Wenona Benally Baldenegro would be the first Navajo woman to serve in Congress if elected to congressional district 1, in 2012. The district encompasses Flagstaff, as well as 11 Indian tribes. We spoke to Benally Baldenegro recently, and she told us there were several factors influencing her to seek this office.
Benally Baldenegro is an attorney who told us she’s been working with non-profit organizations on creating financial education programs for the past few years. This work has helped her to see the needs of this community and also realize the great need for leadership in the area that encompasses the district. She told us that voters in the district, as it’s currently being drawn, are made up of about 21% Native Americans and 18% Latinos, something she says is important because “we’ve never had a voice from Arizona represent our communities.”
But, she said there were two principal reasons she decided to run for Congress. One, the seat is currently held by a Republican, Paul Gosar, who defeated Democratic incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick in 2010 because, as Benally Baldenegro tells it, she tried to move towards the middle, something many Democratic voters did not appreciate, Demonstrating their discontent by not showing up to the polls in 2008. If a Democrat is to win the seat, she told us, they must stick to their “Democratic values,” such as not supporting policies like SB 1070 or the states war against ethnic studies.
Aside from that however, Benally Baldenegro says her decision to run for Congress is much more personal. “This is where I’m from, this is where I was raised my entire life. I’ve always wanted to come back here. I’m Navajo so I grew up on a Navajo reservation, which is in the district,” she said. While some may say that politicians in Arizona need soften positions on immigration or ethnic studies, Benally Baldenegro says the focus should be on jobs and the economy, especially during a time when, “a lot of folks are out of work.” Jobs were definitely a top issue for Benally Baldenegro, which is why she said that having a voice on the federal level would be in port for the people in her district.
When it comes to the Native Americans district, Benally Baldenegro told NewsTaco that this community’s direct relationship with the government is distinct and unlike the type of relationship most people in the U.S. experience. For this reason, she feels that her presence in Congress would allow her to more effectively advocate for this community, especially when it comes to the values she feels are integral to them, such as equal opportunity, and liberty.
Benally Baldenegro is running a self-described “grassroots campaign” in which she’s adopting an Obama type strategy when it comes to fundraising, blockwalking, meeting and greeting, and dedicated to not taking corporate money. She says it’s working, noting that it’s only December and she has about 50 volunteers ready to help her campaign; she also recently received the endorsement of the United Steelworkers, the largest union in the district.