Rep. Tom O’Halleran talks issues, looks forward to general election in a new district

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran said that the Native American vote continues to be important to his reelection chances even as the Congressional district changed because of redistricting based on the census.

O’Halleran is currently in CD1, which represents 12 tribes. After the general election in November, if O’Halleran is reelected, he will represent 14 of Arizona’s 22 tribes in CD2. The one common denominator is that the Navajo and Hopi tribes are currently and will remain in O’Halleran’s district.

CD1 had a slight Democrat advantage while the newly formed CD2 will have a slight Republican advantage in registered voters.

O’Halleran will face Republican Eli Crane in the general election in November.

O’Halleran said the Native vote is crucial as tribes need to have a voice in government.

“It is critical that tribes can access their representatives,” he said. “That vote is critical to receiving a high level of representation.”

O’Halleran said the counties that oversee the voting for county, state and federal offices on the reservations are working to make sure mail in ballots are available and that there are enough polling places. He said after the state legislature considered 100 bills impacting voting that it’s hard to discern all the voting laws.

O’Halleran said he believes the top concerns on reservations remain housing, health care, sovereignty and economic development — all impacted by technology and the need for broadband. He said that is why he pushed to make millions available to tribes for broadband.

Water remains an issue for many tribes and five tribes have reached settlements for water. The Navajo and Hopi tribes remain in negotiation to obtain water from the water rights they have to the Colorado River.

O’Halleran has helped to bring millions in federal funding to the Navajo and Hopi tribes through the infrastructure, Covid and American Rescue Plan Act legislation. About $3.5 billion has been funded for tribes throughout the country for sanitation and water projects. On Navajo, solar and wind projects were funded along with funding for veterans programs and a new IHS facility in Dilkon. Dine Community College received $2.5 million for broadband.

“Both (Navajo and Hopi) need broadband for the health and safety of their families, officers and firefighters,” he said. “This is one of the biggest issues as far as tribes are concerned.”

On Hopi, the arsenic reduction program received funding.

“We’ve increased funding for veterans homes on tribal lands so we can take better care of our veterans. We’ve obtained almost twice as much funding in the past five years for veterans,” O’Halleran said.

O’Halleran said there is a lot going on with reservation projects, including $110 billion that was approved for road repairs.

“We’re in the process of getting it out the door,” he said. “Each tribe will have the ability to disperse the funds. They already have received millions through pandemic funds, infrastructure and ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act).”

He said it will take a few years to spend.

O’Halleran, a former police officer, has proposed more funding for police buildings on Navajo and Hopi. He said the problem is that the areas are vast and it takes officers longer to respond to calls. He pointed out that three Navajo police officers and two White Mountain Apache officers have been killed in the last couple years. He said police buildings would make it safer for the public and the officers.

Uranium mines

O’Halleran said the Environmental Protection Agency has obtained funding from trust fund lawsuits to cleanup 220 uranium contaminated mines on the Navajo Nation.

“The EPA is working on that,” he said.

He said more federal funding is needed to cleanup another 300 uranium mines.

“We’re just getting started,” he said.

On Aug. 17, the chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a field hearing in Cameron about the uranium mines.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

O’Halleran, who serves on the MMIW task force, co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Act to protect women on tribal lands.

“You can’t do it if you don’t have enough police officers. You can’t do it if it takes four hours to respond,” he said.

O’Halleran said the best way to address MMIP is to supply more officers and social workers.

“The FBI has to put more resources into it. If there are no consequences, there will be violence,” he said.

Climate change

O’Halleran supports Inflation Reduction Act, which includes money to combat climate change. The Act passed the U.S. Senate Aug. 7 and is now headed to the House of Representatives before President Joe Biden can sign it. He said people no longer debate whether climate change is real, but what to do about it.

Navajo Code Talkers

O’Halleran has consistently honored the Navajo Code Talkers. He expressed his deepest condolences to the family of Samuel Sandoval, one of the last living Navajo Code Talkers, who passed away recently at 98.

In covert missions attached to every major Marine operation in the Pacific theater, the Navajo Code Talkers used their Native language to send messages in unbreakable code and turn the tide of World War II.

For years after, they had to keep their service secret from their families and their tribe until the Code Talkers mission was declassified in 1968.

“Today, it is with a heavy heart that I extend my condolences to Samuel’s wife Malula, their children, grandchildren, and the entire Navajo Nation as they mourn the loss of a hero,” O’Halleran said.

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