Election grievance against Navajo Nation presidential candidate Russell Begaye dismissed

Noel Lyn Smith
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals on Monday dismissed the complaint filed against Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye, clearing the way for him to continue campaigning for the presidency.

Former presidential candidate Myron McLaughlin filed the grievance challenging Begaye's qualifications to run for office on Oct. 31.

On Monday, McLaughlin said he plans to appeal the ruling.

McLaughlin's complaint alleged Begaye, who represents Shiprock Chapter, did not maintain an "unswerving loyalty" to the tribe through his service as a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co. It also accused Begaye of using company funds to pay for legal expenses in a federal lawsuit against five members of the company's board of directors and for receiving $2,763 in reimbursements from the company.

In a 16-page decision issued Monday, Chief Hearing Officer Richie Nez wrote that McLaughlin did not prove his case with clear and convincing evidence. Rather, the only argument McLaughlin made to challenge Begaye's loyalty was the federal lawsuit against the board members, he wrote.

"The OHA finds, as a matter of law, that such action is not 'disloyal' such that it would disqualify a candidate from running for president," Nez wrote.

He also wrote that Begaye was not serving his own interests, and "there was no evidence that he received any personal benefit whatsoever other than legitimate meeting stipends."

In a statement released by his campaign, Begaye said he was "pleased" the court saw he was not disloyal and that he was protecting the interests of the tribe and the people.

"There was no merit to this challenge and the allegations to disqualify me as a candidate for the Navajo Nation president," Begaye said in the statement. "It was based on far-stretched hearsay, pursued for the wrong reason and unwarranted."

In a phone interview on Monday, McLaughlin said he was not surprised by the ruling and reiterated that a presidential candidate must uphold tribal law.

"I think if you can do this and run for president, it is sending the wrong message to Navajo voters," McLaughlin said.

He said an appeal to the ruling will be filed after Thanksgiving. Under Navajo law, the appeal must be submitted to the Supreme Court within 10 days of the ruling.

"We are going to appeal. We will be appealing this," McLaughlin said.

Both Begaye and McLaughlin testified during the hearing Nov. 13 and 14 in Window Rock, Ariz. Chairman of Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Co.'s board of directors, Lennard Eltsosie, the company's former CEO, Robert Joe, former chief financial officer Reuben Mike and attorney R. Dennis Ickes also took the stand.

Begaye is facing two-time former tribal president Joe Shirley Jr. for the presidency.

He replaced former presidential candidate Chris Deschene on the ballot after Deschene was disqualified in October.

Last month, the Supreme Court ordered the Navajo Election Administration to postpone the presidential election and hold a special election for the office within 60 days of the Nov. 4 general election.

A date for the special election to determine the presidency has not been set.

Meanwhile, Navajo lawmakers are being asked to consider a bill to postpone the election beyond the 60-day limit.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.