Arizona State Senator Carlyle Begay (LD7) has emerged in Arizona politics as the voice uniting Arizona. With a background in healthcare and education, Begay was appointed to the State Senate in 2012, to fill the vacancy of Senator Jack Jackson Jr. With the legacy of the Jackson family championing the voice of the Native communities in Northern Arizona, little did Arizonans realize that the young professional replacing Jackson would be the voice of hope, voice of reason and the voice uniting Arizona.
After winning election to the State Senate in November 2014, Senator Begay has returned to the state capitol focused, determined and motivated to address issues that impact Arizonans while recognizing the need to champion the effort of Arizona tribes in district 7.
For Senator Begay, championing the tribal effort includes three legislative priorities including education, natural resources and tribal gaming.
“My focus has been to bridge the relationship between tribes and the state legislature. The legislature must understand that the future of Arizona is dependent on the collaboration and partnership with tribes. Tribes are becoming an increasingly larger force in every area of policy in the state. I want tribes to have a seat at the table on policy matters, and work with the legislature for a stronger future for Arizona,” stated Senator Begay.
The state of Indian education has been ignored, and the legislature’s focus is on providing every child in every community with the foundation of success through a quality education. Within Begay’s own legislative district, there are many schools in tribal communities that continue to struggle with performance. Working with the legislature, Begay looks to create better instruments of measuring school and student performance that reflects a variety issues that impact rural and tribal schools, rather that utilizing a one-size fits all measurement of performance.
“We find that our tribal and rural schools are expected to do a lot more with a lot less. Measuring every student and every school with a one-size fits all approach is not working. The state has to consider a variety of things that impact each school. On our reservations we have public schools, grant schools, charter schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools. Each categorized school has a different student population, different approach to education and different resources available to deliver upon the education needs that prepare students for statewide merit testing. This has to change. We need the legislature to implement an alternative assessment that allows our tribal and rural school to use different metrics to document student growth,” said Begay.
In addition to working on bridging the educational gap in rural Arizona, Senator Begay is championing an effort for charter schools on reservations, which would permit local community colleges to sponsor charter schools. This initiative will improve the state’s charter system and create the opportunity for community colleges to increase outreach to the high school population, while also preparing students for a transition into higher education. Charter schools have become increasingly popular in tribal and rural communities where long commutes to public schools challenge students and families.
Next month, Senator Begay and his colleagues will be launching the Native American Charter School Association, which will bring together tribal leaders, tribal education professionals and education resources. The Association hopes to discuss education systems, processes, student evaluations and looks to improve Indian education in Arizona over the course of time. Legislatively, Senator Begay hopes to work with his Senate colleagues to strengthen the Indian Education Act in Arizona to further define technical assistance for tribes, push the Department of Education to work more collaboratively with tribes and Tribal Leaders and to ensure that tribes have diverse and strong representation on the Arizona Indian Education Tribal Advisory Board.
While education continues to be a long-term priority for Senator Begay, he recognizes that Arizona’s natural resources are critical to the sustainability of the states future.
“People don’t realize it, but the majority of energy production and water for Arizona originates on tribal lands. It is because of this, I want to push the legislature to make sure that tribes are at the table for discussion on Arizona’s energy, water and natural resources. It is imperative that the state work with tribes, and it is in the best interest of all Arizonans that this effort be collaborative,” said Begay.
Until recently, Arizona has a track record of not involving tribes in discussions that relate to natural resources. Begay stated, “Tribes are a stakeholder in Arizona. There is no reason that tribal leaders are not involved in discussion and policy creation when it comes to topics like water, energy and land-use. We have seen that in the past excluding tribes on these policy matters only creates division. In order for our state to progress and develop sustainable and long-term policy, it is critical that tribes be involved in the process.”
Arizona’s economy has strengthened over the past 13 with the passage of Proposition 202, which permits Arizona tribes to exclusive gaming rights in Arizona. In late 2014, the Arizona Indian Gaming Association announced that since the passage of Prop 202, Arizona tribes have contributed more than $1 billion to the State of Arizona. For Arizona tribal gaming, Senator Begay hopes to bring a sense of education to the legislature, focusing on the importance of tribal gaming exclusivity, while broadening the understanding of his Senate colleagues about the many positive impacts Indian gaming has had on state’s economy. While the media attempts to portray Arizona tribes as in conflict with each other over the Tohono O’odham Nation’s proposed Glendale casino facility, it is crucial for Arizonans to understand that tribes remain united and in agreement on the state gaming compact and continue to work together for the healthy growth of gaming.
“We need to put the controversy of the Glendale facility behind us. We must continue to focus on why the gaming compacts with the state are working, how they are working, how Arizonans are benefiting and support the growth of our tribal economics,” stated Senator Begay.
While focusing on priorities for the state legislature, Senator Begay is proud of the accomplishments and success that he experienced legislatively. In the coming months, the Senator will see discussion on his sponsored legislation including legislation permitting community colleges to sponsor charter schools, legislation permitting students and families of home-schooled children to collect vouchers to assist in quality education and the legislation for Dine College that will allow students to be dually enrolled in the college and high school and receive dual credits.
Additionally, Senator Begay was recently announced as the Chairman of the Arizona Senate’s ad-hoc Committee on Indian Affairs, which is comprised of six senators and four tribal leaders. Begay stated, “The ad-hoc committee is a way of beginning to lay the foundation for building relationships with tribes. We wanted to have a committee of diversity with legislators who have tribal communities in their districts, and a combination of tribal leaders who represent Arizona’s diverse tribal communities. Through the committee, we hope to drive policy and include the tribal perspective on state policy. It has been and continues to be my intention to make sure that tribes are involved and considered stakeholders in Arizona. This is not our issues and their issues, these are Arizona’s issues and we must collaborate to address the issues that impact each of our communities.”
There is no guarantee for legislative and political success at the state capitol, however the passion that drives the voice of Senator Carlyle Begay is appreciated throughout Arizona. The ability of Senator Begay to recognize the need to bridge the gaps between tribal communities and the state and the conviction to unite Arizona is testimony that Senator Begay is utilizing his resources and capacity to be the voice of hope, the voice of reason and the voice for a better Arizona.