- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A Navajo Nation presidential hopeful who moved up on the ballot after another candidate was disqualified over a Navajo fluency requirement chose a fellow lawmaker to be his running mate.

Russell Begaye announced the selection of Jonathan Nez on Wednesday in the tribal capital of Window Rock. Begaye said Nez, 39, knows how to set goals and achieve them, pointing to his master’s degree and pursuit of a doctorate, and his advocacy for healthy lifestyles. They called on tribal members to share ideas on how to move the government forward.

“I believe our Navajo people are ready for solutions rooted in healing and compassion for one another,” Nez said in a statement.

Nez was re-elected to the Navajo Nation Council in Tuesday’s general election but will have to step down if he’s chosen as the tribe’s vice president.

The vice president is the second in command on the country’s largest American Indian reservation, which stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Begaye and Nez will face former President Joe Shirley Jr. and Dineh Benally in a special election that hasn’t been scheduled.



Shirley’s campaign said Wednesday that it is looking toward a victory, regardless of the challengers.

“We will continue to work hard, engage voters and work to bring the Navajo people together,” campaign spokesman Alray Nelson said.

The tribe’s high court said the special election must be held within 60 days of Tuesday’s election.

The separation of the presidential contest came after Chris Deschene was disqualified for failing to show he met a requirement to speak fluent Navajo. The case against him prompted a widespread debate over the role the Navajo language plays in politics and the culture.

The tribe’s high court ruled that fluency in Navajo is a reasonable requirement for the presidency, but Deschene refused to be tested in any way. He said he was proficient in the language and unfairly being singled out.

The tribal courts ruled against Deschene, and Begaye moved up on the ballot, but he also faces a challenge to his candidacy.

One of the presidential contenders in the primary election, Myron McLaughlin, filed a grievance against Begaye last week stemming from Begaye’s involvement as a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company. The grievance alleges financial improprieties and questions Begaye’s loyalty to the tribe.

Begaye said it’s a ploy to keep Navajos from voting for him. A Nov. 13 hearing is scheduled on the challenge.

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