Jun 23, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff WriterSergio A. Maldonado Sr. has always been comfortable being "one of the Indians in the charge" as opposed to "the chief." But when it was suggested that he run as a Democrat for Wyoming Senate District 25 this year, he said he was ready to "rock and roll."
The Northern Arapaho tribal member said Fremont County Commissioner Keja Whiteman, a fellow Democrat, asked him to seek a spot in the Wyoming Legislature.
"(She) simply stated, 'The time is right,'" Maldonado said. "It's time to speak up."
Initially, Maldonado said he was thinking of running to replace Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, who retired this year after representing House District 33 since 2005. But when Democrat Andrea Clifford of Riverton said she wanted that spot, Maldonado deferred to her.
"Word was out on the street, but nothing formal, that I'd help out Patrick and his work by trying to secure HD33," Maldonado said. "So Andrea Clifford --a colleague and friend of mine, a tribal member --she gave me a call and said, 'Serg, I know you're going to run for HD33, but I'm just letting you know I want to run also.'
"My first words to her were, 'Wonderful, I'll support you.'"
He has been meeting with a group of Fremont County residents looking for "exceptional representation" in Cheyenne. Maldonado said he advocated for Clifford's candidacy during a committee meeting.
"Why should we divide our precious votes?" he said. "Everybody nodded their heads."
That's when Whiteman recommended Maldonado try for SD25.
"Now everybody's looking at me," Maldonado said. "I'm thinking, 'Let's do it.'"
He noted that the group of individuals is not looking for leadership based on party politics or ethnicity.
"This is about people having a voice, having a piece of the action, being at the table," Maldonado said. "Our group has both tribal and nontribal members. ... They're coming out of the woodwork by the droves to offer support."
If elected, Maldonado said he plans to be a voice for the entire Fremont County community. He also wants to provide his constituents with accurate information about statewide issues like health care and economic growth.
"We have to make people aware," he said. "I'm going to share with this community of people that this is what we can do if we want to affect change, but we all have to do it together."
Education is a priority for Maldonado, who has worked as diversity coordinator and liberal arts instructor at Central Wyoming College since 2008.
Before that, he was a teacher for more than 30 years in public schools, universities and even as an employee of a federal correctional institution in Phoenix. He started his career on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico after earning a bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University and a Master of Education from Arizona State University.
The Riverton native has completed his course work for a doctorate in psychology in justice studies and intends to complete his dissertation at the University of Wyoming, according to a press release announcing his candidacy.
When Maldonado returned to Fremont County in 2006, he spent one semester teaching at Arapahoe Charter School before working as education director for six months. He is a graduate of Leadership Wyoming, and has served as a board member at St. Stephen's Indian School. In 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the National Advisory Council on Indian Education.
"I'm a firm believer in the notion that an educated citizenry is a progressive citizenry," Maldonado said. "An educated citizen is a positive citizen, and an educated community can take care of their community. ... Education is a facilitative tool for individual success, for tribal success, for societal success."
State funding alone doesn't ensure a healthy educational system, however: Maldonado said each student's academic success is the responsibility of the entire community. And it's not always about achieving a university degree, either.
"It's about one's ability upon exiting high school to have a firm grasp on the mechanics of education whereby you can continue to self-educate," Maldonado said. "The end analysis will be a student who is the recipient of a fully integrated approach."
Maldonado lives off of 17 Mile Road on the Wind River Indian Reservation. He said he is not prepared to speak about jurisdictional issues that have arisen since the Environmental Protection Agency granted treatment in a similar manner as a state status to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes as part of the federal Clean Air Act, but he does not think the issue needs to be contentious.
As part of the TAS designation, the EPA determined that the reservation was not diminished by a 1905 Act of Congress that set aside certain areas, including the city of Riverton, for homesteading. Maldonado said the 1905 agreement "clearly distinguished" Riverton as a settlement, but he wouldn't say whether he thinks the city is currently part of the reservation.
"I am not in any position as a candidate to speak on behalf of the tribe or the litigation process right now," Maldonado said. "I never plan to run for tribal office."
The State of Wyoming and others have challenged the EPA decision in federal court. The EPA has granted a partial stay of its December decision so all parties can address jurisdictional concerns associated with the reservation boundary.
"My response to all of this is, it's about the quality of the air (and) the quality of the water," Maldonado said. "I hope that the next seven generations of Wyoming residents have clean air to breathe and good water to drink."
Maladonado filed May 28 for SD25, which covers parts of Lander, Atlantic City, Jeffrey City, the Wind River Indian Reservation and the western side of Fremont County, according to his press release. He will face Democrat Travis C. Brockie of Fort Washakie, who filed May 30, in the Aug. 19 primary election.
Republicans running for SD25 include incumbent Cale Case of Lander, who filed May 15; Jennifer McCarty and Joe Malek of Lander, who filed May 16; and Allen Whiteman of Riverton, who filed May 27.
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