Newly elected Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye: “We need to unite, work together hard and move forward.”

Russell Begaye Wins Navajo Election: Time to Unite and Move Forward

Alysa Landry

With a margin of more than 10,000 votes, Russell Begaye easily defeated a two-term former president during Tuesday’s special presidential election on the Navajo Nation.

Begaye, a businessman and one-term tribal legislator from Shiprock, New Mexico, earned 25,745 votes, according to unofficial results. His opponent, Joe Shirley Jr., earned 15,439. Shirley, of Chinle, Arizona, served back-to-back terms as the tribe’s top elected leader from 2003 to 2011.

About 30 percent of the Nation’s 120,000 registered voters cast ballots during Tuesday’s election, which was delayed for five months and followed a lengthy legal battle over an election law that requires presidential candidates to speak fluent Navajo.

RELATED: Navajo Election: How We Got Here?

Just moments after votes were tallied, Begaye and vice president-elect Jonathan Nez addressed the uncertainty that has plagued the Nation since the primary election last August. Speaking to a crowd of voters gathered at the Navajo Sports Center in Window Rock, Arizona, Begaye promised to correct the election process.

“We will never get into this sort of election process again,” he said. “We will fix the system. We will make an election system that is fair to everyone.”

Begaye, who came in third during the August primary, found himself suddenly back in the race in late October when the Navajo Supreme Court permanently disqualified one candidate and ordered the ballots to be reprinted. Nez, his running mate, was re-elected to the Navajo Nation Council in November – a post he must now vacate.

Tuesday’s election came despite repeated attempts by lower courts, the Navajo Nation Council and former presidential candidates to postpone the vote until after the people could weigh in by referendum on the question of fluency. That referendum vote is scheduled for June.

Addressing voters late Tuesday, Begaye talked about moving past the confusion and into a more certain future.

“I think the people are really wanting to see something take place – really a significant change that’s tangible, that people will see, that we are moving forward as a Nation, and that is what we’re going to be doing,” he said. “We need to unite, work together hard and move forward.”

Nez also talked about a brighter future.

“It is time for healing,” he said. “It is time for unity. It is time to take this Nation to the next level.”

Shirley, who currently serves on the board of supervisors for Apache County, Arizona, told the Associated Press that the election results were not what he expected.

“The people have spoken, and that’s the way it should be,” he said. “We fought for that, we wanted to have an election, and now that we have, the numbers are what they are.”

The Navajo Board of Election Supervisors and the Navajo Election Administration have 10 days to certify the results of Tuesday’s election. Begaye and Nez are expected to take the oath of office during a special inauguration ceremony in early May.

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bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
Blah..blah..blah. Never received my absentee ballot which is not the first time this happened. 30 per cent voter turnout is near the norm, but it can be higher when the communities feel they are truly part of the process and benefitting from a governing body that is providing much need services. In short, the voting percentage will increase when we have candidates we feel are remarkable choices and worthy of support. Perhaps the newly elected tribal leader with his background in business will enlighten the tribal council in that the business world does not revolve around a native tribal language. This is not to say anything derogatory about the Dine language, but when we put this as a pre-requisite, it is like the tail wagging the dog in the business to business world and it becomes ineffective. The Navajo Nation over the past half century broadcast to the media that its leaders operate behind closed doors, mishandle funds to a point of malfeasance, do not negotiate hard enough with corporate giants to secure a greater return on its natural resources, and pander to those who do not have the best interest of Native Americans in mind, i.e. Washington R-word. Unity of the people? It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that there will always be faction in politics and instead of calling for unity, call the leadership together and acknowledge that everyone has their priorities of who they represent and put together the plan that a majority will buy into. $550M will stretch only so far and the needs will go beyond that figure. What is the best thinking herein? My suggestion is for the incoming leadership to get on the dusty road to see and hear directly from the People - not from a tribal council who seem to have lost touch with their true grassroots.

100IndigenousAmerican's picture
Submitted by 100IndigenousAm... on
What are the odds for unity and reduction in unemployment the next three years? Who is taking bets? We are at the one-yard line; 3.5 years and millions of dollars and the odds we will be inches pass the one yard line, hooray! The referendum election is another issue that will see fewer voters due to the haste and absent of lengthy public discussion. Our homeland is under at the will of the few and masses are scratching their heads. The participants of the spectacle since November are finally ready to move on, good. It would be wrong if the Begay speech on uniting was targeting the voters because most only listen, watched, and we learned to avoid talking about the insanity as if it were a superstitious taboo. In thought, approximately 18 percent of the registered voters voted for him. The contest had 100 judges and only 29 stayed to vote. It would be interesting to learn the real percentages of voters from the three states. His first act should include new legislation cancelling the fluency election and reschedule it to a general election when everyone will have time to vote. These mid elections are exclusive to a few including tribal employees collecting compensated hours as they vote. We are tired of a system that is at whims of the emotional few. Many of us pray that logic and frugal behavior will prevail. Long live the Dine' language and the multiple deities worshipped by our ancestors, and if you already "converted" may your single god bless you.