A newly appointed state senator's lawyer said Wednesday he will provide proof to Apache County officials that his client is legally allowed to represent the state's 7th legislative district.
Rep. Albert Hale has challenged Sen. Carlyle Begay's right to the seat because Begay has lived for more than seven years in central Arizona's Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix metro area, rather than the state's northeast corner.
Hale's attorney, Tom Ryan, contends state law requires a year of residency in the county before a person can represent that area in the Legislature.
Phoenix attorney Andrew Gordon, who represents Begay, said that Ryan is wrong about the residency requirements in election law.
"That's a misreading - that is where Albert Hale and his cronies have gone seriously off base," Gordon said. "There's a difference between where someone stands for election and where someone is appointed."
Gordon said to run for election, a person must live in the county they will represent for a year. But for an appointment, he contends they only need to live there at the time of appointment.
Begay changed his voter registration to Apache County last month, and says he has a residence in Ganado.
"He's had an apartment up in Apache County for more than a year, he re-registered to vote prior to the time his name was submitted for appointment, prior to the time the board appointed him, and that's all the law requires," Gordon said.
It's a critical issue that will possibly lead to a court battle, because Begay listed his residence as Gilbert, east of Phoenix, in an application for a town board earlier this year and said he was qualified to vote in town elections. He also told lawmakers he was a Gilbert resident during confirmation hearings for a state board appointment in January.
"Respectfully to Mr. Gordon, he not only wrong, he's flat-out dead wrong," Ryan said Wednesday.
Hale and Begay are both Democrats, and Hale was one of three people a citizen's commission nominated for possible appointment by the Apache County Board of Supervisors. The supervisors chose Begay last month and he was sworn in last week.
Ryan sent a demand letter to Apache County Attorney Michael Whiting and Attorney General Tom Horne to stop the appointment on the grounds that Begay would unlawfully be holding office as the 7th District's senator.
Whiting then demanded proof of Begay's residency qualifications and cited a recent Arizona attorney general's opinion that said a legislator must have lived in the county they will represent for a year. While such opinions are useful legal guidance, a court might rule differently.
Begay, 32, was born in Tuba City and attended the University of Arizona. He works as a vice president of business development for Phoenix-based American Indian Health Management and Policy.