It is an issue reminiscent of civil rights and education in the 50s and 60s — that inflammatory question of whether “separate but equal” schools satisfied the civil rights of Black students.
Here, like the school controversy, the majority of both sides are willing if not eager to be separated.
Frank Seanez, Attorney for the Nation’s Office of Legislative Council, said that the Navajo Nation position is that Flagstaff and the Nation should not be joined in one legislative district.
“Placing them in the same district pits the political clout of the two most powerful entities in Northern Arizona against each other, to the detriment of both.”
The Voting Rights Act was passed to allow distinct populations to elect their own representatives. The question now is, will the new Legislative District 2 meet that goal?
District 2 does contain a majority of Native Americans. Of 107,813 people of voting age, 67,017 (or 62%) are Native Americans.
Of the eight candidates running for two House seats, six are Navajo. In the Senate race, of three candidates, two are Navajo.
Flagstaff’s Chamber of Commerce went against the Arizona State Chamber in endorsing Jack Jackson, Sr. for the State Senate in Legislative District 2. Instead, this organization endorsed Flagstaff resident Rita Johnson. In an on-line Political Update dated July 26, the Flagstaff Chamber acknowledged that Flagstaff is the only municipality in a District that includes five tribal nations — Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Hualapai and Havasupai.
In the same publication, the Chamber points out that voters have the opportunity to send two candidates to the legislature.
“However, it is highly likely that at least one candidate will come from the tribal nations. The Chamber is recommending that voters vote for one candidate, Jim Sedillo on September 10.”
The practice of using only one of all available votes has been called “single shot” voting.
Such rhetoric could trigger questions as to the underlying motive of these actions. The fact that Sedillo is of Hispanic ancestry is therefore comforting.
Teri Grier, the Government Affairs Manager of the Chamber of Commerce, describes the power of single-shot voting, and why it is important for Flagstaff.
“There is the likelihood of eight candidates, one being from Flagstaff. If one votes for two, they may propel another candidate beyond him or her. If you vote for two, you run the risk that you might not get either.”
This is, she said, using a vote in a strategic way.
Seanez sees it a little differently, and said that single shot voting was a matter of extreme concern to the Navajo Nation from the beginning, when the Arizona Redistricting Commission first suggested Flagstaff and Navajo be joined in one state legislative district.
“With single shot voting for only one candidate in a race where the voter could vote for more than one candidate, the voter can increase the change that a particular candidate will win, as well as ensuring that their vote does not benefit any other candidate.
“In this instance it works to the detriment of Native American voters within the legislative district, becoming one factor that leads to the retrogression [or weakening] of Native American voting rights.”
The fact that the Navajo Nation moved its own election to the same date as the State and Federal Primary and General Elections, ensuring a huge turnout on the reservation, also weakens the chance that a Flagstaff candidate is elected.
In the last election, Grier said, House candidate Sylvia Laughter pulled 10,000 votes from the Navajo Reservation, but only 5,800 people in Flagstaff voted.
Grier believes it is only natural for Flagstaff organizations to be concerned about having political representation.
The new redistricting, she pointed out, has reduced the voting block for Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation alike.
Grier recognized the importance of surrounding tribes to Flagstaff’s economy.
“The Hopi Nation has invested heavily here. They’ve made a major contribution to the Flagstaff economy.”
All of the Native Nations, she said, provide valuable economic support to Flagstaff.
“There is a giant synergy there.”
This is not to say that the interests of Indian nations and Flagstaff are identical. Grier said that the interests of Flagstaff and surrounding communities such as Sedona, Williams, and Page are closer than that of Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation.
There is a stronger interest [from the Navajo Nation] in uniting with other tribes, Grier said.
Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson, Grier continued, has worked hard to create relationships between Flagstaff and area tribes.
“It is not ‘us vs. them.’ For many years Flagstaff has been able to elect local representation, as has the Navajo Nation, with two representatives in the House, one in the Senate. I’m afraid that is no longer able to happen.”
When asked why the Chamber had not endorsed Navajo candidates Walter Phelps (Senate) and Aresta LaRusso (House), Grier pointed out that both listed their official addresses in Leupp, which is on the reservation.
“Single shot voting is a very powerful tool,” Donaldson agreed in a subsequent interview.
When asked about the possibility that single shot voting might hurt Navajo candidates, the mayor paused, considering the question.
“I’ve never looked at it that way, but it probably does,” Donaldson admitted. He believes it gives his vote more power, sending a stronger “no” to opponents. He would not exercise the practice to vote against someone’s ethnicity, he added.
Donaldson believes that tribal nations need the power to elect their own representatives, and pointed out that District 2 reduced the Navajo majority from 75% to 62%. “I support the Navajo Nation’s attempts to get a district in which they are 85% of the voters. I wouldn’t care if that district was 100% Navajo.”
“Indian nations need strong leadership. It is important that they can work together. The only thing they understand down there (Arizona State Government) is power.”
Flagstaff’s Chamber of Commerce joined Donaldson in endorsing two versions of a map that would create a district that put Navajo, Havasupai, Hualapai and Zuni in a district with the San Carlos Indian Reservation and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. Hopi is included in that district in one version, and not in the other.
Flagstaff would then be in a new state Legislative District 5.
The new Congressional District 1 is far less controversial.
“The Navajo Nation agrees that the Nation and Flagstaff should be grouped in one Congressional District as they have a community of interests as members of rural, northern and eastern Arizona entities.”
These common interests include water and federal land use, development of infrastructure and natural resource development and preservation.
Donaldson is in agreement, saying that Congressional District 1 “is pretty good. J.D. Hayworth has been effective in representing Indian Issues.”
Back to District 2. Donaldson believes that the upcoming election will prove to be the test.
“If one person from Flagstaff is elected, the current district would not be competitive for Native Americans, throwing doubt on whether the spirit of the Voting Rights Act has been met.” In that case, he said, there will be no choice but that the current redistricting is investigated.
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