WASHINGTON – The winner of Arizona’s Democratic primary on Sept. 12, Ellen Simon, will face Rep. Rick Renzi in November for the state’s 1st congressional district seat in the House of Representatives.
Simon will have at least one advantage in that the district has a majority of registered Democratic voters.
She will also find that tribes in the district have come to like the two-term Republican. In an interview with Indian Country Today, Renzi noted that more American Indians are represented in his vast northeast Arizona district than in any other congressional district. The Navajo Nation and San Carlos Apache Tribe have both endorsed his current candidacy for a third term.
Though heavy donations to his campaigns from outside the district have led critics to call him a “carpetbagger” and worse (he ran for Congress after establishing residency in Arizona, following years in the Washington, D.C., area), he has established a record of service to tribes that argues against the epithet. Renzi says the source of his service is tribal need and his own compassion toward peoples that are under-housed, undereducated and over-regulated.
He generally supports tribal sovereignty and self-determination, as perhaps best demonstrated by his support for Navajo authority to enforce a uranium mining ban on tribal lands.
Health care, housing, education and water have been his banner issues for tribes, and he has delivered significant funding in each of the areas. In health care, he has supported national tribal-specific legislation and local needs; in education, he is backing Native language immersion school grants to tribes; and in the desert environs of Arizona, he has championed water settlements and water treatment projects for the state’s tribes.
But his deepest mark, as well as some of his strongest statements of commitment, has been made in the realm of Indian housing. Tribes have never forgotten that he offered an important clarifying amendment on tribal standing under the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Assistance Act, which in turn provided tribes with unprecedented authority over their own housing programs.
In June of this year, he engaged in a wider effort to settle the long-running Navajo/Hopi land dispute, in part because an administrative addendum to the complex situation has kept Navajo housing development in desperate straits for decades. More recently, at a congressional field hearing in Camp Verde, Ariz., Renzi advanced a proposal to remove the property title clearance process for tribal members from the exclusive province of the BIA if it can’t move faster. Renzi, along with numerous tribes nationally, considers the slow pace of BIA title clearance a hindrance to Native home ownership.
For years now, Renzi’s critics have pressed a case against him on ethical grounds. But those grounds have steadily diminished as different inquiries have gone forward, and they shrank to more or less nothing in August when the Federal Election Commission closed its files on its own audit finding that Renzi had used corporate funds in an election campaign. Renzi met an FEC announcement of no further action with the position he has repeated all along, namely that the funds in question were his personal funds, permissibly used to support his election campaign. The FEC announcement dispels an ethical cloud just as Renzi enters the crucial “home stretch” campaign months of September and October.