- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Democrat-turned-Republican state Sen. Carlyle W. Begay announced Monday that he will join a crowded field for the GOP nomination for the open seat in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District.

Begay will take on six other Republicans in the race, including current Arizona House Speaker David Gowan, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and former Secretary of State Ken Bennett.

Begay is a member of the Navajo tribe who was appointed to fill a legislative vacancy in 2013 and won election to a legislative term of his own in 2014 as a Democrat. He switched his party registration in 2015 after earlier in the year breaking party ranks to back a Republican-drafted state budget.

The sprawling 1st District includes Flagstaff, most of Pinal County and the Democrat-leaning Navajo Nation, giving Begay a perceived advantage among GOP contenders for those voters.

Three Democrats and an independent are also seeking the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who is running for the seat help by Sen. John McCain.

Begay was the only Democrat to vote for the state budget in the Legislature last year, and was widely believed at the time to be considering switching to the Republican Party or running for Congress. He denied aspirations for any other office in an interview with The Associated Press last March.

“For me, I don’t have any plans beyond this office,” he said.

On Monday, Begay issued a statement saying he was running but that the decision didn’t come easy.

“I never entered public service for a career in politics or because I need a title,” Begay said. “I am running because I truly believe that together we can make a difference by fighting for Arizona’s future and the future of our communities.”

Other Republicans in the race are businessman Gary Kiehne, retired Air Force pilot Wendy Rogers and Shawn Redd a Navajo businessman. Democrat Tom O’Halleran, a former Republican legislator, and businessmen James Maloney and Miguel Olivas.

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