Gilbert or Ganado — New senator faces challenge over residency
Mere hours after he was sworn into the Arizona Senate, Democrat Carlyle Begay faced 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 was served to Attorney General Tom Horne and Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting on Aug. 7.
In the affidavit, Hale, D-St. Michaels, cites a section of the Arizona Constitution stating 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 in 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, though he was never sworn in, and was scheduled to be termed out in 2019, according to the affidavit, but Begay told the Arizona Capitol Times 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.
A spokesman for Horne said he has yet to see the affidavit.
Calls to the Apache County Attorney’s Office were not returned.
Home in Gilbert, roots in the Navajo Nation
Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, expressed support for Begay at the Aug. 6 swearing-in 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.”
Biggs said Aug. 6 was the first time he has spoken with Begay, but the entire Senate should be familiar with their new colleague — senators approved his appointment to the Greater Arizona Development Authority in January.
The Senate received Gov. Jan Brewer’s nomination of Begay as tribal representative for the board on Jan. 7, and documents included in his nomination packet show Begay listed his residence in Gilbert.
In a Senate confirmation questionnaire, Begay also wrote that he has lived in Gilbert for the past seven-and-a-half years. A resume included in the nomination packet also lists Begay’s home at the same Gilbert address. The notarized questionnaire includes Begay’s signature, signed Oct. 25, 2012, verifying that the information he provided is correct.
At a Jan. 23 legislative committee meeting, Begay described his work, which he said causes him to travel often to tribal lands in Arizona and in other states.
But “despite living in Phoenix and traveling across the U.S., my roots and heritage is and will ever remain back at my home on the Navajo Nation,” he told the committee.
The full Senate approved his appointment on Jan. 29. Begay is scheduled to serve on the Greater Arizona Development Authority until January 2016.
No objections voiced
Begay’s residency was never confirmed by Apache County officials as they sought out a replacement to fill the LD7 Senate seat in July, according to the affidavit. The seat was vacated by Jack Jackson Jr., who resigned last month to accept a post with the U.S. State Department.
“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 Aug. 5 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’s Office 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 a 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.
Law allows wiggle room
Following his swearing-in ceremony on Aug. 6, Begay brushed aside concerns over his residency and downplayed his involvement with the Gilbert 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 has 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.
It’s not uncommon for working professionals to have two residences, he said.
“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.”
Begay did not answer further questions about his residency.
Attorney Timothy La Sota, who represented Arizona House hopeful Darin Mitchell when his residency in Legislative District 13 was challenged during last fall’s election, said that while state law only allows an elector to claim one residence, the law allows wiggle room for a residency claim if a person had intent to return to a home.
“It’s a little bit about state of mind, but there are still objective criteria used to determine residency,” La Sota said.
The longer someone is absent from a place they claim as home — in Begay’s case, seven-and-a-half years — the more difficult it can be to prove intent to return, La Sota said.
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 Aug. 5 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.”