vote of confidence and the dialogue with the other candidates,” Baker said.
Oberly worked as the coordinator of Ute language and culture at the Southern Ute Montessori Academy. The role tied into her linguistics-focused educational background, including a doctorate degree in linguistics.
She focused on financial sustainability, building Ute language fluency within the community and creating more ways to hear from tribal members about services and governance.
“I look forward to serving the tribal membership with clear communication, to create unity and transparency, while adhering to our traditional and cultural ethics,” Oberly said.