Published June 28, 2016
I have been fascinated by the candidacy of Carlyle Begay for Congress. It’s been quite the political drama: A young state senator who first earned his office with an appointment, wins election as a Democrat, then says he’s a Republican, then he gives up a shot at re-election to his office, to run for Congress.
What a story. But there is more. In the middle of a campaign, his wife, Candace Begody-Begay says she’ll run for his senate senate post, has to resign her job as editor of the Navajo Times because of an obvious conflict of interest, and then fails to make the ballot because she didn’t collect enough legal signatures.
Instead of good ending, we’re only at a chapter that sort of just fizzled out.
Monday Begay ended his campaign and endorsed Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu in the GOP primary.
Begay’s story was interesting because it was more about tactics than ideology. Yes, he may be, probably is, a true believer in Republican principles (though in the era of Donald Trump you have to ask, which Republican principles?). He could have tried to sell his GOP vision to Navajo voters running for re-election. My bet: He would have been crushed. Navajo voters overwhelmingly vote for Democrats — especially in a race that’s a contest between one Navajo politician and another. (Previous: Can one family build a Navajo Republican Party?)
So Begay picked another route.
Arizona’s first congressional seat has the most Native American voters of any distict in the country. Nearly a quarter. So by running for Congress, he challenged the status quo (especially within the party). Republicans would have been smart to pull out the stops and back Begay because it would have created a new paradigm: Would Navajo voters opt for a Navajo or a Democrat with a standard resume? It would have been a tough sell, but with resources, and a little luck, the Republicans could have owned this seat for a decade or more. But by the time Begay entered the race there were already a slew of Republicans who had money and the resources to win the primary. So game over.
(To be fair: There are so other Navajos still in this race, Republican Shawn Redd and Democrat Kayto Sullivan, but neither has the experience nor the potential resources of a Begay candidacy.)
Let’s be clear about this congressional seat: It will have Native representation. The only question is when.
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
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