Arizona Diné fare well in primary

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 26, 2010

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Arizona State Rep. Christopher Deschene soundly claimed the Democratic Party's nomination for secretary of state Tuesday night, rising farther in Arizona politics than any Native American ever has.

Meanwhile, District 2, which includes a sizeable chunk of the Navajo Nation, will continue to be represented by two Navajos and an Anglo who spent much of his adult life in Tuba City.

The state's Democrats gave Deschene 62.7 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, with 37.3 percent going to his challenger, former Real Estate Commissioner Sam Wercinski.

"We worked really hard, and I'm really excited that that translated into the support we needed," Deschene said, adding that he was "highly motivated" to win the nomination for the office that handles elections after what happened to him in 2008.

Deschene's Republican opponent challenged his election petition because some of the signatures were accompanied by post office boxes rather than street addresses.

The address rule "had the indirect effect of disenfranchising the state's rural voters," Deschene said. "I'm running because I want to work toward an electoral system that is inclusive."

In the general election, Deschene will face incumbent Ken Bennett, who was appointed to fill the vacancy left by Jan Brewer after she moved up to governor when Janet Napolitano left the governorship to become secretary of Homeland Security.

Deschene believes he has a good chance.

"The good thing about winning the primary is that you have your party's nomination and you have the party structure working for you throughout the entire state," he said. "I'm looking forward to working with committees, legislative districts, Democratic organizations at the state, county and local levels, and also with the tribes and other Native communities. They can make a difference in coming out to vote."

If conservative Republican Jan Brewer is re-elected, will Deschene be able to work with her?

"I think I've already proven I can work with a Republican-controlled executive and legislature," he said, noting that he was able to pass two bills with no opposition.

While Deschene is hoping to move into the executive branch, State Sen. Albert Hale will still be around, just on the other side of the capitol. Hale, who had termed out in the Senate, got the nod for state representative along with incumbent Tom Chabin, with 47.1 and 23.5 percent of the Democratic vote, respectively.

Hale said he believes voters have been following his seven-year career in the state senate and his election is a mandate to continue it.

"They've seen that I'm a spokesperson for Indian people in the Legislature," he said, citing legislation he sponsored allowing schools to utililze more impact aid money and making post office boxes a legal form of address to validate signatures on a nomination petition.

Hale said he is pleased by the election of Chabin and Jack Jackson Jr., both men he worked well with in the past. He was particularly happy, he said, to hear about Deschene's nomination.

"People were surprised," he said, "but I think the voters realize he has a lot to offer the state. I think he has a good chance in November."

Hale's work in the house, he said, will basically be a continuation of his work in the senate, including his long battle to get a percentage of the transaction privilege tax returned to the Indian nations on which it was collected.

Barring an unexpectedly strong challenge from Libertarian candidate Frank Mulligan, the two will take office in January.

Former District 2 Rep. Albert Tom narrowly lost to Chabin with 19.3 percent of the vote, and Patrick Carr, who like Chabin is a bilagáana who lived on the reservation, was a distant fourth with 10.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Jack Jackson Jr. - who doesn't have an opponent in the general election - will fill the state senate seat vacated by his father in 2004 and held by Hale since then.

Jackson, who runs a political consulting firm, said he felt he ran a well-strategized campaign and it paid off.

"With four Navajo candidates, we realized we needed to cover the whole district," he said. In addition, "I think the true Democrats of District 2 recognized my message."

Jackson said he's sure Arizona's massively red-inked budget will still be an issue come January and one of the first things he'd like to do is take "a close look at the state's tax structure."

"People have been talking about tax reform for a long time and with the budget the way it is, it's a good time to actually get something done about it," he said.

He added, "I'm grateful for the support I received from the Navajo voters, and I will take their confidence and provide the best voice I can for them in the state Legislature."

In a field that included only Navajos, Jackson obtained 36.1 percent of the vote, edging out his closest competitor , former state Rep. Sylvia Laughter, by nearly four percent.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay took 21.4 percent and Hale's cousin, Gloria Hale-Showalter, rounded out the pack with 10.1 percent.

Begay was magnanimous on his Facebook page, congratulating Jackson and commending all the candidates for "good, positive campaigning."

He indicated he may return to his former career of teaching.

Hale said he was thrilled to see so many Navajos running for state office, but he'd like to see other tribes pick up the ball.

"The state is starting to focus more on Indian issues," he said, "but the only way it's going to happen is for more Indians to run for political office. Navajo seems to be leading the way. We need to find a way to motivate Native Americans from the state's other tribes."

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