By Ryan Heinsius, Arizona Public Radio
Recent polls show Arizona is one of a handful of toss-up states in the U-S presidential election. That could give increased prominence to the Native American vote in the historically red state. Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye is now the most recent tribal leader to officially endorse Democrat Hillary Clinton. He is urging other Navajos to cast their votes for the former secretary of state. He says during her campaign, Clinton has committed to address issues like Indian healthcare and education, combating drug and alcohol abuse, and bolstering public safety. In addition, the Navajo president says he doesn’t think Republican Donald Trump would respect tribal sovereignty and treaties made with the federal government.
Navajo Vice President Jonathan Nez, who also endorsed Clinton, says she would continue tribal relationships fostered under the Obama administration.
“Eight years of that nation-to-nation dialogue with the U.S. and tribal communities have taken Indian Nations into the 21st century, I believe,” Nez said. “Hillary has been to Navajo before as the first lady. We really believe wholeheartedly that she’ll do great things for Indian Country and the Navajo people.”
The tribal vote could also be also key in other Arizona races. Democrat Tom O’Halleran and Republican Paul Babeu are competing in the state’s First Congressional District. Each have appealed to Navajo voters during their campaigns.
“We have high unemployment rates on the Native American reservation lands,” said Fred Solop is a political science professor at Northern Arizona University. “So jobs and the economy are really critical. I think that’ll be a substantial focus.”
Solop said O’Halleran’s focus on economic issues could give him an edge.
The Navajo Nation will hold separate tribal elections November 8th, and Solop says that’s likely to boost voter turnout. There are more than 130,000 registered voters on the Navajo Nation, who have historically favored Democratic candidates.