In addition to the annual Tribal budget, Citizen Potawatomi voters will cast ballots for two races for Oklahoma’s at-large legislative seats this June. The Hownikan had Q&As with each candidate.
Paul Wesselhöft (incumbent, District 9)
How does your platform or candidacy differ from your fellow district candidate?
“I’m not sure what my opponent’s platform is. However, I have a worthy opponent. I will not allow the question to force me to cast any dispersion on him. Through my years as a legislator in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, I had worthy and unworthy opponents who campaigned against me negatively. I’m a positive person and refused to campaign in that manner.
“There is a contrast in life experiences between my opponent and myself. In Tribal tradition, I’m considered an elder statesman. There are several members in our legislature who are much younger than I, some by decades. I bring a long lifetime of public service and experience. I believe it’s important to have elder statesmen in our legislature. I have earned the respect of my legislative colleagues, and they look to me to offer insight and critical questions into our deliberation of resolutions and our budgets.
“Among other legislators, I don’t know why my opponent selected to run against me. It seems to me that when a legislator is doing a good job, they should be supported. If you ask my colleagues, I’m confident that they will inform you that I have been an excellent legislator and representative of not only Oklahoman Potawatomi but also Potawatomi throughout the Nation.
“I’m asking for your trust and support in serving you again as your representative of Oklahoma in the national legislature of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. I live to serve; that’s who I am.”
Candidate closing statement
“As a young man, I decided to dedicate my life as a servant to God and His humanity. My first public service was volunteering for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
“58,220 American soldiers were killed in that war including some of my friends. Every night on TV, I watched soldiers being wrapped in body bags. I was fully aware that if I volunteered, I might be one of those carried off in a body bag. As things turned out, I was not sent to Vietnam. My specialized training was more suited for Europe than Asia.
“My second public service was joining the Army as an ordained Chaplain, in the rank of Captain. In the chaotic world we live in, when one serves a career in the Army, you know it’s likely that you will be involved in a war. That war came in the first Persian Gulf War. I served in combat as a brigade Major Chaplain in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm with four battalion chaplains working for me.
“Another public service was working for a nonprofit organization targeting pornography and sex offenders of children and teens. We caused some of these sexual businesses to end, saving children for sexual exploitation.
“Another public service was working seven years for the Oklahoma State Department of Health as the director of Abstinence Sex Education for middle and high school students throughout Oklahoma. We were able to reduce the teen pregnancy rate and sexually transmitted deceases.
“Another public service was being elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for 12 years. I served as the chairman of important committees including the Joint House & Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. I also authored several important bills and debated and voted on 12 budgets and literally thousands of bills. I also organized the first Native American Forum where leaders like Chairman Barrett addressed the legislature.
“Another public service was being elected as your representative of Oklahoma in the national legislature of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. There, I have deliberated and voted on budgets and hundreds of resolutions.
“As you can see, I have devoted my life to public service and I’m asking for your trust and support in serving you again in our legislature. Public service is what I do; it is who I am.”
Jay Laughlin (challenger, District 9)
What makes your platform or candidacy differ from your fellow district candidate?
“I’ve researched my opponent, and I admire his accomplishments. My fellow candidate has stepped up and given back to his community and our Tribe. That’s not easy, and I would like to say thank you.
“One of the major differences in my candidacy is the key initiatives. My platform is held up by the key initiatives of culture, economic prosperity, education, elders, the environment, healthcare services, tribal alliance, and our youth. These initiatives were laid out from the beginning of my candidacy and this has not changed. These initiatives will continue to be in focus for every decision made and every opportunity sought on our Tribe’s behalf.”
Candidate closing statement
“Wow, how things have changed since I filed for candidacy of Legislative District 9. I think back and at the time there’s no way I would have thought we would have been facing a pandemic, an oil crisis, massive unemployment and an economic crash all at the same time. Now as I look back and see all of the current changes and uncertainties that we’ve faced and continue to face, it makes me wonder how and why history continues to repeat itself. Is it that we forget, is it that we don’t prepare, is that we believe it won’t happen to us?
“We have been faced with so much over the last few months on a personal level, as family, and as a Nation. I know some are fighting to survive, some are fighting to feed their families, some are fighting to save their homes, and some are wondering why. I can tell you we will make it through this together and when we come through this together, we will be stronger.
“I challenge you to focus on the good and prepare for the future. Prepare for the generations to come. Once elected as your District 9 Legislative Representative, I will focus on our future, our survival, and our economic prosperity.
“I respectfully request that you vote. It means a lot. Absentee ballots are available, and you can contact 800-880-9880 for assistance. Your absentee ballot must be returned and be in the hands of the election committee no later than June 27, 2020 at 10 a.m.
“If you did not receive an absentee ballot request, you can still request one. You may download a request for your ballot at potawatomi.org/2020-ballot. You may also request a ballot by mailing a letter. Absentee ballot requests must be postmarked no later than June 6, 2020.
“I look forward to seeing you soon, Jay.”
Paul Schmidlkofer (incumbent, District 12)
“This election, I did not receive an opponent. That, along with my long history of service to the Nation, led me to not populate the Hownikan with advertisements or articles. I would like to take this last opportunity though to express my appreciation for your support. Being raised near the Tribal headquarters, I experienced much of the progress we have achieved over the past roughly 50 years. None of it came without dedicated effort of the leadership through those years. One of the key elements of our success has to have been the continuity of leadership during much of this period. A shared vision and effort allowed for positive, steady growth for us. I am proud to have been part of that during my 23 years as an elected official of the Nation. It has been a privilege and an honor. Thank you again for your support.”