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Will Deschene Run in 2018?

Will Deschene Run in 2018?
August 13
12:09 2017

Shaun and Chris Deschene

During a recent meeting of the LeChee  Chapter’s Voter Rights Coalition the talk got around to Chris Clark Deschene.

That is not surprising since the VRC sprang to life during the tumultuous 2014 Navajo Nation presidential election where Deschene, from LeChee, and a Page H.S. graduate, was a central figure.

The question on everyone’s mind seemed to be: will he or won’t he?

The talk fell along familiar lines according to Bernice Austin-Begay. Some people thought he might run again for president in 2018, while others figured he would stay in Washington, D.C. where he was a good job with a prestigious law firm, Austin-Begay said.

In a crowded presidential primary field in 2014 Deschene – who holds degrees in engineering and law – surprised many people with a strong second-place finish, trailing behind only former Navajo president Joe Shirley, Jr.

It looked like it was going to be a run-off between Shirley and Deschene.

But, then, two of the losing candidates filed an appeal, claiming that Deschene didn’t meet the tribal requirement that the president must be fluent in the Navajo language.

Deschene made several contradictory statements, including that he was currently in the process of learning the language.

When the Office of Hearings and Appeals arranged for Deschene to take a test to demonstrate his proficiency in the language, the candidate refused to participate. With no other option, the OHA disqualified Deschene, removing him from the ballot. He was replaced by third-place primary finisher Russell Begaye.

Months long legal wrangling ensued, with the Navajo Nation Supreme Court upholding the OHA’s decision – and eventually removing the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors when it refused to comply with the court’s order.

In an unprecedented move President Ben Shelly – who finished a dismal seventh in the 2014 primary – remained in office after his term had ended, until a new election could be held. Six months later Begaye easily defeated Shirley to become the Nation’s president.

As part of the brouhaha the VRC was formed, operating in numerous chapters, to support Deschene’s candidacy and to change the fluency requirement.

Some of the Navajo Nation Council delegates also sought to amend the fluency requirement and find other ways to include Deschene on the ballot – including allowing for a write-in candidate.

However the court denied those efforts.

Even after the 2014 election went ahead – in 2015 – the VRC turned its efforts to impeaching Navajo Supreme Court Chief Justice Herb Yazzie, who eventually retired shortly after Begaye took office.

Since then the Navajo Code has been amended to let the voters decide whether a candidate is fluent or not.

That has led to speculation that Deschene might choose to run again.

But even before the presidential election was finally held, Deschene had accepted a role with the federal Department of Energy, heading the Office of Indian Energy.

Since then Deschene has left the private sector and now works on Indian energy as a partner in the Rossette law firm’s Washington office.

Deschene was interested in joining the firm because leader Robert Rossette has a fundamental belief in supporting tribes and their sovereignty.

Deschene plans to continuing working to educate tribal leaders and professionals on opportunities in the energy field.

Lake Powell Communications has reached-out to Mr. Deschene for comment on this story.


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