Tribal members announce bids for U.S. Congress
Wednesday, October 15, 2003

It's shaping up to be another promising season for Indian candidates in Oklahoma.

Members of two tribes based in the state announced their campaigns for U.S. Congress yesterday. Brad Carson, a member of the Cherokee Nation, is running for the Senate while Kalyn Free, a member of the Choctaw Nation, is vying for the Carson's seat in the House.

Carson currently serves Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District. In addition to being one of two Native Americans in the House -- the other is Tom Cole, a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma -- he has the distinction of being the state delegation's sole Democrat.

But to Carson, party politics are not an issue. Before heading to Oklahoma City for the big announcement, he first spoke on two conservative radio programs in the state. "I do not have powerful political allies who lend me the credibility of their names or the force of their organization," the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

He added: "But I do have something far mightier: powerful ideas about how to make our state and country better."

In a race that is expected to be closely watched around the country, Carson is seeking to replace Sen. Don Nickles (R), who announced his retirement last week after six terms in the Senate. Nickles has endorsed Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphrey, a Republican, as his replacement. Fellow GOP Rep. Ernest Istook has decided not to run.

Carson, a Rhodes scholar, represents a district that is 16 percent Indian. He credited Indian voters with helping him secure victory in 2000 and 2002.

Free would be tapping into the same base in her bid for the Democratic party's nomination. A former Department of Justice attorney who was the first woman elected district attorney for Pittsburg and Haskell counties, she is highlighting her credentials as a strong advocate for women and children.

"I have devoted my entire life to fighting for those that our legal system had left behind," she said in a statement. "As a member of Congress, I will continue that fight, working for better schools, for children and better jobs for rural Oklahoma."

In her announcement yesterday, Free said she increased prosecutions for victims of domestic violence and child abuse. She has been the recipient of awards for her work on domestic violence, children and Indian issues.

Currently, there is just one American Indian in the Senate. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.), a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, serves as chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. He is raising money for his upcoming re-election in 2004.

Carson and Cole are the only tribal members in the House. Carson has been elected twice. Cole is still serving his first term. Both sit on the House Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over Indian issues.

Tribal leaders have credited Indians with tipping races in several elections, although the impact of Native voters has not been fully studied. Oklahoma has the second largest number of Native Americans in the U.S. and about 11 percent of the state claims Indian ancestry.

Carson and Free say jobs and promoting opportunities in rural Oklahoma are priorities. Carson is also promoting his work on the Tar Creek Superfund site, considered the worst toxic waste site in the nation. Most of the land affected by mine contamination is owned by members of the Quapaw Tribe.

Carson is supporting a buyout of residents in the area, an idea opposed by other members of Oklahoma's Congressional delegation. The Quapaw Tribe is working with the Department of Interior and lawmakers on ways to clean up 70 million tons of mine waste.

Carson has taken an active role in trust reform, which affects many tribal members in Eastern Oklahoma. He was a sponsor of a bill to reform land management policies for members of the Five Civilized Nations -- the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole tribes -- but the measure was derailed by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and oil and gas interests that have since formed One Nation, a group tribal leaders say is anti-Indian.

Free has set up a web site for her campaign at

Relevant Links:
Brad Carson -
Free for Congress -

Related Stories:
Okla. tribal members win races (11/06)
Two Indian candidates win Okla. primaries (08/28)

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