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Updated Aug 5, 2014 - 6:22 pm

Arizona lawmaker’s death opens door to independent win

PHOENIX — The death of Republican state Sen. Chester Crandell has boosted
the chances for an independent to be elected to the Legislature for the first
time in recent memory. Crandell was unopposed in the GOP primary and was set to
take on independent Tom O’Halleran in the November general election.

O’Halleran, a former lawmaker from Sedona, would have had an uphill battle
taking on Crandell as an incumbent. But with him out of the race, it will be up
to the state Republican Party to choose a candidate to appear on the general
election ballot. Meanwhile, the Navajo County Board of Supervisors in the coming
weeks will have to appoint someone to serve out the remainder of Crandell’s
term. The district takes in parts of Navajo, Coconino, Yavapai and Gila
counties, and Navajo County supervisors will pick Crandell’s replacement.

No names are yet circulating for the general election replacement, state
Republican Party communications director Tim Sifert said Tuesday. But Reps. Bob
Thorpe and Brenda Barton, who also represent the district, would likely be asked
if they were interested, Sifert said.

Barton didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment. Thorpe said he would
be honored if he were chosen, but “at this point getting over the shock of the
last 24 hours is first and foremost on my mind.”

The lack of an incumbent on the ballot could help O’Halleran as he tries to
return to the Legislature after a lapse of six years. He was ousted from the
Senate in 2008 by Sen. Steve Pierce, but redistricting placed his home in
Crandell’s 6th Legislative district seat. That district is strongly Republican,
but Sifert acknowledged the loss of Crandell makes holding onto the seat more
difficult.

“It just throws a lot in uncertainties into the race,” he said.

O’Halleran said Tuesday he hadn’t thought about how Crandell’s death in an
apparent horseback accident near his home in Heber might affect the race. He had
spoken to Crandell three weeks ago about the young colt he was breaking in,
O’Halleran said.

“The main thing right now is to pray for his family and make sure they’re
surrounded by loved ones,” he said.

The former Republican dropped his party affiliation earlier this year to take
on Crandell, in part because he believed he couldn’t get a primary campaign off
the ground in time.

“The second piece is that I truly believe there is a need for somebody to
bring people together and that there needs to be much more discussion concerning
the critical issues this state’s facing that are not tied to the political
structure but to the public policy side and the public-policy need of the
debate,” O’Halleran said. “And that’s very hard to do when you have the
pressures of in-party politics.”

Crandell, 68, took a “young colt” out for a one-hour ride Monday morning, and
when he didn’t return, family members went searching for him. They found him
dead about 2 p.m.

An autopsy would determine if Crandell died from being bucked off the horse or
if he had a heart attack or other medical issue that caused him to fall, Navajo
County Chief Deputy Jim Molesa said Tuesday. Results are expected in a day or
two, he said.

Crandell championed education, states’ rights and rural issues during his
nearly four years in the Legislature. He was born in Holbrook and raised in
Heber, where he lived with his wife, Alice, and raised nine children. He had a
bachelor’s degree in agriculture education from the University of Arizona and
master’s degree in education leadership from Northern Arizona University.

Crandell was an educator for more than 30 years, including 10 years as
superintendent of the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology in
Snowflake.

Funeral services were incomplete, the sheriff’s office said.

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