“Voting is the fundamental currency of our democracy,” exclaimed famed basketball player Kevin Johnson, “[yet] in 1998, only 48 percent of all voters turned out, and only 16 percent of young voters came out.”
The former Phoenix Sun joined U. S. Congressman J.D. Hayworth, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless and Arizona legislators and tribal leaders in exhorting Indian communities to exercise their right to vote on November 7.
The third Arizona Indian Voter’s Convention, held in the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) on Saturday, September 23, also featured candidates running for office during the all-day forum.
Hayworth (R-Mesa) noted that the first action taken for voting rights for all Americans was in the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in 1948 by Fort McDowell Yavapai Chairman Harry Austin. World War II veteran Frank Harrison and Austin sued for the right to vote after their request to register was denied.
“Arizona understands that First Americans should enjoy all the rights and privileges that other Americans enjoy,” said Hayworth. “The right to vote is something we [all] should exercise in [our servicemen’s] honor for their sacrifice for our futures.”
Napolitano spoke of the need for Natives to vote in light of the many ballot issues that could affect Indian communities; health care, the future of tribal children and elder care are just some of the issues that the election will address. The Attorney General also noted that her job is to ensure that everyone who has the right to vote does so.
Napolitano’s sentiments were echoed by Bayless. “We’re here to celebrate your right to vote,” she said. Bayless also emphasized the importance of carefully evaluating the issues presented by the initiatives. “Growth management, tobacco, property tax, education tax and bilingual instruction” will all be considered by voters, the Secretary stated. “Your vote is your voice.”
Bayless also offered to bring her staff out for one-hour presentations on the initiatives for groups.
Tribal leaders from all corners of the state attended to lend their support. The Hopi Tribe reported their registrar has signed up over 500 new voters since July. Cocopah President Michael Jackson Jr. called upon Governor Jane Dee Hull to deal fairly with the tribes on the new gaming compacts.
Navajo Speaker Edward Begaye spoke about how the Navajo Nation proposition to reduce the council delegates failed due to lack of voter participation. He also bashed Proposition 203, the “English-only” initiative, stating that although tribal members need to know English and learn math, “[The Navajo people] are not willing to give up our language, our thoughts, our prayers and our way of life.”
Politicos came out in force to the forum. In addition to Democratic and Republican representatives, several small parties set up information booths and showcased their candidates.
The Natural Law Party featured its District 7 House candidate, Barbara Shelor, and outlined its plank: the labeling and safety testing of all genetically engineered foods, preventive health care, innovation in education and the elimination of political action committees and soft campaign donations.
Several Libertarians, with their message of limited government and unlimited tribal sovereignty, attended the convention. Barry J. Hess, II, who is running against U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, also spoke out against Prop. 203. Hess said, “How [an individual] learns English should not be dictated by the government.”
And Ralph Nader’s Green Party was well represented by US Senate candidate Vince Hansen, running under the slogan of “Rock the Boat–Vote for the Old Goat.”
State Senator Jack Jackson (D-Window Rock), and Representatives Sylvia Laughter (D-Kayenta) and Debora Norris (D-Sells) reiterated the day’s message: register and vote on Election Day. Norris also said, “[The Democrats’] goal is to get more Natives into the legislature.”
John Lewis of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, who with GRIC and the Arizona Indian Gaming Association, sponsored the event, was pleased with the day’s turnout. “It’s important for us as good citizens to take part in the political process,” said Lewis.
Pima Elder Patricia Carter, however, had the last word. Carter admonished young people to “stop and take a good look. We’ll get nowhere without getting out there and vote, instead of saying, ‘I wish I had done it.’ It’s no one else’s fault if you don’t vote.”
When asked if she intended to vote, Carter replied, “I’ll be there.”