By Jerry Reynolds -- Today staff
WASHINGTON - Mary Kim Titla wants to fulfill the long-standing hopes of the Democratic Party for the congressional seat of District 1 in Arizona, but first she'll have to win the primary election.
That was the foremost of her messages at a fund-raiser in Washington the evening of Sept. 28. The occasion, hosted by Lamar Associates near Capitol Hill and the Anderson and Tuell lobbying shop, drew Hill staff, federal agency officials, lobbyists and Indian organizational leaders from both sides of the political aisle. They heard that Titla, San Carlos Apache, is a viable candidate, and that circumstances have combined to give Indian country a real shot at putting another one of its own in the House of Representatives. (Current Oklahoma Reps. Tom Cole and Dan Boren are Chickasaw, Cole enrolled and Boren not.)
But before Titla can take advantage of hard times for Republicans in the general election of November 2008, a couple of speakers emphasized: she has to win the Arizona Democratic primary on Feb. 5, 2008. The announcement of Rick Renzi, the Republican incumbent, that he won't run for re-election, has brought a strong field into the fray. Anticipating competition, Titla said she has to get out the Navajo vote in the nation's most Indian-populous congressional district and raise funds to carry her campaign throughout a predominantly rural expanse that is larger than most states. ''Sometimes it's like running for governor,'' she said, adding that she's wearing out more car tires than tennis shoes these days.
She has one priceless political advantage already - familiarity, or ''name visibility'' as the politicos say, based on her prior career as a television news anchor in Phoenix. The broadcasts reached District 1, and residents haven't forgotten. The first thing many of them say is that they remember her from the news, or already feel like they know her, Titla related.
Another advantage is that she gives Native people a reason to vote, she said. ''I've seen that; I deal with my own family, which had never registered to vote, and because I'm running, are registered to vote for the very first time. I think they feel like they have a reason, finally, to vote and to go to the polls. So that's one of the big pushes, is to try to get people registered to vote, to go to the polls for the primary election. You know, a lot of them vote in the general [election], but they're not going to help me if they don't vote in the primary. ... If our Indian people can step up, they can put me over the top.''
Tribes are getting behind her candidacy, she said, with the donations that drive campaigning for national office nowadays. ''Indian country is coming through for me, Indian country is stepping up. Just this week we had about five or six checks from tribes all over the country. ... And of course the tribes from Arizona are coming forward.''
The San Carlos Apache, Tonto Apache, White Mountain Apache, Western Navajo Agency Council and the Navajo Nation vice president's office have all endorsed her.
Titla grew up at San Carlos; earned degrees at Eastern Arizona College, the University of Oklahoma and Arizona State University.
Now she's breaking trail. ''We need to do that for our children. Our children need to see our own Indian people take the lead, so that they can step up to the future and also some day run for Congress. You know what's exciting is that now we have 70, 75 state legislators who are Native American. So guess what, what does that mean? Down the road I think we're going to see more people running for Congress. And it's going to take people like me, people like you, to step out and go and you know, when a door opens up, step inside and be that voice.''
On the issues, Titla is both four-square Arizonan (water; growth management and infrastructure needs; local control of immigration and secure borders) and mainstream Democrat (health care reform; quality education and phased withdrawal from Iraq).