Executive, legislative – a bickering couple

LoRenzo Bates

In the remaining 12 months of the Russell Begaye-Jonathan Nez administration and the 23rd Navajo Nation Council, it’s worth considering not just who will seek re-election or what new faces we’ll see on the campaign trail, but to also view the relationship between the legislative and executive branches.

As the Navajo Nation government reporter for the past several years, I see the legislative and executive branch as a couple in a relationship. When they started, Begaye and Nez — both former Council delegates — had hope they could work with the delegates as well as they did when they were all colleagues of the same 22nd Navajo Nation Council. Begaye won favor among all the branches by promising consultation and a united front on major issues.

Russell Begaye

Over the past three years, however, the promising courtship has turned into one of those marriages you just don’t want to be around. Let’s take a look back and examine how it happened.

Before becoming the Nation’s chief executive, Begaye was the third-place finisher during the chaotic 2014 presidential campaign. After a messy court battle to keep Chris Deschene in the running did not pan out, Begaye was given a second chance at being president, running against the other last man standing, Joe Shirley Jr.

He then had to quickly choose a running mate and he decided on the young, popular Council delegate from Shonto. Nez, who was so revered in his area that no one dared run against him, had just won his seat again on the Council. And after a delay for another election, this new administration took over.

The first year showed no real problems. Begaye’s “united front” strategy actually seemed to be working, bringing a sigh of relief to those who had watched the disintegration of previous president-council relations.

Similar to a couple, the legislative and executive branch started having public spats on high-impact issues, from the Council’s (sometimes successful) attempts to remove Begaye’s appointees, to money issues such as the budget and bonuses (What couple is exempt from those?). More recently the rift seems complete with the Council’s defiant override of Begaye’s veto on the Veterans Trust Fund amendments.

While couples sometimes take their arguments to their social media audiences, the president and the Council dueled with press releases. The Council cried to hear more from the president on important issues, and quickly fired off a group email when they felt the executive branch was taking credit for a piece of legislation they had labored over for months.

Like a separated couple, they watch where each other’s cars are parked. The Council did not miss the chance to point out, for example, that Begaye and a few of his directors and staff held their Christmas dinner in at the Talking Sticks Casino in Scottsdale, while Council celebrated the season with a modest luncheon at the Department of Diné Education.

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Categories: Politics

About Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. Her clans are Nát'oh dine'é Táchii'nii, Bit'ahnii, Kin łichii'nii, Kiyaa'áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com.