KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

SOTU guests from Arizona show how Biden needs support from Native voters in battleground states

Coverage of tribal natural resources is supported in part by Catena Foundation

When President Joe Biden gave his State of the Union address Thursday, Native Americans from Arizona were special guests on Capitol Hill. It sent a clear message about the importance of Indigenous support for Democrats facing high-stakes elections this year in battleground states.

Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, a retired U.S. Marine Corps corporal, brought John and Cheston Bailon, two Navajo brothers who fought beside him in Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, during the Iraq War.

“Many moons ago, we were just young men, you know, trying to do our jobs on patrol together and now we get to have this cool experience wearing suits and looking a little grayer, a little older, but still as closest friends as we were then and I’m very happy that they’re here with me,” Gallego told KJZZ News. “I’m just glad to share this experience with my Marine Corps brothers.”

“We’ve gone through with our deployments, and then us living in Arizona, we were students at ASU when Ruben started his career there,” added John Bailon. “Here we are, what a cool moment for us.”

A long-time House representative, who’s now running for a seat in the U.S. Senate, Gallego shared the federal government has “neglected” its trust responsibilities and that “there's a lot more work needs to be done.”

“I think historically, the relationship between tribes and the government has been a pendulum of supporters or aggressors,” said Cheston Bailon, “and Ruben has been asking a lot of curious, compassionate questions, since I first met him. I think that’s what built our relationship and has extended to supporting and advocating for all tribes.”

Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community got invited by First Lady Jill Biden. Among the first lady’s 20 guests in attendance, he was the only one from Arizona. Lews was even told by White House staff that he’s the first tribal guest to sit inside the presidential box.

“I definitely hope that my presence there means something and speaks volumes about Arizona, and about the importance of tribes and tribal sovereignty,” Lewis told KJZZ News. “I have never seen the amount of attention due to tribes from the Biden-Harris administration for what has been accomplished in Indian Country.”

Climate change, infrastructure, and water were among critical issues Lewis identified for Native voters in Arizona, where Indigenous peoples make up 5 percent of the state’s population.

“Arizona is going to be ground-zero for the upcoming presidential election,” added Lewis. “And these 22 tribes, we are a swing vote. Attention is well-deserved.”

Those tribal communities helped Biden become the first Democrat to win Arizona in a presidential election since 1996.

Gabriel Pietrorazio is a correspondent who reports on tribal natural resources for KJZZ.