By Ryan Heinsius, Arizona Public Radio
Native Americans from the Hopi, White Mountain Apache and other tribes make up a quarter of Arizona’s sprawling, mostly rural 1st Congressional District. It’s the district with the largest Native American population in the country. Republican Paul Babeu and Democrat Tom O’Halleran are competing for the district’s open seat. It also includes much of the Navajo Nation, where unemployment is nearly 50 percent. Both candidates have campaigned in the traditionally Democratic-leaning area, and have focused largely on economic issues and job creation.
Babeu is an Army veteran and the current sheriff of southern Arizona’s Pinal County. He proposes expanding loans for Native American businesspeople, but says sustaining the coal industry is his top priority for the Navajo economy.
“Coal is a significant source of revenue for the Navajo Nation and I’ve communicated not just to them, everyone, that coal is a top priority, preserving coal as an energy source for the state of Arizona and our nation,” Babeu said.
O’Halleran is a former Arizona state senator and a retired police officer. He supports coal, but says investment in job training and education is vital for Indian Country’s economy.
“A better workforce, a more intelligent workforce is going to help with worldwide competition and it’ll help Native American tribal lands and populations be able to have the resources necessary to have an economy that’s vibrant,” O’Halleran said.
Control of Arizona’s CD-One has fluctuated between the two parties in the last decade. Statewide redistricting in 2012, however, made it more competitive for Democratic candidates.