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Sister-in-law of current commissioner running for shot to challenge her

Jul 10, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

A St. Stephen's woman is running as a Republican for Fremont County Commission District 1. Valaira Whiteman said she hopes to bring a personal touch to the job.

"I felt that I wasn't being represented ... and so I thought I could find out what's going on and be at a personal level with not only the native people but everyone that lives in District 1," Whiteman said.

That district covers the communities of St. Stephen's, Fort Washakie, Arapahoe and Ethete and covers most of the Wind River Indian Reservation south of the Wind River.

Maiden name

Whiteman, 44, is using her maiden name for the campaign because more people know her under that name, she said. Whiteman has used her husband's name, Cardenas, in the past to run for office and is running for precinct committee-woman as Valaira Cardenas.

"Everybody I went to school with, everyone who knows me knows me as Whiteman," she said. "I tried to hyphenate it as Cardenas, and nobody knew who I am."

Whiteman grew up in Riverton and attended St. Stephen's Indian School through high school. She received a two-year degree in criminal justice from Central Wyoming College and moved away to attend Arizona State University.

She met her husband, Daniel Cardenas, and decided to have a family rather than finish her degree, she sad. The couple moved to Cardenas's home state of California for several years but returned to Fremont County in 2004.

They have six children between the ages of 1 and 18.

Whiteman is running against Mark Lambert, of Fort Washakie, in the GOP primary for Fremont County Commission District 1, and the winner would face Democratic incumbent Keja Whiteman in the general election.

The Whiteman women are sisters-in-law.

Different approach

Valaira Whiteman said she is not running for the office and not against the person holding it, but she said she would operate differently from the incumbent.

"There's a lot of things going on within the county commission, but the incumbent hasn't really been open to pass along information," she said.

Valaira Whiteman said she has worked at several jobs during her life but mostly focuses on being a mother and homemaker. She also home schools her children. She has held positions within her church, such as being the president of the Catholic women of the Thermopolis Deanery, but not in public offices. She is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe.

"I'm not a career politician. I'm not eloquent when I speak, but I'm a personable, approachable person," Valaira Whiteman said.

Her husband is running as a Republican for the State House of Representatives in House District 33.

Safety matters

The first issue Valaira Whiteman listed was safety concerns arising from District 1's overlapping jurisdictions.

"If there's a non-tribal person who calls 911 on the reservation, who's going to respond? BIA? The sheriff?" she said, referring to the Bureau of Indian Affairs' police. "It should be able to be the first person able to respond, and they can argue about the jurisdiction later."

The Republican candidate said she also is concerned about Fremont County Emergency Medical Services but thinks health and safety should trump financial concerns.

"I'd like to make sure that gets funded so that they can get it done," she said. "There's got to be a solution, and I'd like to come up and find that solution."

Border issues

She said too much has been made of the Environmental Protection Agency's decision in December that gave the tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation treatment as a state status and considered Riverton to be on the reservation.

"It was a misunderstanding between both sides. They stopped and didn't read through the whole decision ... it's about air quality," she said. "There has to be some kind of way that there's a solution to that to enable the tribes, give them the skills to be able to manage (air quality). I think that would be a benefit to everybody."

Solid waste, airport

Handling of solid waste on the reservation is another area that could be improved, Valaira Whiteman said. She thinks many reservation residents began burning trash after new hours were implemented at transfer stations.

Burning hurts air quality, she said, but people need another option for disposal. Part of the reluctance to follow the solid waste rules is a lack of understanding, she said.

"People don't understand it costs money to haul their trash away," she said.

Valaira Whiteman has seen personally the unreliability of Riverton Regional Airport when her a flight her husband was on was delayed and said she is open to stepping up with more funds for the facility.

"If it can make the airport more efficient, I can't see a problem with giving them more money," Whiteman said.