WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Congressional candidate Tom O'Halleran attended the opening of the 23rd Navajo Nation fall council session Oct. 19 to hear about the nation's concerns.
Those concerns include youth suicide, jobs, Navajo Generating Station, environmental quality and human services.
O'Halleran is seeking the seat in Congressional District One. Ann Kirkpatrick currently holds the office and is not seeking reelection because she's running for U.S. Senate against U.S Sen. John McCain.
O'Halleran is the lone Democrat in the race so far but there are four Republicans running in that primary. Those candidates are rancher Gary Klehne, former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Arizona House Speaker David Gowan.
The congressional district includes 11 tribes, including the Navajo and Hopi tribes.
A recent increase in suicides among Native youth 30 and younger on the Navajo Nation has many concerned. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Navajo legislators are concerned about the tremendous impact these suicides have on families and Navajo communities. Recently, eight suicides have occurred. O'Halleran said a downturn in an economy often results in an increase in suicides so more jobs and more counseling are needed.
"We need to work with the tribes to see what we can do," he said.
O'Halleran said there is a high unemployment rate on the Navajo Nation that would force an emergency declaration if unemployment was so high in the Phoenix area.
"This trend has to change. It's unacceptable," he said.
O'Halleran said the federal and state governments should give the tribes incentives to expand solar and wind businesses on the reservations. He said another key part of improving the economy on the Navajo Nation is improving education. He said when people are better educated they make better decisions and have a better quality of life.
"We need to identify what will work and that includes making education a priority for every Native child. These children have a right to a positive future," he said.
O'Halleran, a former Arizona legislator, said the Navajo Generating Station recently signed a long-term contract, which is an important link to the national grid and the Central Arizona Project. The Navajo Generating Station supplies electricity to Arizona, Nevada and California. It also supplies the energy for the Central Arizona Project, which brings water to the Phoenix area and other locations in Arizona. The Navajo Generating Station is based on the Navajo Reservation near Page.
"We need to make sure that when we generate power that it's as clean as possible," he said.
O'Halleran said one question that needs to be addressed is how to transition from coal to solar without losing an industry, and how the federal government should be involved in dealing with this issue.
He said the Navajo Nation has the continual goal of clean air and clean water. This again raises the question of how the federal government should be involved in helping the Navajo Nation to reach these goals.
On another environmental matter, O'Halleran is concerned about the under funding of national parks and he suspects it will get worse because Forest Service funds are being prioritized for firefighting instead of maintenance at national parks.
"Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry. We need to maintain our national parks," he said. "I will fight for national parks because it's a quality of life issue.
Grand Canyon National Park is also part of the congressional district.
O'Halleran said whether he's working on tribal or environmental issues he can get legislation passed because as a legislator for eight years he often worked across party lines. He was a Republican while in the state legislature, but switched to an Independent and has since become a Democrat.
O'Halleran, who served as chairman of the Native American Affairs Committee in the state legislature, said he wants to make sure that programs like Medicare and Medicaid are working properly on the reservation. He also wants to assure that appropriate medical care is provided.
"If you're not healthy your ability is down to work or to go to school," he said.
O'Halleran said diabetes and obesity remain problems on reservations so education and programs are needed to confront these problems.
O'Halleran's top three priorities are jobs, education and health care for people on and off of reservations.
"If we have good jobs we don't have as many people on social welfare. If we have education we have a better workforce," he said.
His educational priorities for the Navajo Nation are more funding for Diné College, more dual enrollment classes for high school students and helping universities understand the cultural problems Native Americans face when they transition into college.
O'Halleran has worked on veteran issues while in the state legislature doubling the amount of counselors available to Native American veterans.