Monday, August 19, 2013

Who is Carlyle Begay, the new state senator for LD7?

On August 6, Carlyle Begay was sworn in as the new LD7 state senator, taking the seat vacated by Jack Jackson Jr. when he resigned to become the Obama administration's liaison to Native American tribal governments for environmental issues.

In this video, from a January 23 hearing of the Senate Commerce, Energy and Military committee, Begay appealed for recommendation to the full senate for confirmation to serve on the board of directors of the Greater Arizona Development Authority. Besides presenting himself, Begay also gives a brief description of GADA.

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Did I mention that Begay's appointment has proven already to be highly controversial. Thus far, I had been skeptical of the controversy, but now am having to give it serious consideration.

Begay's predecessor thinks he will be a fine senator. That may or may not be how it plays out. However, let's consider a couple of things.

First, just who is state Sen. Carlyle W. Begay? 

In the video, Begay describes an impressive educational and professional background. But some of the other things he says, and what members of the senate committee say in return, give us important clues to who he is and what citizens of LD7 can expect from him.

First, Begay mentions his father who has served as a long-time tribal (Navajo) liaison to Peabody Energy (which bills itself as the world's largest private sector coal company). Begay talked about how important it was to hear about those issues as he was growing up. No doubt father and son are both proud of each other.

But having grown up in a home where the idea of burning coal to generate electricity is the foundation of that family's prosperity is, to me, a significant Red Flag.

Peabody provides the (capital to deliver) coal to Salt River Project's Navajo Generating Station. A lot of Navajo Nation members provide the labor. We already know that SRP holds the Arizona Legislature by the short and curlies. SRP also has been a MAJOR player (and funder) of ALEC. We also know that ALEC has declared war on Renewable Energy Standards in every state.
When the American Legislative Exchange Council gathers for its 40th annual meeting in Chicago on Aug. 7, model legislation representing the group's latest effort to roll back state-level renewable energy portfolio standards will be up for consideration by a task force comprising companies including Peabody Energy Corp., American Electric Power Co. Inc., Duke Energy Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp., according to Greenpeace research associate Connor Gibson.
If members of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force agree, the model legislation, known as the Market-Power Renewables Act, which seeks to create a market for renewable energy credits and phase out renewables mandates by 2025, will form the basis of a coordinated campaign in 2014 involving corporate lobbyists, think tanks and state legislators.
"They have some motivation to attack these renewable portfolio standards at the state level," Gibson said July 31 of the corporate members of the task force. The obvious motivation for fossil fuel-based companies is protecting their current and future profits, he said. "But ALEC can be a convenient way to leave these companies' names out of the public debate when states are having conversations about how to change their [RPS] laws." 
This is what we get with Carlyle Begay in the Arizona Senate. Or should I say that's what Peabody Energy gets?

Begay also described his service on Arizona's chapter of the American Indian Chamber of Commerce, including having served for two years as president. Which is all well and good, but Begay gives clues during the hearing that he strongly promotes privatization.

Privatization of public services and government agencies and functions has been a major factor in degradation of government accountability to the American people.

If you think the connection from the senate hearing testimony doesn't link Begay strongly enough to privatization, there's more.

Immediately after Begay's appointment and swearing in, charter school advocacy organization Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) issued a press release touting Begay's appointment.
Begay, a member of the DFER-AZ advisory board, has spent his career endeavoring to improve the quality of life for Arizona families through public policy and community service. He became involved in education while student teaching at the University of Arizona with the Collaboration for the Advancement of Teaching Technology and Science (CATTS), a program that partnered with local underserved school districts to improve students’ understanding of science, mathematics, and technology. (emphasis mine)
So who or what is DFER? Before getting down to the bottom line, its Statement of Principles has four paragraphs of platitudes.
We believe that reforming broken public school systems cannot be accomplished by tinkering at the margins, but rather through bold and revolutionary leadership. This requires opening up the traditional top-down monopoly of most school systems and empowering all parents to access great schools for their children.
"Empowering all parents to access great schools" is code for the charter school movement. The charter school movement, which got a solid foothold in Arizona about 20 years ago, is ultimately a front for privatization and undermining public education. I could (actually, CAN) write more about that, but it would belong in a different post.

However, the connection between DFER and ALEC is very clear.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been in the news lately for a variety of reasons. Today, Salvador Rizzo at wrote about ALEC model legislation in the Garden State. Rizzo correctly notes that Colorado’s SB-191 is now model legislation for ALEC. SB-191 was Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston’s bill, although other parties clearly helped with at least some parts of the bill. Johnston is on DFER-CO’s Advisory Committee. I asked Johnston about his bill becoming ALEC model legislation. “191 is model 4 many orgs as ED is still bipartisan policy area,” was Johnston’s response (via Twitter).
At the end of the video clip from Begay's appearance before the senate committee, Michele Reagan makes the motion for the committee to recommend Begay for confirmation. When it came time for her to vote on that motion, she mentioned that she had received numerous glowing citizen recommendations for Begay. Since they were on her computer, perhaps someone should submit a public records request for all written or digital communications received by Ms. Reagan on January 23, 2013. You know, to see who exactly it was that was recommending him to the Republican state senator from Scottsdale.

My hunch is that it wasn't coal mine workers from LD7.

Take note also of how the committee chairman, Al Melvin speaks to and about Begay. My experience (very limited) in listening to and reading comments written by Melvin suggests he is EXTREMELY partisan. Not just a little bit, but a LOT. Get a load of the things he posts to twitter and you'll see what I mean.

By the way, last week attorney Tom Ryan (who represents state Rep. Albert Hale) suggested to me that he believes Begay to be a Trojan Horse of sorts sent by Senate President Biggs. Ryan said he thought Begay's senate appointment and his relationship with Senate President Andy Biggs parallels that of former state Rep. Sylvia Laughter and former House Speaker Jeff Groscost.

I suspect the truth is more subtle than that. First off, Laughter reportedly grew up with or around the Groscost family. Groscost was, prior to his death, very active in the Mormon church in Mesa. Laughter went to college at Brigham Young University. Andy Biggs is also Mormon. If Begay turns out to be Mormon, the connection may not be so subtle.

Because there is essentially NO Democratic Party presence in Apache County, and the Board of Supervisors has only three members and I'm not sure they even serve full-time, it's likely that the screening and selection process was handled quite awkwardly. But whether anything improper took place is a different question altogether.

The normal process for appointments to fill vacancies starts with elected Precinct Committeepersons. In this case, it would have been the Democratic PCs in that portion of LD7 which is in Apache County. But because there are none, Apache County Supervisors appointed a committee to screen applicants.

That committee provided those Supervisors three names from which to choose, Carlyle Begay was one of them. Sitting state Rep. Albert Hale was another. At this point, the third name is inconsequential. However, if Begay is found to be ineligible to serve because he does not meet the requirements of the Arizona Constitution, that person may again be "in play."

Regardless of what else the Supervisors may have been thinking when they selected Begay, they did know that if they selected Hale, they would have to turn right around and go through the process all over again to fill the vacancy Hale would leave in the House.

Whether Andy Biggs contacted the Apache County Supervisors or not -- to advocate for Begay's appointment -- probably does not matter. But, according to Ryan, that Begay has been a long time resident of Gilbert rather than anywhere in Apache County does matter.

Begay has retained Andy Gordon to represent him.

The more I think about it, the more I think Tom Ryan is probably right that Begay (who may honestly be a Democrat, but seems to be an ALEC-leaning one) is really a Trojan Horse.


  1. It looks like the Apache County Board of Supervisors committee failed to do a simple residency check on Begay. According to another AZ Central article, "Various state and local government records indicate Begay has lived in Gilbert for the past seven years." He was registered to vote in Gilbert since 2006, until July 22 when he changed his voter registration from Maricopa County to Apache County. Seriously, can this be more obvious?

    On paper, it looks like Begay had a promising start as a Native American public health advocate as he authored a study on the effects of uranium contamination in drinking water, received a Mo Udall scholarship...His people needed him.

    Unattractive political connections and positions notwithstanding, Begay lost all credibility and respect when he tried to win this Senate appointment by dishonest means.

    Sad to think of the Navajo Nation being represented/soldout by Ben Shelly and possibly this guy.

  2. I can't say for sure if Begay's recent voter registration change will be as significant as it may seem. In fact, that he sought the appointment does not necessarily mean that he "tried to win this Senate appointment by dishonest means." If it turns out that the appointment should rightfully have gone to someone who has been a resident of Apache County for at least a year, that may simply mean that Begay (as well as the screening committee organized by Apache County AND the Apache County Supervisors themselves) misunderstood the constitutional requirements.

    What matters to me most is that a very bright guy, with a potentially bright political future, grew up with coal in his brain if not in his blood (figuratively speaking). And that he got caught up with ALEC ideas and could be in position to aid the Tea Party more than the Navajo Nation or Arizona Democrats.

  3. no more Navajos in state legislature...

    1. Carlyle Begay IS in the legislature together with Albert Hale AND Jamescita Peshlakai..