Congressman Eli Potts held a town hall meeting at the Tulsa Osage Casino on Jan. 13. Courtesy Photo
Osage Nation Congressman Eli Potts hosted his fourth town hall event on Jan. 13 at the Tulsa Osage Casino Hotel to continue discussing issues impacting the Nation, as well as bills on his legislative record.
Potts, who is seeking reelection for a second Congressional term, hosted his event before filing for candidacy on Feb. 1 to run for office again in the June 6 General Election. Under accomplishments, Potts mentioned his sponsored bill to raise the Nation’s minimum hourly wage paid to government employees, which passed during the 2021 Hun-Kah Session.
Titled “Raise the Wage Act,” Potts sponsored ONCA 21-26 with the first employee minimum wage increase of $12.50 per hour starting with the current 2022 fiscal year. Three more stair-step increases to the minimum wage will also take effect yearly with the goal of paying employees a minimum wage of $15 per hour starting with the 2024 fiscal year.
“We saw other government entities throughout the state and the Nation raising their minimum wage, as the pandemic worsened, we realized people need access to money and we’ve got to pay people more than just the (earlier) minimum wage, we’ve got to have a living wage for a lot of people,” Potts said.
He discussed ongoing financial issues at the Nation, noting he would like to revisit legislation regarding monetary donations to outside government entities and politicians. Potts said his research on Oklahoma state political contributions turned up several variations of the Nation’s government, including “Osage Nation,” “The Osage Nation,” “Executive Branch,” “Office of the Chiefs” and others. “There’s no uniform giving for a strategic mission for the Osage Nation, it doesn’t appear that way in my understanding of how we approach this,” Potts said.
“There’s two instances here of why I think we need to be focusing on our political giving. One contribution was $50,000 to the (former) Governor of Missouri a couple of months before (Eric Greitens) was indicted on a couple of felony charges – that’s a problem,” Potts said. “The second one, in the last four years, we’ve given $30,000 to (Oklahoma) Gov. Kevin Stitt. If anyone knows how to take the knife out of that back, let me know.”
“We have to be focusing on this, and I can’t get this bill through Congress right now, I’m looking at my colleagues, I need some help,” Potts said of the 2020 bill he sponsored to establish a Political Contributions Committee to handle contributions, which did not get considered for a vote. Congressmen John Maker and Joe Tillman, who is running for Principal Chief in the 2022 General Election, were in attendance.
Potts also mentioned his bill ONCA 21-20, which sought to establish a legal assistance program for tribal members, which also did not pass out of the Congressional committee level during the 2021 Hun-Kah Session. “One of the things I hear at my town hall meetings is we need someone that can give us basic legal advice. The Osage Nation is somewhat unique in that we have legal problems many other tribes don’t really face. It always comes up ‘we need someone in the Osage Nation government that can handle some basic low-level legal questions … That bill’s gone nowhere, so if you believe in that if you recognize that’s something our people need help with, call your other members of Congress,” he said.
Also in spring 2021, Potts sponsored ONCA 21-35 to establish equal pay requirements in Osage law, which also has not left the committee level. “I’ve heard from a couple of constituents that we struggle with an equal pay situation, that’s unacceptable, so I filed a bill that would make it illegal to pay a difference based on gender … One (Congress) member said ‘I don’t know if we can support this because it might make us look bad’… Again, if you believe in equal pay legislation, call your members of Congress, that’s something we’re going to need to address.”
Potts also reiterated his concerns with recent year amendments to the Nation’s health benefit act, which includes an annual deadline for re-enrollment and removing rollover benefits for those enrolled in the program under age 65. “Your Congress did that in the middle of a pandemic, that’s $500 to every Osage that applies that needs help … I voted against it, there are others in this room that voted against it, I appreciate you for that … And I get calls daily from constituents that missed that deadline … They were counting on the Osage Nation and we took the rug out from underneath.”
Going forward, Potts said he is working on legislation that puts a “timeframe on how long we can be without a Treasurer” in wake of the position sitting vacant since Jim Littleton resigned in spring 2021. ‘We have serious financial problems, and we don’t have anyone at the helm.”
In the meantime, the Nation’s Accounting Controller Tyler Mcintosh has appeared at Congressional committee meetings with Executive Branch officials to answer budget and financial-related inquiries.
Potts, who also works as an associate vice president at a Tulsa area bank, said he sees loan requests everyday and noted “one of the needs I see our Nation needs is we need to protect those assets of our subsidiary LLCs. So, we moved the Osage Nation Ranch, which was a standalone operation, it has assets to its name, it has cattle on the ground, we’ve moved that back under Osage LLC. What I want to do with this law is to protect those subsidiary assets so that those cannot be collateralized,” he said of working on a future proposed law.
Potts also said he may revisit another 2021 bill not considered which proposed using $2 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for the Nation to establish a national food distribution program to deliver fresh food boxes to the front doors of Osage elders across the country participating in the program. “Because we got over $100 million from the federal government to respond to how we help the Osage people in the middle of a pandemic when everyone was scared to go to the grocery store, there was shortages in our grocery stores,” Potts said of proposing the bill.
Potts acknowledged past political debates with his government colleagues in addition to his sponsored bills that have not been voted on. “I have more pieces of legislation that have been postponed or postponed indefinitely than some of the members of Congress have written in the last four years. You can look at this legislative record document, there’s more bills stuck in committee that haven’t been postponed than some other members of Congress have written in the last four years … Those are not heard for reasons and probably because I’m a little divisive, let’s be honest, but I’d rather be divisive than indecisive – by the way that’s from Hamilton (An American Musical) for those of you who haven’t heard that.”
In closing, Potts said “I’m going to continue to fight for you, I’m going to try and get better at it because we can all get better at it” and encouraged attendees to stay involved and call their friends and family members about the ongoing issues in the Nation, adding “when we wrote that Constitution our people came together and ratified it and said ‘this is our basic level, we’re going to agree to do these things and you’ve got some people in Congress, the Executive Branch that aren’t upholding or not living up to this, I hope you can recognize this … that’s how we go about change.”
For more information on the Legislative Branch, filed legislative bills/ resolutions, session and committee meetings, visit: https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/who-we-are/legislative-branch
Original Publish Date: 2022-02-03 00:00:00