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LeChee Chpater OKs Voter Rights Resolutions

LeChee Chpater OKs Voter Rights Resolutions
March 10
14:25 2015
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Alan Tsingine speaks in Lechee Monday night.

By John Christian Hopkins

“These two people are being forced on us. They are not our choice,” said Alan Tsinigine, referring to the April 21 Navajo presidential election between Joe Shirley Jr. and Russell Begaye.

Tsinigine represents the Voter Rights Coalition, a grassroots group fighting to get their preferred candidate – Chris Clark Deschene – back on the ballot. Tsinigine spoke at the LeChee Chapter meeting Monday night.

The chapter – Deschene’s home base – overwhelmingly supported two VRC resolutions; the first is aimed at removing Chief Justice Herb Yazzie from the Navajo Supreme Court, and the second asking the Navajo Nation Council – which meets March 13th – not to allocate funds for the election.

The vote was 48-1, with the lone dissent presumably coming from LeChee resident Dale Tsosie who was in attendance. Tsosie – and Hank Whitethrone – filed the original complaint against Deschene.

“We are all coming together as Navajo people and we are removing Herb Yazzie as chief justice of the Supreme Court,” Tsinigine said.

If a person doesn’t cast a ballot, wouldn’t their name be removed from the list of registered voters, Chapter President Irene Nez Whitekiller asked.

They can vote for other positions – such as vacant Election Board of Supervisors seats – just not for a president, Tsinigine suggested.

Charging that Yazzie – who was appointed to his position by then-President Joe Shirley – has a conflict of interest, Tsinigine said that the chief justice should “remove himself from the bench.”

“This is a violation of our civil voting rights,” Tsinigine told the packed house. “They just sit there in Window Rock and make this ruling. That is why we ask ‘Why is this happening’?”

Although Yazzie was appointed by Shirley, that in itself is not unusual, LeChee Grazing Official Sara Dale pointed out. What most Navajos don’t realize is that only two people are responsible for appointing all Navajo Nation judges. Dale, who used to work for a judge off the reservation, suggested that having judges elected would increase accountability.

All the Navajo justices should have law degrees, Tsinigine said. He said the group has yet to discover whether Herb Yazzie has a juris doctorate degree.

“Some people say yes, some people say no,” Tsinigine said. “We just don’t know.”

Deschene is a veteran and has degrees in law and engineering. He finished second in the 2014 presidential primaries. Then, two of the losing candidates – Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne – filed a grievance, complaining that Deschene was not fluent in Navajo, as required by Navajo law.

The Office of Hearings and Appeal ruled against the complaint, but, in an appeal, the Supreme Court overturned that ruling. After Deschene declined to take part in a fluency test the OHA removed him as a candidate. He was replaced by Begaye, the third-place finisher, as mandated under Navajo law.

The high court ordered an immediate election between Shirley and Begaye and removed the entire Board of Election Supervisors when it failed to carry out the court’s order.

As its term expired, the 22nd Navajo Nation Council ignored the Supreme Court and decided to hold an all new election to include all 17 of the 2014 candidates – including Deschene –and anyone else that wanted to run. The council also “pardoned” the NBOES members and reinstated them to their former positions.

Though President Ben Shelly signed off on these bills, the high court invalidated them, again ordering an election between Shirley and Begaye and stripping the NBOES of their seats.

The election was scheduled for April 21. But Navajo Election Administration Director Edison Wauneka said his office would need the $317,000 necessary for the election.

The VRC is urging the 23rd Navajo Nation Council not to allocate funds for the upcoming election, Tsinigine said.

The judicial branch is not supposed to take over the legislative branch, it is not supposed to make laws, Tsinigine added.

The VRC has hired attorneys from Phoenix to work with them, Tsinigine said. The group plans to bring the same resolutions to all 110 chapters, he said.

“Our vote is heavy, it will move,” Tsinigine said

The group plans to demonstrate in Window Rock this Thursday and Friday.


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