Politics is a familiar point of debate and a source of common criticism among all citizens.

After sports, the second-most-popular pastime could be complaining about politicians in office. Yet when the time comes for people to make their voices heard by those in government, countless voters remain silent by staying home.

On the Navajo Nation Tuesday, voters will be asked to pick presidential candidates for the Nov. 7 general election.

About 96,500 of the tribe's 300,000 members are eligible to vote in the primary that includes the election of council delegates. Elections officials say they are hopeful the turnout will surpass 50 percent.

It's time for the tribe's eligible voters to shape the future of the Nation by nominating the right candidates to run for election in the fall. The time for complaint and criticism is over, since people can use their votes Tuesday to steer their respective candidate.

The two presidential candidates with the most votes advance to the Nov. 7 general election.

At stake is oversight of a reservation facing unemployment and poverty, a place where many of the 250,000 or so residents still live without telephones, electricity or running water. Figures from the Navajo Nation Division of Economic Development for 2000-2001 showed about 56 percent of Navajos living below the poverty level. The unemployment rate was roughly 44 percent.

Economic development, education and developing the first casino on the Navajo Nation are all issues about which the Navajo people have expressed concern.


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Peterson Zah, former chairman and president of the Navajo Nation, said in a recent Associated Press article that problems facing the tribe are "monstrous" and require long-term solutions.

"The candidates have to be people we can put in there who will carry out those long-range plans, and not destroy (them)," he said.

About 1,000 people turned out recently in Window Rock, Ariz., to listen to a debate featuring nearly a dozen Navajo Nation presidential hopefuls, each of whom aims to be the next leader of the country's largest Indian reservation.

Each candidate was given five minutes for an opening speech.

Four years ago, Joe Shirley Jr. and Frank Dayish Jr. worked as one. As president and vice president of the Navajo Nation, their skills — Shirley is a longtime social services worker and Dayish a businessman — complemented each other as they led the nation's largest Indian reservation.

The primary election has changed that: Shirley is running for re-election, and Dayish is seeking to oust him.

Some of the voters' concerns at the debate included accountability from tribal officials, education, chapter houses for urban Indians, land-use issues, water rights and health care.

But voters also want more of a say in how tribal government is run and how funds are allocated, said Norman Ration, an Albuquerque resident who grew up on New Mexico side of the Navajo reservation.

"They're concerned about funding for the reservation and how the reservation will continue, because some of the resources have been cut," said Ration, who is a tribal member and will vote in the primary.

The remaining candidates are Lynda Lovejoy of Crownpoint, N.M., a commissioner with the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission; Vern Roy Lee of Fruitland, who recently challenged a Navajo residency requirement to be placed on the ballot; Calvin H. Tsosie Sr., a medicine man from Yah-Ta-Hey; Wilbur Nelson Jr., an Albuquerque-based businessman from Window Rock, Ariz.; Harrison Todacheene of Shiprock, who ran for Navajo president in 2002; Former Arizona state Sen. James Henderson Jr. of Window Rock, Ariz.; Hoskie Bryant, a pastor from Sheepsprings; and Ernest Harry Begay of Rock Point, Ariz.

At the debate, Jon C. Reeves of Kirtland, announced that he was dropping out of the race and would support current President Joe Shirley Jr.

"The path that we are taking now is the right path," he said. "We have balances, we have progress, and I'm not going to stand in the way of that."

We urge voters to think about what they want for the Navajo Nation.

One thing we know for sure, politics is the inexact science of deciding who gets what and what gets done. 

Only those who cast their votes will be heard or have the luxury of complaining about the outcome later.