By all accounts, new state Sen. Carlyle Begay is highly qualified for public office.
He has impressed lawmakers, county and city officials and even the Governor’s Office with his credentials as a student of public health. And he boasts extensive work with American Indian communities as the vice president of business development at the American Indian Health Management and Policy group in Phoenix, where he has worked since 2006.
There is only one problem: A litany of documentation received by the Apache County Attorney’s Office shows that Begay has been a resident of Gilbert for the past seven years — a town hundreds of miles from the county and legislative district he now represents.
The Apache County Attorney’s Office will seek to remove Begay from office unless the freshly sworn-in lawmaker can present evidence proving his proper residency is within that county, not Gilbert.
His case is likely to test the Legislature’s rules of residency and to determine exactly when and how they should be applied.
Attorneys retained by Begay, a Democrat whose home for legislative purposes is in Ganado, say the accusations concerning the senator’s residency “are meritless and have been brought for purely political reasons.”
But in a letter sent to Begay on Aug. 8, Deputy Apache County Attorney Joseph Young wrote that his office must seek the senator’s removal unless Begay can provide evidence to the contrary.
“This office is mandated to proceed in Quo Warranto against you to remove you from your position where unchallenged evidence is presented relating to your qualifications,” Young wrote.
The letter follows an affidavit filed on Rep. Albert Hale’s request challenging Begay’s claim to residency in Apache County, and includes evidence forwarded to the county attorney by Hale’s attorney, Thomas Ryan.
Hale, D-St. Michaels, cited a passage 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.
The state representative was one of three nominees to be appointed to the Legislative District 7 Senate seat following the departure of former Sen. Jack Jackson, Jr., but the Apache County Board of Supervisors appointed Begay.
Changing his profile
The Apache County attorney’s letter details the evidence stacked against Begay’s claim to residency on the Navajo Reservation in Apache County. It includes Begay’s application to serve on Gilbert’s Industrial Development Authority, which requires residency in Gilbert and was approved; a search of Begay’s previous 10 addresses, which include locations in Gilbert, Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff, but none in Apache County; and a printout of Begay’s LinkedIn profile on which the senator claimed Gilbert as his home and touts his service on the Industrial Development Authority.
Begay’s LinkedIn profile has since been changed to list his home address in Ganado, where the senator is registered to vote as of July 22.
Previously, he’d been registered to vote in Maricopa County, listing his address in Gilbert, since April 2008, according to voter registration records included in the letter. Begay’s registration in Maricopa County was rescinded on July 25.
“[Begay’s] gotta show something. He can’t just say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m stomping my feet and saying, well, my mom and dad had that house up there and I lived up there,’” Ryan said. “The last 10 addresses that he shows up at before Honeysuckle, not one of them are in Apache County. I hired a private investigator to check that out. He does not live in Apache County.”
Young’s letter was addressed to both addresses associated with Begay: his Gilbert residence in the 500 block of South Honeysuckle Lane and a P.O. Box in Window Rock where Begay is now registered to vote. The box is more than 20 miles from the residence Begay lists near Ganado.
Young cites a recent opinion written by Attorney General Tom Horne, which notes a provision in the Arizona Constitution that requires legislators to live in the county they will represent for at least one year prior to election or appointment.
“If the allegations made by Mr. Hale are true, your appointment to the Office of Senate for Legislative District 7 is unlawful, and you may be usurping such position,” Young wrote.
Preparing a response
Begay, who brushed aside questions about his residency when he was sworn into the Senate on Aug. 6, hired attorneys Andrew Gordon and Roopali Desai as representation.
In a letter to Young on Aug. 14, Desai wrote that Begay’s attorneys are preparing their response on behalf of the senator.
Gordon said the required one-year of residency is for officials who take office by election, not appointment.
“In essence, the residency rules are different between someone who’s been elected to the Legislature and someone’s who’s been appointed to fill the remainder of a vacancy,” Gordon said. “There’s a specific statute to filling a vacancy for the remainder of a term, which is what Senator Begay is doing for Jack Jackson’s seat. When it comes to filling the remainder of a term, you only need to be a resident as of the time of appointment.”
Begay has had an apartment at the address in Ganado listed on his new voter registration for roughly a year, Gordon said.
“He’s had a big presence up there. But the technical legal answer is, they’re different requirements,” he said.
Gordon cited the Arizona statute that details the process for filling vacancies in the Legislature, which states that the candidate must “reside at the time of nomination in the same district and county as the person elected.”
The attorney’s argument hinges on residency “at the time of nomination.” Begay’s voter registration was changed to Apache County days before his nomination, Gordon said.
Gordon also questioned Hale’s motives for seeking to remove Begay from office.
“Albert Hale is obviously the guy who wants Senator Begay removed because Hale wants that seat. The county shouldn’t be carrying Hale’s water on this and spending public money to file a lawsuit,” Gordon said, adding that the county will have to pay its legal fees and Begay’s if he prevails.
But a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office said there is no delineation in state law between an appointed or elected legislator — that either situation calls for a lawmaker to have lived in the county he or she will represent for one year prior to taking office.
Roots on the reservation
Lost in the debate over where Begay truly resides — Gilbert or Ganado — are his strong qualifications for office Access to health care on Arizona’s reservations is a priority of Begay’s, noted Sen. Steve Gallardo, who said the two met during President Obama’s visit to Phoenix on Aug. 6.
Gallardo, D-Phoenix, was one of six senators who voted to approve Begay’s confirmation to the Greater Arizona Development Authority in January. Brewer appointed Begay to the board to serve as tribal representative in 2012.
Begay’s appointment came with high recommendations from former Sen. Jack Jackson, Jr., who Begay replaced in the Senate.
“Jack even mentioned him in our Democratic caucus when we were going over the gubernatorial appointees,” Gallardo said.
Sen. Robert Meza said he remembers running into Begay at an event four or five years ago and was impressed by how intelligent and articulate he was. Meza, D-Phoenix, said he was equally impressed during the confirmation process.
In a Senate confirmation questionnaire for the Greater Arizona Development Authority, Begay 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 his confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce, Energy and Military Committee in January, Begay testified that although he lives in the Phoenix area, his roots and heritage have always remained with the Navajo Nation.
His qualifications impressed the committee members, who unanimously voted to approve Brewer’s appointee.
“I’ve never, in Senate confirmations on appointments, gotten as many calls as I have in support of you today, and I keep getting them popping up on my computer, and that really says something,” said Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, who voted that day to approve Begay’s appointment.
The appointment was approved days later by the full Senate in a group vote on nominees.
The previous 10 addresses
None of Sen. Carlyle Begay’s previous 10 known addresses are in Ganado, or anywhere in Legislative District 7, according to information obtained by a private investigator hired by Rep. Albert Hale’s attorney:
(Listed in order from most recent to oldest.)
10. 541 S. Honeysuckle Lane Gilbert, AZ 85296
9. 411 E. Indian School Road, Unit 3101 Phoenix, AZ 85012
8. 101 S. Players Club Drive Tucson, AZ 85745
7. 3601 Lake Mary Road, Unit 242 Flagstaff, AZ 86001
6. 6444 E. Boulder Run Flagstaff, AZ 86004
5. 9095 Starfield Road Flagstaff, AZ 86004
4. 101 S. Players Club Drive, Unit 21201 Tucson, AZ 85745
3. 411 E. Indian School Road Phoenix, AZ 85012
2. 101 S. Players Club Drive, Unit 2420 Tucson, AZ 85745
1. 101 S. Players Club Drive Unit 21204 Tucson, AZ 85745 — Source: Apache County Attorney’s Office
The law of the Legislature
Attorneys for Rep. Albert Hale and Sen. Carlyle Begay dispute which portion of the state Constitution or state law details the residency requirements that must be met to serve in office. If Begay is right, he can keep his seat. If Hale is right, Begay may be usurping the office of the Legislative District 7 Senate seat.