Lovejoy aims to be first Navajo female president

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) May 2010

The only woman to ever make it through the Navajo Nation primary election for the tribe’s presidency is making a second run at it, and she might be facing a familiar foe.

Lynda Lovejoy, a New Mexico senator from Crownpoint, announced her candidacy May 4 in the tribal capital of Window Rock among dozens of supporters. Shortly after, the spokesman for Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. said the president will seek an unprecedented third term, a move that likely will be challenged.

Lovejoy trailed Shirley in the 2006 election by about 6,000 votes, but her campaign was considered groundbreaking. She fought off traditional assertions that women shouldn’t serve as leader of the tribe and beat out the then-vice president in the primary election.

Hardly any political observer predicted she’d make it that far.

Lovejoy said that she’ll work to create jobs, secure basic necessities for Navajos and restore dignity within the tribal government at a time when political tensions are high.

“Our people are still battling oppressive conditions of not having the very basic necessities (such) as running water, electricity, Internet or improved roads,” she said. “These are the most unprecedented times of competing interest here on Navajo land. We as Dine people have strayed from those deep-seated core values that once held us in unison.”

Shirley’s spokesman, George Hardeen, said Shirley wants to complete efforts to reform the government, which have included ballot initiatives approved by voters to reduce the Tribal Council and secure a presidential line-item veto.

Navajo law limits the tribal president to two terms, but Shirley could cite traditional tribal laws that say Navajos have the right to freely choose their leaders. The Tribal Council recently voted to limit the use of those laws to peacemaking courts, which means Shirley’s decision to seek re-election is destined for contention.

“The law says two terms,” said Johnny Thompson of the Navajo Election Administration, under the legislative branch. “That’s what we stand on unless the council changes it.”

The chief legislative counsel issued a legal opinion saying Shirley could not skirt the legal requirements for the job by arguing traditional laws. Hardeen said the issue should be up to the courts to decide, not the legislative branch.

More than a handful of people have filed to run for tribal president, including Navajo Vice President Ben Shelly, tribal Department of Justice attorney Harrison Tsosie, Tribal Council Delegate Rex Lee Jim, former state Rep. Daniel Peaches, Shiprock Chapter Vice President Donald Benally and Sharon Clahchischilliage, who most recently served as the director of the tribe’s Washington, D.C., office.