Mark Trahant: Native candidates face voters in Arizona primary

Photo from campaign of Victoria Steele; Graphic by Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

#NativeVote16 – Arizona voters will narrow primary field on Tuesday
By Mark Trahant
Trahant Reports

The Arizona primary election is Tuesday and there are all sorts of implications for Indian Country. At least six Native American candidates are on the ballot for offices ranging from Congress to the state legislature. Three of those races are contested.

Victoria Steele, Seneca, is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District. She faces Matt Heinz, a Tucson physician. Both Steele and Heinz served in the Arizona Legislature and the main issue so far is which one would be the better general election candidate against U.S. Rep. Martha McSally.

The Washington Post says this is the race to watch: McSally won two years ago by only 167 votes. The Post: “McSally is a fundraising machine and a GOP star, but her district is very competitive and at least a moderate Democratic wave could give her problems.”

Steele recently posted on Facebook her support for Standing Rock stopping the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Steele wrote: “It’s not ancient history: I stand proudly and defiantly with the people of the Sioux Nation in protecting their sacred land. Most people don’t feel the guilt of the genocide of Native Americans because they think it was something that happened in “ancient history” but it’s not ancient. The taking of Native lands simply because the invaders wanted it….This arrogant and greedy practice has been happening for more than 500 years and it is still happening today in places like Oak Flat, Bears Ears in Utah and now in North Dakota near Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. I am with you my brothers and sisters. This is wrong.”

Photo from campaign of Shawn Redd; Graphic by Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Arizona 1st Congressional District
Shawn Redd, Navajo, will be on the ballot for the crowded Republican primary for Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. Redd trails the other four GOP candidates in name recognition and fundraising. He will also have the tough task of getting Native Americans in the district registered as either Republicans or Unaffiliated (most are Democrats) in order to be eligible to cast a primary vote.

There are three things to know about this district: It’s one of the most competitive in the nation. The campaign will be expensive. And, it’s the district with the highest percentage of Native Americans. (Previous: Big Money Targets Arizona First Congressional)

Photo from campaign of Jamescita Peshlakai; Graphic by Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

Arizona’s 7th legislative district
Another contested race in Arizona is in the 7th Legislative District. Nearly two-thirds of the voters are Native Americans, including the homelands of eight tribes. The Senate race is between Jamescita Peshlakai, a former state Representative, and Steven Begay. Both are Navajo.

Former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah recently endorsed Peshlakai. “The universe has given me the great blessing of being able to work with a great, great man. My cheii, Peterson Zah, was our Navajo Nation’s last Chairman and first President (1991-1995),” Peshlaklai wrote on her Facebook page “I have come to respect him more and more each day, he is humble, respectful and has a spine of steel. He believes in my leadership; compassionate and yet unyelding in the way of the warrior. I am so very honored to have his endorsement and support as your next Senator for AZ’s District 7.”

However her opponent said the endorsement was improper. “The president’s staff should be remain impartial on supporting candidates, especially when one of their own is in a key race for a Arizona senate seat. ‘Ambassador’ Zah has crossed the line of integrity by publicly endorsing a co-worker,” he wrote on Facebook. “Have Zah and other executive staff from the OP/VP used tribal property and their work hours to campaign for their co-worker?”

The two candidates for the House in that district, Wenona Benally and Eric Descheenie are running unopposed in the primary. Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, Pascua Yaqui, is running for another term in Arizona’s 3rd Legislative District.

Photo from campaign of Steven Begay; Graphic by Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

John McCain, Donald Trump, and the question of turnout
One thing to watch Tuesday is what will happen to Arizona Sen. John McCain. His challenger Kelli Ward said the senator could, get this, die in office. The Washington Post called it one of the “nastiest political attacks you’ll ever see.” In an interview on MSNBC with Chuck Todd she went further: “John McCain is falling down on the job. He has gotten weak. He has gotten old. I do want to wish him a happy birthday. He’s going to be 80 on Monday, and I want to give him the best birthday present ever, the gift of retirement.”

For his part, McCain has been uncomfortable talking about Donald Trump, and essentially sticks to the script about supporting his party’s nominee. (The winner will face U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick in the general election.)

Nearly a million Arizonans voted in the presidential primary in March. The stories were all about too few polling locations and long lines. It will be interesting to see if this election is anything like that one.

And one more cool thing about this election: Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission published its Voter’s Guide in English, Spanish, and Navajo. Take a peek.

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. To read more of his regular #NativeVote16 updates, follow On Facebook: TrahantReports On Twitter: @TrahantReports

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