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Navajo Presidential Election; a Soap Opera?

Navajo Presidential Election; a Soap Opera?
February 11
16:39 2015
Election day

But When?

By John Christian Hopkins

The Navajo Nation’s presidential election is like a soap opera: As the Navajo World Turns.

But, while former two-term president Dr. Joe Shirley Jr. looks to turn it into a dynasty, ex-council delegate Russell Begaye hopes to become the guiding light for the Navajo people.

The two candidates also agree on one thing. Both want to stop disqualified candidate Chris Clark Deschene from riding a wave of support from the young and the restless to the top of the executive branch.

It’s been a topsy-turvy presidential election, enough to drive the average voter to seeking counseling services at a General Hospital.

On February 5 the Shirley submitted a brief to the Navajo Supreme Court asking that the election take place immediately – with he and Begaye as the only candidates. Failure to do so would violate rules of transparency and deny the public a chance to comment on an important issue.

Because the tribe’s election code also limits how much a candidate can spend, Shirley said having to run a new election would violate his right and render it impossible to get his message out in a meaningful way.

It’s a matter of tribal law, Begaye argued in a amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief filed February 6. Ignoring tribal law would bring “disharmony and confusion” to the nation, Begaye said.

When tribal elections were held last year Shirley was the top vote-getter, followed by Deschene. That’s when two of the losing candidates – Hank Whitethorne and Dale Tsosie – lodged a complaint against Deschene, claiming he was not fluent in Navajo, which is one of the requirements to be president.

After Deschene refused to cooperate on a fluency test from the Office of Hearing and Appeals, the OHA disqualified him from the ballot in October. Under tribal law the third-place finisher, Begaye, replaced the stricken candidate.

Problem solved? Not so fast, that’s when the plot thickened!

OHA Hearing Officer Richie Nez, as it turned out, did not meet the qualifications for his position, so the Deschene camp asserted that his decision should be discarded and Chris Deschene, a Page High School graduate, be returned to the ballot.

This argument was rejected by the court, which ordered the election between Shirley and Begaye be held by the end of December. Later the court amended its order for the election to be held by the end of January.

Then, as if this whole political panorama wasn’t confusing enough, in steps the 22nd Navajo Nation Council. They refuse to allocate funds so the Navajo Election Administration can hold an election!

The council also passed a bill to eliminate the fluency requirement. Twice.

Saying this matter is too important and a nationwide referendum should be held, Shelly vetoed the legislation. Twice.

The high court removes the Board of Election Supervisors from office for failing to follow the court’s order.

During its winter session, the council “pardoned” the election supervisors and returned them to office. But it didn’t stop there. Ignoring the court’s ruling, the council passed legislation on December 30 to hold a completely new election to include all 17 of the orginal candidates – and any new ones that decided to run.

The council’s action would allow Deschene back on the ballot.

Shirley signed this bill into law on January 10, calling for a primary election in June and a run-off in August.

The supreme court is expected to make its ruling soon, possibly by the end of the week.Election day

But whether will be enough to restore Hózhó remains to be seen.


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