Government spending, tax dollars, Second Amendment rights, Obamacare, immigration, land rights—political buzzwords swarm around us from the nightly news to our Facebook news feeds. While we consume all this information, how many among us are actually willing to take a stand for what we believe?
You can bet your last roping dollar that Gary Kiehne, of Springerville, Ariz., will. Kiehne, who recently pocketed $10,500 winning the #11 at the 2014 Dynamite Arena Title Fights with partner Shawn Palmer of Taylor, Ariz., is armed and ready to stand behind the life and liberty he believes in, as one of three candidates for Arizona’s 1st congressional district.
Kiehne, a sixth-generation rancher, was born in Springerville and raised just across the state line in Reserve, N.M. He spent time as a kid in junior rodeos, then ascended the high school and college rodeo ranks and eventually tripped steers at the pro level. He attended New Mexico State University, where he was a member of the rodeo team, and graduated with a Bachelors of Science in agriculture. After graduation, Kiehne worked at a livestock auction, hauled cattle and worked on his family’s ranch before beginning a career in the oil and gas industry—in which he is still active today. He also continues to work in his family’s farming and ranching operations in New Mexico and West Texas.
In 1997, Kiehne added hotel owner to his repertoire of career ambitions, and today he owns three motels in Arizona. Not only is Kiehne, 58, an avid team roper, he is actively involved in his community and has worked hard to boost tourism, job creation and economic growth in his portion of rural Arizona (one of the largest districts in the United States). So what makes a rancher go rogue and head for the hills—Capitol Hill that is?
“I think as a member of the silent majority I finally have decided we’re going to have to start stepping up to the plate and getting into politics because sitting on our tail at home and griping about it, or being disenchanted with the process, has gotten us, as a society, $17 trillion in debt,” explained Kiehne. “Really, I think it’s time we started sending people to Washington, D.C., who are not career politicians, but who are businesspeople who understand how to balance a checkbook and understand how to create jobs, and actually have some dirt under their fingernails.”
Both literally and figuratively, Kiehne intends to be that kind of politician. A “conservative businessperson” is how he touts himself first, but with some 15 head of horses and an arena in the backyard, you’re still going to find him holding true to his Western roots and family values while tuning up in the practice pen. Whether it’s with his son, Chance Kiehne (a past New Mexico High School Rodeo Association Team Roping State Champion and the 2010 National Intercollegiate College Rodeo Association Champion), or his daughter and son-in-law Holly and Brandon Gonzales, or nephews Ned and Kurt (sons of Gary’s brother Arkie Kiehne, the well-known team roping announcer), who all also rope, it’s a family pastime.
While team roping and political campaigns may seem worlds apart, Kiehne draws from his experience in the arena and likened it to being named as a “Young Gun” by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)—an award that recognizes candidates who have met the minimum threshold in campaign organization and show potential to achieve greater status in the program as the cycle progresses.
“They asked me if I was excited to be nominated to that,” recalled Kiehne. “I basically said, ‘Well, I knew when I got into the political world I was going to have to prove myself, just like you have to in the team roping world. You don’t get to rope with the #10s until you’ve beaten them several times with the #8s and they finally start to take notice that you are there for real.’ I think the political world has finally taken notice that we’re here for real, that we are a competitor, and we have a very good chance of being successfully elected.”
The seat that Kiehne seeks is one of the top seven seats that the “Republican Party aims to take back” in this election. The primary election will take place August 26 and the general election on November 4. And while Kiehne will be in the throes of political campaigns from now until the 2014 World Series Finale, he’s still not going to miss it.
“I’ve qualified to go three times this year, and I’m a Legacy member so I’ll enter the fourth one,” said Kiehne, a 5+ header who won second in the #11 Finale in 2009 splitting $125,000 with long-time team roping partner, Rex Nichols of Silver City, N.M. “I doubt I’ll get to practice much between now and then so my partners will probably be victimized. But no, in all seriousness, it’s a great event. It’s one, if you’re going to be roping, you better not miss.”
In the meantime, Kiehne will team up with another Arizona politician/team roper—Gaither Martin of Eagar, Ariz.— who ran for the same congressional district in 2012. Martin recently signed up to help Kiehne with his campaign, and is currently acting as his campaign manager. When asked if their common thread as fellow team ropers has any correlation to running for a seat in the house, Kiehne put it this way:
“We’ve spent a lot of time, both of us in the header’s box, so (as far as roping goes) it’s always been on the competitive side, not the partner side. Now, he’s been sharing all his grassroots contacts from when he ran. Basically, same as you would do if you were watching steers and saw one of your buddies had drawn a steer you knew; you’d tell him what he was. Gaither’s helped me pick out some steers that will help us win this event.”
For more on Gary Kiehne’s political campaign, visit kiehneforcongress.com