Editorial: Russell Begaye faces hurdles as Navajo Nation's leader

Russell Begaye, the next president of the Navajo Nation. Photo from Facebook

Arizona newspaper congratulates Russell Begaye for winning election as president of the Navajo Nation but warns of trouble ahead if voters change the language fluency requirements in an upcoming referendum:
Even the winner concedes the election was mishandled.

But Navajo Nation President-elect Russell Begaye isn’t looking back. He and his vice presidential running mate Jonathan Nez want to start attracting more private investment and businesses to the Rez, the better to bring home Navajos now living and working off the Rez.

That’s an admirable goal, given an unemployment rate above 40 percent and the near-absence of a private economy. But it is one that presidents before Begaye have also touted, then had to set aside amid near-constant political turmoil and government infighting.

Begaye will take office during another time of political tumult. He made it onto the general election ballot only because the second-place finisher in the primary, Chris Deschene, was disqualified by the tribal supreme court for not proving that he was fluent in Navajo, a requirement to hold the office of president.

The Navajo Nation Council wanted the presidential election postponed until voters could decide on Deschene’s eligibility via a referendum on the question of language fluency. But the supreme court overruled the council and ordered the presidential election held last week, two months ahead of the language referendum.

As a result, voter turnout was just 37 percent, with many Deschene supporters staying home on Election Day. Surprisingly, Begaye outpolled the first-place finisher in the primary, Joe Shirley Jr., by 10,000 votes, even though Shirley was a former two-term president and outspent Begaye 10 to 1.

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Editorial: Begaye facing big hurdles on Rez (The Arizona Daily Sun 5/1)

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