Only hours after he was sworn into the Arizona Senate, Democrat Carlyle Begay faces a challenge to his seat on the grounds that he doesn’t live in the district he was appointed to represent.
Rep. Albert Hale, who was considered as a nominee for the vacant Senate seat from Legislative District 7 but was passed over in favor of Begay, claims Begay fails the residency requirement to serve in office and represent Apache County and LD7 voters.
The challenge demands Begay, D-Ganado, be removed from office. Hale’s attorney, Tom Ryan, said the affidavit will be filed with Attorney General Tom Horne and Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting on Wednesday.
In the affidavit, Hale, D-St. Michaels, cites a passage of the Arizona Constitution which states that qualified candidates for office must have lived in the county in which they’ll serve for no less than one year prior to taking office.
“Upon information and belief, Mr. Begay is not a resident of Apache County and has not been a resident of Apache County for the legally required minimum of one year prior to his appointment,” Hale wrote in the affidavit.
The affidavit lists Begay’s address at the 500 block of Honeysuckle Lane in Gilbert – the same address associated with Begay’s voter registration in Maricopa County before he changed his registration with the Apache County Recorder’s Office on July 22.
Evidence supporting Hale’s complaint focuses on Begay’s recent service on the Town of Gilbert’s Industrial Development Authority, a volunteer board that makes recommendations on development projects to the Gilbert town council.
Begay applied to serve on the development authority in February, and verified on his application that his residence is in Gilbert, according to the affidavit. The town’s website says that members of the board “must reside within the Town limits and be qualified electors.”
Begay was appointed to the board in March and was scheduled to be termed out in 2019, according to the affidavit, but Begay told the Arizona Capitol Times Tuesday morning that he resigned from the board last week.
If Begay had served as a “qualified elector” in Gilbert as recently as a week ago, he would not meet the Arizona Constitution’s residency requirement for office in LD7, according to Ryan.
Begay’s residency was never confirmed by Apache County officials as they sought out a replacement to fill the vacant LD7 Senate seat in July, according to the affidavit.
“Neither the Citizens Selection Committee nor the Board of Supervisors asked questions concerning ‘actual physical presence’ in the County nor did they ask for production of documentation to support ‘actual physical presence’ in the County,” the affidavit stated.
Apache County Supervisor Tom White said Monday that no objections were voiced during the appointment process concerning Begay’s residency.
“As far as I know, he met all the requirements,” White said. “The [citizens] committee is the one that made the recommendation to us… out of that, we thought that this Carlyle Begay met all the requirements, and with all the education in his background, we figured he’d be the best.”
Hale forwarded a copy of an opinion that Horne issued earlier this year detailing residency requirements to the Apache County attorney on July 28, according to the affidavit.
Begay was appointed by the board on July 31.
White said representatives from the county attorney’s office never mentioned a residency issue when the board met that morning to choose a new senator.
However, Horne’s letter doesn’t specifically reference the one-year residency requirement to serve in office.
Patrick Sandoval, a district manager in Apache County and one of the three members on the Citizens Selection Committee, said nominations were made based on the information members had to go with at the time.
“It didn’t say he had to be resident for a specified amount of time. It just said he has to be a resident,” said Sandoval, who told the Arizona Capitol Times that Begay’s résumé states his residence is in Apache County.
And Begay insisted that he’d had his residency cleared by the Secretary of State Ken Bennett’s office, Sandoval said. However, no one on Bennett’s staff was aware of any contact Begay had with staff, spokesman Matt Roberts said.
Following his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday morning, Begay brushed aside concerns over his residency and downplayed his involvement with the Industrial Development Authority, which he said never met while he was a member.
The authority’s records show the last time members met was in October 2012. Town Clerk Cathy Templeton said the authority meets quarterly or as necessary.
“The residency was really a non-issue from the beginning,” said Begay, who said he’s maintained a home in Apache County and has split time between Gilbert, where he works as vice president and at the Phoenix-based American Indian Health Management and Policy, and the Navajo Nation.
“I was born and raised on the Navajo Nation, I spent my entire life here in the state of Arizona with the exception of the opportunities I had going to school and a short stint on the East Coast,” Begay said. “But I am a resident and a voter within the district in Apache County.”
Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, expressed support for Begay at Tuesday’s ceremony.
“He went through the process. He’s here, he’s been sworn in. The credentialing committee signed his credentials,” Biggs said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s the senator from that district, and I’ll let other people fight that out.”
At least one Apache County supervisor has doubts that Begay is qualified to serve. Supervisor Joe Shirley, Jr. made a motion at a board meeting Monday morning that would have directed supervisors to seek legal advice on how to possibly vacate Begay’s appointment.
The motion stalled after the only other supervisor present, Barry Weller, declined to second it. Weller made the motion on July 31 to appoint Begay, according to Apache County officials.
Sandoval said based on the information he has available to him, he doesn’t feel deceived by Begay. But he’d like the issue settled.
“What I would really like to see is if there is as statute that says that this particular position requires residency for a certain amount of time,” Sandoval said. “Then yes, I am going to take a whole different position on everything, and somebody lied to me.”