Who will lead?

The face of Navajo Nation government could be much different in less than a year, but a lot depends on the voters

By Tom Arviso Jr.
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 5, 2009

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In a little less than a year from now, the Navajo People will be going to their chapter houses and local election halls to vote for their next tribal president, the new elected leader of the Navajo Nation.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010, will be general election day here in Navajoland. It promises to be a busy day across the Navajo reservation as registered voters go to the voting booths to select a man or woman to be the next Navajo Nation President.

Voters will also be choosing who will represent them in the Navajo Nation Council Chamber for the next four years. Will there be 88 seats or 24 chairs? That particular question should be decided in the near future. But in tribal politics, you just never know what is going to happen next.

So, in order to be sure about anything involving the Navajo tribal government, you have to stick with the, "I'll believe it when I see it," kind of attitude.

Now, the big question that folks are starting to ask is, "Who's going to run for Navajo president?"

That particular query is then usually followed by, "Do you think Lynda Lovejoy is going to run again? What about speaker Morgan, do you think he's going to run? What about the vice president, you know Ben Shelly is going to run."

After that, the list of potential candidates grows longer, more interesting and quite surprising.

Current suspended Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. can't run again because he's fulfilled his consecutive two-term limit. He can, however, come back and run for president again in 2014.

According to the Navajo Nation Election Office, people who want to run for tribal president and the tribal council must submit their official candidacy bids during the month of February 2010.

With there being no incumbent this election year, Navajo voters would be voting for the top two candidates in the primary election on August 3. Those two elected candidates will then challenge each other for the office of the President in November's general election.

The most mentioned name when it comes to potential presidential candidates is Lynda Lovejoy, who lost to Shirley in the 2006 general election. She is currently serving as a senator in the New Mexico State Legislature.

Lovejoy has said that she is asked often - and encouraged - by Navajos and non-Navajos on whether she is going to run for tribal president again. She is undecided at this point in time but also admits that she is happy serving as a state senator and feels that maybe she could better serve her constituents by staying at the state level of leadership.

Lovejoy has a strong support base right now and that would definitely work to her advantage if she does decide to run.

The next person who pops up on the presidential candidates radar screen is current Navajo Nation Council Speaker, Lawrence T. Morgan. The first thing that comes to voters' minds with Morgan is, "Why?"

Many folks feel Morgan is primarily responsible for putting Shirley on investigatory leave so why would he possibly subject himself to the same kind of treatment as the next Navajo president?

Morgan retains a powerful political punch right now as head of the tribal council. But, it is inevitable that wholesale changes are going to be made to the overall structure of the council during election time. So it might be to Morgan's benefit to seek the president's position as more political clout and strength is returned to the office of the President.

What is questionable about Morgan's chances are whether he would have enough support to make a serious run in the primary election. The Navajo Nation Council is not the most popular group of people on the tribal political scene right now, and as their leader, Morgan's image may suffer irreparable damage in the minds of Navajo voters.

On the other hand, Morgan has been an elected tribal leader for quite a while now and he does draw strong support from his Iyanbito/Pinedale chapter and the surrounding area. As a former rodeo announcer, he is also well known on the Navajo and Indian Country rodeo circuits where there are thousands of potential votes.

Next in line is Navajo vice president and current interim president, Ben Shelly of Thoreau, N.M. He has been active in tribal politics for a long time and in McKinley County, too. With Shirley not running, it is almost expected of vice president Shelly to follow in the footsteps of his current boss and run for president. It is his destiny.

Aside from Shirley, Morgan and Lovejoy, Shelly is probably the next most recognizable face in tribal politics and so voters will know who he is. That in itself is going to work in his favor should he decide to run.

Probably one of the most interesting names to be floating around for possible presidential contention is former Navajo Nation Vice President, Frank Dayish Jr. of Shiprock, N.M. You might recall that Dayish had a strong showing in the 2006 primary election and finished as runner-up to Lovejoy.

Since that time, Dayish has been low-key when it comes to tribal politics but his supporters certainly have not forgotten. They are biting at the bit right now and are quietly working on their proposed campaign strategy.

An articulate, reserved individual, and a Marine veteran, Dayish has been keeping himself busy with his own private businesses and professional consulting work. If he does decide to officially toss his cowboy hat into the election ring, you can bet that he will be a serious contender.

One individual that has recently gone public with his intent to seek the office of Navajo president is councilman Rex Lee Jim of Rock Point, Ariz. As the two-term delegate from Rock Point chapter, Jim plans to make his official announcement on Saturday at the Rock Point Chapter House.

Jim has said that he wants to bring integrity back into the office of the president and wants to focus on giving the Navajo people a stronger and more responsive type of government.

He feels that he has the education, experience and leadership skills needed to successfully fulfill the responsibilities of tribal president. Jim also says he is a hard worker who takes action right away on his initiatives.

This will be Jim's first attempt at running for the top seat and so he will have to campaign long and hard in order let voters all across Navajoland know who he is and what he stands for. Getting an early start on the campaign trail is always a wise move though and that just shows good political savvy on the part of Jim. Expect to see and hear a lot more of him in the coming months.

Other names of potential presidential candidates that have been floating through the tribal political grapevine include current council delegate Leonard Tsosie of Whitehorse Lake/ Pueblo Pintado/ Torreon. An attorney by trade, Tsosie is making his mark by acting as a voice of reason for the Navajo People on the council chamber floor. A former New Mexico state senator for many years, Tsosie is in his first term as a council delegate.

Long time independent businessman Lawrence R. Manuelito of Tohatchi, N.M. is another person who is mentioned as a potential candidate. Known as Larry to many of his friends, Manuelito is the president of the Chuska Development Corporation. He is no stranger to tribal politics as he ran for president during the 1990s but did not get past the primaries.

Also, Ferlin Clark of Crystal, N.M., who is the current president of Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz., appears to be a good draw for some of the younger voters who are striving to have their voice heard through their voting power.

Popular motivational speaker and business consultant Steve Darden of Flagstaff, Ariz. is another person who had been mentioned. Darden is originally from Fort Defiance, Ariz. and once ran as vice president with Leonard Haskie in 1990.

The current chairperson of the council's Budget and Finance Committee, LoRenzo C. Bates of Upper Fruitland, N.M. has also been quietly mentioned.

Rest assured that this unofficial list of names is going to grow by leaps and bounds in the next few months. As the holiday season draws near and families and friends gather to celebrate, the topic of the upcoming tribal election and who is going to run for Navajo president is going to be a hot one.

2010 is already starting to be an intriguing and interesting year.

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