PHOENIX — The state senator representing Flagstaff as well as much of the White Mountains was found dead Monday afternoon on a Navajo County ranch, the possible victim of a balky horse.
Jim Molesa, the county’s chief deputy, said 68-year-old Chester Crandell had gone riding Monday morning on the Despain Ranch in Heber, where he lives.
“He was only supposed to be gone an hour,” Molesa said.
“He did ride a horse that was new to him,” the chief deputy continued. “It was described to us as a younger colt.”
Molesa said when Crandell did not return after about an hour, family members went searching for him.
He said they found the senator about 2 p.m., “not far from the trail he was supposed to be on, on the ground.” Molesa said Crandell already was dead.
He said the horse, sans rider, came back to the area a short time later.
“It could be an accident but we’re pulling out all the stops to make sure we don’t expect any foul play or anything like that,” he said.
Molesa said there were no obvious signs of trauma, adding that it will be up to the medical examiner to determine whether Crandell died from the fall or perhaps had a heart attack or something else and then fell.
Gov. Jan Brewer ordered flags across the state lowered to half-staff from sunrise this morning through sunset on Aug. 11.
“I am deeply saddened today to learn of the tragic and sudden passing of State Senator Chester Crandell,” Brewer said in a statement. “A fifth-generation native of Arizona, avid rancher, legislator and — above all — a gentleman with a tangible love for Arizona and those he served, Chester will be greatly missed.”
WRITE-INS CAN RUN
He was first elected to the state House in 2010, moving to the Senate in the 2012 election. His largely rural district stretches from north of Globe through Payson to Snowflake on one side and Camp Verde, Cottonwood and Sedona on the other, up to Flagstaff and southern Coconino County.
His death means Navajo County supervisors will have to choose a replacement just in case the Legislature meets in special session before January.
The election itself is another matter.
Crandell, a Republican, was assured nomination as he was without primary opposition. It is too late to replace him on the GOP ballot as early voting has begun.
But state law allows anyone who now wants to be the party nominee still can run as a write-in as long as that person registers five days ahead of the Aug. 26 primary. That person then would face off against former state Sen. Tom O’Halleran of Sedona, who has qualified to run as an independent in the general election in November.
“I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of Senator Crandell’s sudden death,” O’Halleran said Monday. “My prayers go out to his family and many friends. Senator Crandell had a long term commitment to his community and Arizona.”
Crandell was known largely for espousing conservative causes, getting attention for a 2013 measure seeking to declare that privately minted gold and silver coins are legal tender in Arizona. He said it set the stage for a time when people will want to use these coins rather than the paper currency being issued by the Federal Reserve, money that some people believe could become worthless due to hyperinflation.
Gov. Jan Brewer said at the time she shares the concerns of proponents that the dollar isn’t worth what it used to be. And she said it’s likely to get worse “as a result of an unsustainable federal deficit.”
But the governor vetoed the measure, saying Arizona was not ready to take the plunge — one that so far only Utah has taken.
Crandell, however, may have a more lasting legacy: One of his proposals will be on the November ballot.
Proposition 122 would amend the Arizona Constitution to allow the state to exercise its sovereign authority to prohibit the use of state and local personnel or resources “to enforce, administer or cooperate” with any specific, designated federal action or program.
He said the measure simply reflects the system of government in the United States and Supreme Court rulings that the U.S. Constitution is the limit on federal power, not on the power of the states.
WORKED IN VOC-TECH
Crandell worked in education for 30 years, including the last 10 as superintendent of the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology.
He is a graduate of University of Arizona, with a degree in agricultural education and got a master’s degree from Northern Arizona University in education leadership.
Crandell is survived by his wife, Alice, along with nine children and 36 grandchildren.