Navajo president’s race in limbo

The date for a special election to determine the next president of the Navajo Nation was still undecided as of press time. At issue is a recent decision by Richie Nez, senior hearing officer of the Navajo Nation Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA), to dismiss a complaint against Russell Begaye, the candidate who nabbed third place in the August presidential primary and was placed on the ballot after the second-place finisher, Chris Deschene, was disqualified.

Myron McLaughlin brought the complaint against Begaye, challenging the candidate’s loyalty to the Navajo Nation because Begaye had filed a federal court action against five suspended or removed directors of the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company (NNOGC). If McLaughlin’s challenge had been upheld, Begaye would have been disqualified from running for president. Begaye is the council delegate representing Shiprock, N.M.

In a statement, Nez explained that the corporate governance of the NNOGC is a proper matter of federal law because the oil and gas company is a federally chartered private corporation “and that federal corporation law applies to NNOGC….”

McLaughlin had 10 days to file an appeal of the OHA decision.

The presidential campaign, under way after the primary election determined the top two contenders to be Joe Shirley and Deschene, was riddled with speculation and uncertainty triggered by questions about Deschene’s Navajo language fluency. Finally the issue was decided in the OHA and upheld in the Navajo Supreme Court disqualifying Deschene because he did not meet the fluency requirement. (See Free Press November 2014).

The decision triggered debate on the need for fluency in the Native language as a requirement to run for president, which initiated legislative and administrative actions that could have changed the requirement in the final hours before the Nov. 4 general election.

The late date of the final decisions left no time to reprint the ballots, and there was confusion at the polls.

Deschene’s disqualification opened the door for Begaye to challenge Shirley in the race. Soon after Begaye announced his intent to run, his candidacy was challenged in the OHA by McLaughlin, who claimed Begaye had violated the qualification requiring unswerving loyalty to the nation’s sovereignty.

Regardless of the OHA decision upholding Begaye’s candidacy, Wauneka is still waiting on McLaughlin’s decision whether or not to appeal the OHA’s Nov. 26 decision before setting a date for the special election.

Registration to vote in the special election is still open to Diné citizens and will remain so until a date for the special election is determined.

From December 2014. Read similar stories about .