TRAHANT REPORTS—I remember John McCain speaking at a Window Rock veterans’ event. It must have been about 20 years ago. One of the speakers told McCain that he had recently joined the Republican Party. McCain smiled, then talked about why other Navajos should do that and what it would mean to have representation in both parties.
But not many Navajos made the switch. Apache County, which is mostly Navajos, has some 26,784 active Democrats and only 7,893 Republicans. The numbers are similar in other Arizona counties with large Native American populations.
So one family is trying to change that. State Sen. Carlyle Begay switched his affiliation from Democrat to the Republican in November and in March announced that he’s running for Congress in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. As I have noted this district has a higher percentage of Native American voters than any other district in the country. (Previous: Big money targets Arizona’s First Congressional) Two other Navajo candidates are running for that seat, Republican Shawn Redd and Democrat Kayto Sullivan.
Begay told The Navajo Times“in an exclusive interview” that he wanted to be “a voice for the nation’s ‘overlooked and forgotten’ communities, and local control of services and resources.”
This week Candace Begody-Begay announced she would run for the Arizona Senate seat that her husband will give up to run for Congress. She was, until this week, the editor of The Navajo Times. There was nothing posted about this episode on the Times’ website, but the Arizona Republic reported that she was forced to resign her post. “She became an official candidate for the Arizona state Senate, and so, really, it was in the best interest of all parties involved that we make that separation,” Times’ CEO Tom Arviso told the Republic. “We want to avoid any conflict of interest. If you’re a journalist and you’re covering politics … and running for office there’s a conflict.”
Begody-Begay told the Arizona Republic earlier this week that she’s had enough of “mediocre leadership.” She said it’s time to change the “mentality of the way we look at ourselves.” She said the Republican Party fits her upbringing and the traditional teachings from her elders.
Can one family build a Republican Party on the Navajo Nation? And will it give tribal communities more clout? An interesting dilemma. And daunting math.
Arizona used to be a reliable Republican state and that’s still true in terms of elective office. But in terms of voters the state is changing rapidly. The percentages in Apache County haven’t changed all that much in a decade, but statewide, back then Republicans were about 44 percent of the electorate; Democrats 41 percent and “others” or unaffiliated independents about 14 percent. Today: Independents are the largest voter bloc in the state about 35 percent; and there are fewer Republicans also at about 35 percent; followed by Democrats at 29 percent.
In her state Senate bid, Begody-Begay will likely face an experienced politician in the fall, veteran and former state Rep. Jamescita Peshlakai, who was defeated by Carlyle Begay in 2014. But in that race Begay ran as a Democrat. (Previous: A record year for Native candidates?) This time Peshlakai will own that line.
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports.