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Vizenor, Bevins re-elected

GUS BEVINS AND ERMA VIZENOR celebrate their primary election victories Tuesday night in Mahnomen. Because both received more than 50 percent of the vote in their races, no general election will be needed this year.

White Earth Tribal Chairwoman Erma Vizenor and District 3 Tribal Council Representative Kenneth "Gus" Bevins have both been re-elected to four year terms.

Both won their respective primary elections by more than 50 percent on Tuesday, which under tribal election rules means they are re-elected and there will be no general election this year.

"Now I can go to St. Paul and get that casino built," Vizenor said with a smile immediately after her victory.

She is holding a press conference at the Capitol Thursday morning to push the Tribal Council's plan for a metro casino.

Vizenor won 55.4 percent of the overall vote and Bevins won 56 percent of the District 3 vote.

In the race for tribal chairperson, Kenneth M. Coleman came in second with just under 37 percent of the vote.

Coleman was actually slightly ahead after the reservation votes were counted, but he was swept away by a landslide of absentee ballots for Vizenor.

"It's great to have that support on the reservation, to know I am the preferred candidate on the reservation," Coleman said.

"Absentee voters are readers -- they read the tribal newspaper, they care about good government," Vizenor said. "My supporters on the reservation do too."

The other three candidates (Char Lee-Ovaldson, Karen M. Manypenny and Sally Littlewolf) each received less than 5 percent of the vote.

In the District 3 race, Tara R. Mason came in second with nearly 24 percent of the vote.

Four other candidates -- Martha Williams, Mike T. Smith, Mike "Stink" Bevins and Paul Soyring -- split the remaining 25 percent of the vote.

Bevins said the secret of his success is just "doing my job and treating everybody fair -- as far as the community, everybody gets a piece of the pie -- that goes a long ways."

Mason said she will definitely throw her hat in the ring again in four years.

"I'm happy there was such a large turnout, and hopefully there's a new way we can move forward within our District 3."

In the chairperson's race, Vizenor dominated in Pine Point and Callaway, and won Rice Lake and Ogema.

Coleman owned Naytahwaush and Mahnomen and won White Earth village.

Vizenor dominated precincts in Minneapolis and Cass Lake, and received five times the number of absentee votes as Coleman.

In the District 3 race, Bevins won every precinct and received nearly seven times as many absentee votes as Mason.

Vizenor says she has a lot of work to do in the next four years. In addition to legislative work, the tribe needs to hold a referendum on a new constitution, and absorb the transfer of human services duties from Mahnomen County, among a number of other irons in the fire.

Coleman said he was happy to win by such large margins in Naytahwaush and Mahnomen and to win in White Earth village.

"I harbor no resentments," he said, but he added that it's difficult to compete with incumbents because of the absentee ballot system.

"People I've talked to said we need to change the absentee system," he said. "It's just an outdated, misused system that needs to be changed ... If you're going to vote, come to the reservation."

People on the reservation are tired of the current leadership, Coleman said.

"Everything is prepared by the council and enacted -- it doesn't come from the people," he said. "A lot of people feel we're more of a dictatorship than democracy."

Bevins said he spent a lot of time going door-to-door campaigning -- something he always does but that most candidates didn't appear to do this election.

He said a priority of the tribal council is more housing on the reservation.

'We just got done with 'tax credit 1' (a home-building, home-ownership program) and we're going to have 'tax credit 2' -- that should build another 30 homes in the community," he said.

Community store-gas stations are doing well and well-used by the community, he added.

The tribal council has turned around the poor financial situation of 12 years ago, Bevins said.

"In 2000, the reservation was $7 million to $8 million in debt, and the Bureau (of Indian Affairs) was going to take it over. We had an 11-year plan (to fix the tribal budget) and we did it in three years, without firing anybody or laying anybody off," he said.

The council cut programs to the "bare minimum," and didn't fill vacancies when employees left.

White Earth now has healthy reserves of perhaps a year's worth of operating expenses, he said.