With a family and personal history that makes him a seeming metaphor for Gila County, former tribal judge and pioneer offspring Ronnie McDaniel is running now for an open seat on the Gila County Board of Supervisors.
A longtime friend and ally of retiring Supervisor Shirley Dawson, McDaniel is so far unopposed for the District 3 seat voters will decide on in November.
McDaniel has lived in the Payson area since 1938 and has roots to the pioneer families.
“My grandmother came off the mountain from Texas in 1898 in a covered wagon,” he said. She raised him, due to the hard times at the end of the Depression.
McDaniel also says he understands the school system, since the well-known Payson teacher Julia Randall taught him his ABCs.
“She ruled her classroom with an iron hand and a ruler,” he said. “She would come grab your ear if you misbehaved.”
As an adult, he served on the Payson school board for nine years including a final stint as president.
He also has roots in the mining community — his family owned the Tonto-Pittsburgh mine, near Jake’s Corner. His earliest memories are of the little shack he and his grandparents shared near there.
When the family mine stopped producing, his grandfather worked for the copper mines. McDaniel still believes the mines can add to the county’s economy.
McDaniel worked on ranches near Tonto Basin from a young age and now supports the Future Farmers of America.
But mostly, McDaniel spent the majority of his career as a deputy and a judge. He worked 22 years for the Gila County Sheriff’s Office moderating the foibles of the county’s population and had his first taste of politics while at that post.
The sheriff he worked for noticed McDaniel had not registered to vote when he started. The sheriff told McDaniel the next time he saw him, he expected him to be registered as a Democrat. At that period, the mining unions dominated county politics so everyone was a Democrat, said McDaniel.
Elected as Payson Justice of the Peace in 1987, he remained in that position until he retired in 2007.
Four years ago, he came out of retirement to become Chief Tribal Judge for the Tonto Apache Reservation, where he still presides. He recently also served as an independent hearing officer on two controversial Payson cases. In one case, he upheld the Payson Police chief’s decision to demote the department’s second-ranking officer. In the second case, he recommended the reinstatement of a town employee who allegedly went into the town manager’s e-mail. However, the council ignored his recommendation and upheld the firing.
McDaniel also sits on the Rim Country Education Alliance (SLE) board, which gives him a leading role in the effort to build a university campus in Payson.
McDaniel has also volunteered hours founding Payson’s Little League baseball and Pop Warner football programs. He has been a past member of the Moose Lodge and obtained a life membership to the Elks Lodge. He is a member of the Rotary. He still donates time to help children as vice president of the Pioneer Celebration Committee raising money for scholarships.
Because of his career and life path, McDaniel says he believes people can change — which guides his philosophy in politics today.
“I think we’ll need to continue to change and upgrade things if our community wants to thrive,” he said of the current rough roller coaster the county finds itself riding.
He believes a county supervisor must serve the whole county, not just his district.
He’ll be running in the first election since the county redrew district boundaries, which means he’ll find himself providing the crucial swing vote on issues relating to the long-standing political divisions between north and south. Dawson lives in Globe and her district tilted decisively south, which gave the two supervisors living in Globe effective control of the county. McDaniel’s redrawn district reflects a shift in the population since 2000, which means it’s relatively balanced between north and south, although with a population tilt to the north.
The political struggle between north and south has long roiled county politics, with residents in the north complaining that most county facilities and programs lie to the south.
“My theory is supervisors should be for the good of the county,” he said.
McDaniel looks forward to helping the county make it through these tough times.
“If I’m in a position to make change, I’ll look at everything for the good of the people,” he said.