Joe Shirley Jr., Chris Deschene win Navajo Nation primary elections president race

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — A former Navajo Nation president and a former Arizona state representative will face off for the presidency in the tribe's Nov. 4 general election.

Joe Shirley Jr. had 10,910 votes, followed by Chris Deschene with 9,734 votes, according to the unofficial results of Tuesday's primary election.

"What can I say? It feels good," Shirley said as he stood among supporters at his victory party in Nakai Hall at the Window Rock Fairgrounds in Window Rock, Ariz.

He would later enter the Window Rock Sports Center to cheers and chants.

Deschene shook hands with people sitting in the stands after entering the sports complex.

His supporters held blue signs with his name on them and chanted, "Yéego Chris."

"We're excited, happy," Deschene said. "We're very focused, there's strength. There is a feeling of excitement and positivity that says we know that we can do great for our people."

Incumbent Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly finished in seventh place with 2,446 votes.

"The people have spoken, they want a new leader in there," Shelly said as he stood next to his wife, Martha Shelly, in the sports complex.

The polls opened at 6 a.m. Tuesday for all 110 chapter precincts.

By early afternoon, 215 votes were cast at the Tsé Daa K'aan Chapter house, according to Reichell Salt, the chief poll judge at the chapter house.

"It's been pretty busy," Salt said, adding voting activity had been steady.

It was Salt's second time serving as a poll judge. She said it was not as busy in 2010 when she first served.

"It wasn't aggressive as this time," she said.

A steady flow of voters moved through the Nenahnezad Chapter.

"The primary election is a stepping stone for the general election and a good way to weed out the others," Chip Curley said after casting his vote at the Upper Fruitland Chapter house

Although voting seemed steady at the chapter house, Curley, 54, said he wished more people voted "so they won't have the tendencies to moan and groan."

Late in the morning, 161 votes had been cast at the Upper Fruitland polling station.

Upper Fruitland resident Arlene Collins, 67, declined to say which presidential candidate she voted for, but said her candidate had political experience, demonstrated leadership and had done a good job with the community he represents.

According to Collins, the key to good leadership is being aware of the problems facing the Navajo people and then developing solutions.

"I think most people don't see beyond the speeches. What's been accomplished, what's done and what's in the process of getting done," she said.

An election on the Navajo Nation is not complete unless food is being served in tents sponsored by the candidates.

Tim Claw was busy flipping dough frying in a cast iron skillet at the campaign tent for council delegate candidate LoRenzo Bates.

"It's a way of showing appreciation for constituents," Claw said, adding that in the Navajo way it is customary to serve food or beverages to guests.

Claw, with his wife, Irene, started their volunteer work at about 8 a.m. and served doughnuts and coffee before switching to frybread around noon.

The sounds of dough frying in vegetable oil tempted voters. "You have to have a balanced, nutritional mind," Irene Claw said.

In Shiprock, traffic slowed on U.S. Highway 64 near the chapter house.

Vehicles lined the highway because the chapter house's parking lot was filled with cars, trucks and the candidates' tents.

Daisy L. Mike traveled from her log cabin in Table Mesa, N.M., to eat at the stand for presidential candidate Donald Benally.

Mike, 74, said she voted for Benally because she heard him on the radio and thinks his leadership could help her obtain home repairs.

"I need help," she said.

Shiprock resident Gilbert Yazzie was visiting the presidential and council delegate candidate tents in front of the chapter house.

Yazzie is registered at Tiis Tsoh Sikaad Chapter and voted by absentee ballot but declined to say who he voted for.

"To me, it's nobody's business but mine," he said then added that he was at the chapter house to visit with some of the candidates because he has known them for years.

"I'm supporting them, knowing them also, and knowing they'll get in there and do a good job not just for themselves but for us all," he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and

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