Navajo president’s re-election bid contested

By Felicia Fonseca
Flagstaff, Arizona (AP) May 2010

A Navajo presidential hopeful has filed an expected challenge to tribal President Joe Shirley’s bid for a third consecutive term and contends he’s breaking the law on term limits.

“We have a law that says two terms, that’s it,” Jerry Todacheene of Shiprock, N.M., said May 19, the deadline to file grievances against anyone seeking elected office.

Todacheene said he wants Shirley removed from the race. Shirley has said the law on term limits is unjust and vowed to fight it.

“This is an office that belongs to the people,” he said in announcing his campaign earlier this month.

Shirley served on the Tribal Council when it restructured the government under three branches, creating the tribal presidency and later enacting the two-term limit. Todacheene said that shows Shirley should know better than to seek another term.

Shirley has said he doesn’t see his choice to run as an act of defiance but as heeding the wishes of Navajo people.

“There is a lot of support out there,” he said. “‘Can you run again? We want you to run again.’ Taking all of that into consideration, here we are. I don’t see how listening to the people, working with the people, can be a defiance to anything or with anyone.”

Days before Shirley announced his bid for re-election, the top attorney for the legislative branch penned a legal opinion reaffirming the two-term limit amid speculation Shirley soon would enter the race. Other presidential candidates have since spoke up against Shirley’s decision.

Dale Tsosie of LeChee, said it only adds to what already is an unstable tribal government marked by ongoing conflicts between the legislative and executive branches.

“That has to stop,” he said. “If he runs and gets re-elected, well he’s re-elected because the people spoke. But respect the voice of the people now. Respect our laws, respect our people. And once your term is done, graciously bow out.”

Tribal Council Delegate Rex Lee Jim said he expects Shirley to eventually use a set of laws the council codified in 2002 that are based on the tribe’s centuries-old traditional values and customs. The so-called “Dine Fundamental Law” states that Navajos have the right to freely choose their leaders.

The council voted earlier this year to restrict the use of those laws to peacemaking courts. The tribe’s Supreme Court later heard arguments in two high-profile cases involving Shirley on the validity of the change and the impact it would have on court cases.

Jim said there should be no question: “According to Navajo Nation laws, it’s clear the president has only two terms. It’s black and white.”

Todacheene filed his grievance with the tribe’s Office of Hearings and Appeals. A hearing officer hasn’t been named.