Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Navajo Democrat Senator joins GOP
(Arizona Republic) - Carlyle Begay, a Democrat who was often viewed as the state Senate's 18th Republican, officially joined the GOP Monday.
The announcement, attended by a bevy of Republican elected officials, surprised no one and makes no substantive change to the power dynamics in the Arizona Legislature.
But it does give the GOP bragging rights and a chance to make a run at winning over Native American voters in next year's elections
Begay, a Navajo from Ganado, told The Arizona Republic that the Republican Party better reflects the values of self-determination and self-empowerment that he holds and wants to emphasize to his district, which includes the Navajo and Hopi reservations.
Besides, he said, he was increasingly isolated within the Democratic caucus after he crossed party lines and voted for the current-year budget. His vote provided the crucial 16th vote needed to pass in the 30-member Senate.
"I want to help the Republican Party build a bridge with those who need and want a chance with those who can provide that chance," Begay told reporters at a packed news conference attended by U.S. senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, GOP Chairman Robert Graham, Senate President Andy Biggs and more than half of the GOP Senate caucus. His main job, Begay said, is to provide a voice for tribal communities and rural areas "but not through the lens of a political ideology." He said he votes based on what he thinks is best for his constituents, leaving aside party labels.
"I think that's what we're supposed to do," he said.
However, he turned to the Republican Party instead of registering as an independent because he wants to reinforce what he says is the GOP message of self-determination — the very thing tribes are trying to emphasize to the state and federal governments.
Begay,34, is a second-term senator, appointed two years ago to fill a vacancy. Last summer, he won a three-way Democratic primary for the Senate nomination, and he cruised to victory in November. He said he plans to run again next year and believes his party switch won't hurt him.
"They'll vote for me because they know me," he said.
Begay said his budget vote, and the aftermath, was the "tipping point" in his decision to re-register as a Republican. Democrats rebuffed him and barred him from using any internal caucus resources, such as for issuing news releases.
"I was being isolated because I was fighting for people to have a voice," Begay said. Meanwhile, Republicans were welcoming. Gov. Doug Ducey, along with Biggs and House Speaker David Gowan, visited his district twice, most recently in August, he said.
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Thanks to the Libertarian Republican for the heads up.