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Deschene and Shirley Still Waiting

October 28
12:27 2014

Navajo Nation MAPThe waiting continues in Window Rock, and even the eyes beyond the Navajo Nation are watching to see what happens next in the Presidential race between Chris Deschene and Joe Shirley Junior.

Attention is not only on the Navajo Board of Elections to see how they respond to a Navajo Supreme Court order from last week that Mr. Deschene’s name be taken off the ballot. That order came about after a series of complaints and lawsuits accused him of not being fluent in Navajo. The Navajo language proficiency is a requirement for the president under current tribal law.

Last month, the tribal Supreme Court upheld the language requirement, saying it was crucial to maintaining Navajo culture, and ordered Mr. Deschene to take a fluency test. Deschene refused the Navajo Supreme Court Order to take the proficiency test, objecting that the test had never been used before and was illegitimate.

Meanwhile early voting had already begun with Mr. Deschene’s name on the ballot, and election officials have been trying to determine how the election will proceed and have appealed to the Navajo Attorney General to clarify upcoming election steps.

A further development occurred last Friday, October 24, when the Navajo Nation Council voted to adjust the language requirement for presidential candidates. The new bill keeps the current Navajo language fluency requirements intact, but adds that the language proficiency ‘shall be’ determined by the people voting in favor of the candidate.

This is something Mr. Deschene says should have been taken care of a generation ago and has responded on his political Facebook page.

But still, there’s another very big issue; how will the current President, Ben Shelly, react to the new legislation? It was passed by a margin of just 11-10. Mr. Shelly has not yet announced if he will sign it into law or….perhaps….veto it. Everyone in Window Rock is waiting for his decision.

Meanwhile, there’s another new sidelight to this story.

Yesterday, attorneys for former candidates Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitehorne, filed an order of contempt against Deschene and the Navajo Board of Elections. The contempt charges refer to Deschene and the elections board’s alleged refusal to comply with a writ of mandamus filed last week by the same two litigants with the Supreme Court.

The two former candidates say that Chris Deschene should be removed from the ballot and replaced by Russell Begaye, who finished third in the August primary. They say that’s what the Navajo Supreme Court has ordered, and it is being ignored; thus the allegation of contempt filed yesterday.

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