Do Ray Begaye’s troubles hamper his re-election bid? “I think it will help me gain some traction,” GOP challenger says
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Democrat and state Rep. Ray Begaye of Shiprock is in hot water over evidence he double-billed New Mexico taxpayers and a national conference for the same travel expenses. So what might that mean in his general election in November?
An investigation by KOB-TV’s Gadi Schwartz revealed that Rep. Begaye pocketed more than $1,000 when he returned from a trip to the National Conference for State Legislators in Phoenix. Now the state Attorney General’s office is investigating the charges, which could include criminal proceedings.
Begaye has served in the Roundhouse for the last 13 years and he’s running for an eighth term against Republican Sharon Clahchischilliage, an Ivy League-educated retired school teacher in a district in the Four Corners region that’s largely made up of Native American voters.
“We’re two different people and it’s hard to judge” Clahchischilliage said of the impact the Begaye investigation will have in the race, “but yes, I think will help me gain some traction.”
Clahchischilliage (pronounced CLAW-chis-chillage, which she says means in her native language, “the one who’s left handed with curly hair”) has never run for the legislature before, although she has plenty of political experience, including nine years as executive director of the Navajo Nation Washington Office.
“I was surprised, very surprised” by the KOB-TV investigation Clahchischilliage said. “I’m glad I’m running now because we need accountability from our elected officials.”
Although Democrats have a huge edge among Native American registered voters, it is not unprecedented for a Native American member of the GOP to get elected to the state house.
In fact, the man who preceded Begaye back in the late 1990s was a Republican — Jimmy Garnenez Sr., who represented District 4 for one term.
Currently, HD-4 is made up of 46 percent registered Democrats, 31 percent Republicans and 23 percent “decline to state” or “other.”
Begaye also has a big advantage in campaign contributions over Clahchischilliage — $16,800 to $4,300 — and in he’s only had to face general election opposition just twice in his Roundhouse career.
“I was surprised and disappointed to hear of this because he is our representative,” said Clahchischilliage, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and is married with three sons and four grandchildren.
How much of a factor the story and impending investigation by the attorney general will play in November is difficult to judge.
“A lot of this will reveal what voters want to happen, Clahchischilliage said.
The District 4 race could have major ramifications in the House of Representatives, where Democrats cling to a 36-33 lead (with one independent in the chamber). Begaye’s seat was considered safe for Democrats but the controversy could put it in play.
Here’s the KOB-TV investigation into Begaye: