Downpours don't deter voters in Fort Defiance Agency

By Marley Shebala
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Aug. 5, 2010

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The downpour of rain, mud and flooded roads in parts of the Fort Defiance Agency didn't deter voters from casting their ballots in Tuesday's primary.

Unofficial results released by the Navajo Election Administration showed that about 44 percent or 48,511 of the reservation's 110,645 registered voters voted in the primary, slightly more than in the 2006 primary, when 46,955 Navajos voted.

Fort Defiance was among 110 polling sites across the reservation to open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Larry Foster of Deer Springs/Sawmill, Ariz., was among the 1,010 voters at Fort Defiance.

Foster, who owns and operates Native Energy Inc., declined to say who got his vote but was clear about his expectations for the next wave of elected officials.

His first hope is to restore accountability and harmony in governance followed by economic development, alternative energy, and scholarships.

Foster said he's tired of constantly hearing elected leaders only talk about economic development.

"Maybe it's because they don't have any actual business experience," he added.

For example, Foster said, he had to relocate his office from the reservation to Albuquerque because the tribe asks "too much" to lease office space.

He said his Albuquerque office is 2,500 square feet, yet costs one-fifth of what he was paying for office space on the reservation.

"Window Rock's idea of economic development is 'let's make money, money, money (off small businesses),' but that's hurting us because we have to generate money to keep our businesses going," Foster said. "Off-reservation governments work with us through tax incentives."

He noted that although the Navajo Nation is surrounded by alternative energy development, its leaders have not taken advantage of the global shift towards it despite ample potential.

"The reservation's coal mines are going to eventually shut down," Foster said. "Our kids need help with scholarships. We have to find a way to help them."

Faye Edgerton Nez, who voted at St. Michaels, and Lambert Bitsue Jr., 26, who voted at Twin Lakes, N.M. (Bahastl'ah Chapter), shared the same hope for their elected leaders even though they were miles apart and had never met.

They both hoped that the new president, vice president and 24-member council would focus their attention on the people.

Nez, a retired Navajo Nation employee who declined to give her age, said she wants the elected officials to be fair in their financial assistance and employment.

"Don't be discriminatory and give preferential treatment to relatives and friends," she said. "Be fair to everyone."

Bitsue said he and other community members have been asking their elected leaders to pave the heavily traveled bus routes in their chapter - a mud bog this week due to heavy rain - ever since he was in grade school.

"I hope they'll help us out with stuff we really need - paved roads, new bus routes, and a new chapter house," he said.

Cousin-sisters Beatrice Jones, 46, and Lorenda Boyd, 46, who both voted at Bahastl'ah, said they hope the next administration and council will be the first in the tribe's history to keep their word.

"It would be nice if they would keep their (campaign) promises," Jones said. "We vote for them and they don't do anything."

"I wish they would be honest," Boyd said. "They win and they don't carry through with their (campaign) promises."

Thirty-something husband and wife David and Billie Eastridge, who both voted at Tohatchi, N.M., were proud to say they voted for Lovejoy.

Unofficial voting results showed that Lovejoy was the overwhelming winner with 17,137 votes, followed by Vice President Ben Shelly with 7,763.

"I want to see a lady actually make a change," David said.

He added that Lovejoy's experience as a state elected official who has worked with federal elected leaders in Washington, D.C., gave him hope.

"She knows how to play with the big boys," David said.

He added that even though he voted to reduce the council because he wanted a change in the government, he voted for the incumbent in his district, Norman John II, because he's done an "outstanding" job and would be able to handle the additional area he would be representing.

As one of 24 delegates, John would represent Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, and Tohatchi in addition to Bahastl'ah.

Billie said she voted for Lovejoy because she felt that Lovejoy would work on issues facing women on the reservation, such as the lack of childcare facilities at workplaces.

Everette Jole, 44, who voted at Mexican Springs, N.M., declined to identify his presidential choice by name, but admitted, "I voted for a lady."

"Seems like the men just can't get it together, and the ladies are always fixing our mistakes. Well, that's what my wife does," he said.

Jole, who served two tours in Iraq, said he now works for the Navajo Area Agency on Aging, and spoke of the need to better serve the growing population of elders and veterans.

"Let's not forget our veterans," he said, describing a personal experience much like problems identified in a recent audit of funds intended to help veterans.

Francine Lee, 50, who also voted at Mexican Springs, coyly allowed that she had voted for the lady who almost won four years ago. Lee had no problem saying that her council vote went to John.

His chapter is closer to Mexican Springs, she said as she started walking towards several campaign booths outside the chapter house, where supporters of the various candidates were serving complimentary fry bread, stew, candy, water, and soda.

Complimentary food booths could also be seen at Fort Defiance, Tohatchi, and Bahastl'ah, where people socialized and stopped to eat, often at more than one booth.

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