For A Navajo Voter In Arizona, Environment, Jobs Are Top Concerns

Oct 4, 2016
Originally published on October 4, 2016 7:49 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene in Phoenix. Renee, I decided to join you here in the West. I'm in Arizona. This is the latest stop in this election project that we are calling Divided States.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Although, David, I must say Arizona traditionally votes Republicans. But it is seen this year as a toss-up.

GREENE: It really is. A lot of people are talking about it as a toss-up, so much so that Hillary Clinton has really been investing in field offices, hoping to make it harder for Donald Trump to win this state.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOTIFICATION ALERT)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Uh-oh, somebody responded. They said, yes, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Boy, I'm going to be disappointed if I'm the only one who gets Spammy Pammy.

GREENE: All right, Renee, so what you're hearing here, Arizona Democrats...

MONTAGNE: Sounds like a field office (laughter).

GREENE: It is a field office - you got it - but it's not the field office that we always remember. This is actually a texting bank, which you might say is the modern version of a phone bank. They're texting to try to get Democrats to turn out on Election Day.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, modern and very low key...

GREENE: Exactly.

MONTAGNE: ...As these things go. Do voters that you're hearing from sound divided?

GREENE: I mean, we're listening to try to see. And that's really the point of this project, to listen to voters on the day of a debate, the vice presidential debate tonight. We're hearing from four voters on the show today, and then we're going to bring them back tomorrow to see what they thought of the debate tonight.

And we're going to go now to the Navajo reservation.

MONTAGNE: And there is, we should remind listeners, a sizeable Native American population in Arizona.

GREENE: Yeah. Oh, yeah - it's actually the second largest minority in the state. They've served as a swing vote in close races in the past. And Laurel Morales, a reporter for KJZZ in Flagstaff, she spent time on the reservation with a young voter named Majerle Lister.

LAUREL MORALES, BYLINE: Majerle Lister has big plans for his future. He wants to run for president, president of the Navajo Nation, that is.

MAJERLE LISTER: I've always been political. My grandfather was a chapter house president but also a councilman in the Navajo Nation. And I used to play when they were at the chapter house meetings. But looking back at it now, I'm like - oh, wow, maybe that's where, like, subconsciously I picked it up. And I wanted to be part of it.

MORALES: One of the biggest issues facing the Navajo is so many young people leave the reservation to go to school or to get a job. Half of the tribe is unemployed. Majerle is 22 and just graduated from Arizona State University.

LISTER: We're always told to come back - get an education and come back. There's, like, that nag - not - it's more of a pull, like, saying, I need to go back and do something. The reality, though, is that there's no jobs to really come back to. There's, like, a - what's considered a brain drain.

MORALES: Almost his entire family has left the reservation to find work. Majerle is one of the lucky ones to have a job on the reservation. He's a research assistant at the Dine Policy Institute, a research organization.

Majerle is chopping wood for his Grandma Mary Kee on the east side of the Grand Canyon in a juniper forest. She's a Navajo elder who's been following the election closely.

MORALES: Are you are you planning to vote?

MARY KEE: Yes, I will vote every - all my life for a Democrat - for the Democrat (laughter).

LISTER: She was like, make sure she doesn't get too close to the ax.

KEE: (Laughter) You use the ax like Paul Bunyan.

MORALES: Majerle takes a break to talk with me. He says the candidates rarely talk about Native American issues publicly, such as water scarcity. Both Clinton and Trump have met with Navajo leaders. And right before the primary, Bernie Sanders held a rally on the Navajo Nation. He's said to be the first presidential candidate to do so. That won over Majerle and a lot of his peers.

LISTER: A lot of Navajo youth called him Che Bernie, which means Grandpa Bernie.

MORALES: Now that Sanders isn't a contender, Majerle says he's worried about why Hillary Clinton has adopted some of his positions, such as opposition to fracking.

LISTER: Hillary, she flip-flops. It seems like she's just doing it to get votes. It makes me nervous. If I'm going to vote for someone, I want them to be very solid on their positions.

MORALES: Majerle hopes that Clinton will take a stand on the issues important to him, like the environment, water, jobs, tribal sovereignty and women's rights. He says he won't vote for Trump and he doesn't know anyone on or off the Navajo Nation who will.

For NPR News, I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.

MONTAGNE: All right. That young man is one of the voters we're meeting this morning from Arizona, where David Greene is right now. And David, sounds like if Hillary Clinton can turn out enough Bernie Sanders supporters like Majerle Lister, she could have a shot in this red state.

GREENE: I think that's fair, at least a better shot. I think you could talk about that broadly with the whole campaign. I mean, can she turn out that Obama coalition, including younger voters? And so we're coming down to the wire. We've got the vice presidential debate tonight. Majerle said he's going to definitely watch. We'll bring him, along with three other voters we're meeting this morning, into the studio tomorrow to see if tonight's debate changed their opinion of either of the presidential candidates. This is part of our series Divided States. And it's all happening thanks to our friends both from member station KJZZ and also Arizona Public Radio.

MONTAGNE: OK, David, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.