Out West Roundup: Former Hopi chairman challenges eligibility of successor

Author: Associated Press - December 29, 2017 - Updated: January 5, 2018

In this May 27, 2015, file photo former Hopi Chairman Herman Honanie, right, answers a question during a news conference at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Honanie says his successor wasn’t eligible for the job, based on a tribal constitutional provision that limits those with felony convictions from seeking the top elected post. Current Chairman Tim Nuvangyaoma pleaded guilty to aggravated drunken driving in November 2007, less than 10 years before he jumped into the race for the job. (Mark Henle /The Arizona Republic via AP, File)


Former Hopi chairman challenges eligibility of successor

FLAGSTAFF — The new chairman of a small northern Arizona tribe entered the race despite a provision in the Hopi constitution that prohibits anyone with a felony conviction within 10 years of declaring candidacy from doing so.

Hopi Chairman Tim Nuvangyaoma openly talked about his struggles with alcoholism before the election and credited a drunken driving charge 11 years ago in Maricopa County for turning his life around. The political newcomer’s platform was centered on helping Hopis overcome addiction and hardships, and involving the community in decisions regarding the tribe’s future.

Finding Nuvangyaoma’s court and corrections record for his last conviction isn’t possible without knowing his last name was misspelled. He pleaded guilty to felony aggravated DWI in November 2007, placing him within the timeframe that should have kept him from the chairman’s race. He was released from state prison in 2014.

No one challenged Nuvangyaoma’s candidacy after the tribal election board certified him in July, he advanced beyond the primary in September, he won general election in November and he was sworn in Dec. 1.

An appeal came last week when Nuvangyaoma’s predecessor, Herman Honanie, argued tribal election board members erred in certifying Nuvangyaoma and asked the tribal court to disqualify him.

“They are the ones who are responsible for making sure that anyone who runs for chairman is eligible,” said Honanie’s attorney, Gary LaRance. “They knew of his criminal history, but they looked at the date he committed the offense.”

The 46-year-old Nuvangyaoma has served four prison sentences for aggravated drunken driving convictions stemming from traffic stops in Maricopa County in 1994, 1998, 2000 and 2006.

In a Sept. 2 debate in Phoenix, Nuvangyaoma said he never tried to cover up his alcoholic past, was in recovery and was charged with a felony 11 years ago. He said he included the information on his biography he submitted to elections officials.


Mormon baptisms of Holocaust victims draw ire

SALT LAKE CITY — Mormons are posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims as well as grandparents of public figures like Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Steven Spielberg, despite church rules intended to restrict the ceremonies to a member’s ancestors, according to a researcher who has spent two decades monitoring the church’s massive genealogical database.

The discoveries made by former Mormon Helen Radkey and shared with The Associated Press likely will bring new scrutiny to a deeply misunderstood practice that has become a sensitive issue for the church. The church, in a statement, acknowledged the ceremonies violated its policy and said they would be invalidated, while also noting its created safeguards in recent years to improve compliance.

Proxy baptisms are tied to a core church teaching that families spend eternity together, but the baptisms do not automatically convert dead people to Mormonism. Under church teachings, the rituals provide the deceased a choice in the afterlife to accept or reject the offer of baptism.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only major religion that baptizes the dead, and the ritual has contributed to struggles by the faith to combat the mischaracterization of its beliefs.

The church’s stance on family and the afterlife is behind a massive collection of genealogical records the Utah-based church compiles from around the world and makes available to the public through its website . Proxy baptisms are recorded in a password-protected part of the database accessible only to church members.

The ceremonies first drew public attention in the 1990s when it was discovered they were performed on a few hundred thousand Holocaust victims, which Jewish leaders condemned as grossly insensitive.

After discussions with Jewish leaders, the LDS church in 1995 established a rule barring baptisms of Holocaust victims except in rare cases where they are direct ancestors. It also bars proxy baptisms on celebrities.

But periodic controversies erupted when new proxy baptisms were found listed in the church’s genealogical database, including Radkey’s 2012 discovery of one performed on Anne Frank. The church apologized then, sent a letter to members reiterating its guidelines and announced the creation of a firewall aimed at preventing the inappropriate use of proxy baptisms.

“The church cares deeply about ensuring these standards are maintained,” spokesman Eric Hawkins said in the latest statement.

In recent years, it has implemented additional safeguards, including adding four full-time staffers who watch the database and block baptisms on restricted names, he said. That includes a list of Holocaust victims sent each month by a Jewish human rights organization in Los Angeles.

New Mexico

New Mexico lawmakers unveil first bills for 2018

SANTA FE — New Mexico lawmakers began filing legislative proposals last week for the upcoming legislative session that starts in January.

Anti-crime proposals and budgetary changes are expected to dominate the agenda during the 30-day legislative session that begins on Jan. 16.

Second-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez is preparing for her final year in office and is expected to back public safety legislation and push other longstanding priorities such as tax reform.

The Democratic-led Legislature will be racing to extend an agreement that allows nurses licensed in New Mexico to work in participating states and vice versa.

New Mexico’s abbreviated legislative sessions in even-numbered years are focused on taxation and spending decisions. The governor has the authority to add other policy priorities to the agenda.

Martinez vowed in October to repeal and replace a constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s bail system, but hasn’t discussed her plans further. The amendment was approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2016 to ensure defendants do not await trial in jail only because they cannot afford to post a bond, and also allows judges to deny release to defendants who are considered extremely dangerous.

Lawmakers have prepared a bill that would insert exceptions to new pretrial release rules, focusing on defendants accused of repeated drunken driving infractions.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has announced a bill to combat auto theft with a system for auto recyclers to verify that decommissioned vehicles have not been stolen.

In other announcements, Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces plans to introduce legislation to spur the installation of solar panels on New Mexico state buildings in instances where it would reduce spending on electricity. A similar bill stalled this year.


Wyoming’s K-12 enrollment continues to decline

CHEYENNE — For the second year in a row, fewer students are attending Wyoming’s public schools. Education officials can’t say with certainty why that may be, though.

The Wyoming Department of Education on Thursday released the state’s K-12 enrollment numbers for the 2017-18 school year.

Megan Degenfelder, chief policy officer for the department, said, “These numbers didn’t come as a huge surprise when you look at the current decrease statewide in Wyoming’s population.”

The U.S. Census Bureau last week reported a 1 percent decrease in Wyoming’s population – the largest since 1989.

According to a snapshot taken Oct. 2 in all 48 school districts, there are 92,976 students enrolled in the state’s public schools. That’s 285 fewer than the 93,976 students that were enrolled in Wyoming in fall 2016 – a 0.3 percent decrease.

In fall 2015, there were 94,002 students enrolled the public schools. That’s a loss of 1,026 students.

It’s not the lowest the state has seen, though. According to data compiled by the Department of Education since 1991, the lowest enrollment year came in 2005-06, when 83,769 students were enrolled.

The highest enrollment was way back in 1993. The state had 100,755 students that year.


Survey suggests economy remains slow in rural areas

OMAHA — A new monthly survey of bankers suggests the economy remains weak in rural parts of 10 Plains and Western states, but it improved slightly.

The overall economic index for the region grew to 47.8 in December from 44.7 in November, but any score below 50 suggests a shrinking economy in the months ahead.

Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says low commodity prices and concerns about trade continue to weigh on the economy in rural areas.

Bankers from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming were surveyed.

Associated Press

Associated Press