Courtesy of Ray BegayeRay Begaye speaks in front of the Supreme Court in June 2012 before the court decided to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act.
Courtesy of Ray Begaye Ray Begaye speaks in front of the Supreme Court in June 2012 before the court decided to uphold the Affordable Health Care Act.
FARMINGTON — Though Democratic incumbent Ray Begaye has been state representative for San Juan County's District 4 since 1999, his legacy may fall to a relative, Republican Sharon Clahchischilliage, this election.

Begaye has been steeped in controversy for the past month.

This month, the Albuquerque Journal reported that Begaye wrote two letters in July pleading for leniency from San Juan County Magistrate Court towards his daughter, who was charged with drunken driving. The letters were written on his legislative stationery.

Last month, the state Attorney General's Office began an investigation into a number of overlapping travel expenses recorded by Begaye dating back to 2005.

The fact finding part of the investigation is "mostly done," according to Attorney General's Office spokesman Phil Sisneros.

"I really wouldn't have any comment on any of it," Begaye said on Wednesday from Santa Fe.

Shiprock's Begaye, 57, also would not comment on whether recent news of his daughter's charge and the attorney general's investigation would hurt his campaign, though his opponent, Clahchischilliage, said she was disappointed in Begaye.

"These are very serious allegations," said Clahchischilliage, 63, of Kirtland. "You can't go in sloppy. You have to know what the job entails, and what regulates you."

The two are related through their grandparents, Clahchischilliage said Wednesday.

Begaye and Clahchischilliage have years of experience, but different kinds.

Begaye has "seniority" as a state representative, he said, and has been on various committees and currently serves as the vice chairman of the Agriculture and Water Resources Committee. He also is a member of the Rules and Order of Business and the Appropriations and Finance Committee.

"The most important thing for the public to know is that I have introduced several legislative measures each year.

Jon Austria/The Daily TimesSharon Clahshischilliage is the Republican challanger for State Senate.
Jon Austria/The Daily Times Sharon Clahshischilliage is the Republican challanger for State Senate.
Even though some of those don't pass, they inspire creativity," he said.

Clahchischilliage has taken a different path, one that has led her through state, tribal, and federal politics.

She worked as a liaison between the Department of Children, Youth and Families and New Mexico tribes with former State Cabinet Secretary Heather Wilson during former Gov. Gary Johnson's administration.

Clahchischilliage has run for everything from Navajo Nation president, against President Ben Shelly in 2010, to New Mexico Secretary of State in 2002, unsuccessfully. She is not deterred by Begaye's claim of having "seniority," she said.

She said she feels that the redrawing of District 4 will help her because the district, which historically has voted Democratic, now has fewer Democrats. The district is about half and half.

"A lot of these issues of District 4 aren't partisan labeled...I'm just going to use the Republican venue," said Clahchischilliage.

Begaye currently has twice the amount campaign contributions, $20,800, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State's office. Clahchischilliage has $10,600.

Both want the inclusion of Native Americans in state politics, something that each has strived for in their own way over the years.

Begaye touts his various legislative measures throughout the years, including the Tribal Law and Order Act, which supported the funding of traditional practices at detention centers, such as sweat lodges.

He also helped to pass the Indian Education Act of 2003, which encouraged the collaboration between state and tribal governments to improve education.

Clahchischilliage, on the other hand, was the Director of the Navajo Nation Office in Washington, D.C., under the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and the first half of Barack Obama's current presidency.

During Clahchischilliage's service in Washington, D.C., Congress passed the Navajo-Gallup water pipeline bill, a $1.3 billion water project that proposes to build the massive water pipeline that will serve communities and homes along the U.S. 491 highway between Shiprock and Gallup as well as several northern Navajo communities, according to her web site. 

She also led the National Council of Urban Indian Health, which helped to pass legislation that took into account tribes that are not federally recognized.

She also served as a former Chief of Staff for the Navajo Nation Council under President Ben Shelly before resigning to campaign for the District 4 seat.

"I want that seat," said Clahchischilliage, who added that she will get to know her district before detailing a plan of action.

She and Begaye said that focusing on issues of poverty, education and health would be their top priority, though neither gave specifics on how they would do so.

"In terms of my philosophical outlook, my views have not changed," said Begaye.

Clahchischilliage said, if anything, she was not afraid of change and would be the person to bring it about.

"You can't be a minnow screaming if you're going to be swimming with the sharks," said Clahchischilliage.