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WINDOW ROCK, ARIZ. — Navajo Nation presidential candidate Joe Shirley Jr. is ready to pick up where he left off.

"We're going to hit the ground running," Shirley said during an interview this week at his campaign headquarters in Window Rock, Ariz.

When his second term ended in January 2011, the number of delegates on the Navajo Nation Council was reduced from 88 to 24.

That reduction was the result of an initiative Shirley launched during his presidency after hearing for years that the Navajo people wanted to decrease the council membership.

Shirley said he looks forward to continuing government reform, including updating tribal laws such as those focusing on economic development.

That process, he said, needs to be streamlined so it can attract new businesses that will create a stronger economy on the Navajo Nation.

After serving eight years as president, from 2003 to 2011, Shirley said the people know his style of leadership and understand that his administration will complete its work.

He said under his administration the tribe signed the San Juan River Water Settlement, which established the tribe's senior water rights and began construction of a major pipeline to deliver water to Navajo residences.

Another accomplishment Shirley highlighted was the creation of the tribe's gaming facilities, which he says provide employment opportunities.

"The Shirley administration has been about change and accomplishment," he said.

Shirley, 67, is a registered member of Chinle chapter in Arizona. He is Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan), born for Tábaahá (Water's Edge Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Tsi'naajínii (Black Streak Wood People Clan), and his parental grandfather clan is Tsénjíkíní (Honey Combed Rock People of the Cliff Dwellers People Clan).

Shirley chose Shiprock resident Dineh Benally as his running mate.

"I'm looking forward to working as a team," Shirley said.

Benally, who unsuccessfully challenged state Sen. John Pinto for the District 3 seat in 2004, said his education at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell and his career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs have prepared him for the vice presidency.

"I will make sure that we work together to get things done for the people. ... You have to work together and understand each other, its human dynamics," Benally said.

Benally, 38, has served as a mentor and coach for Naa'taanii Baseball and said he would focus on the Nation's youth during his vice presidential service.

He is Táchii'nii (Red Running Into the Water People Clan), born for Tó'aheedlííníí (The Water Flow Together Clan). His maternal grandfather clan is Tódích'íi'nii (Bitter Water Clan), and his paternal grandfather clan is Naakai lzhíní (African American).

Because of Benally's experience as a projects manager and roads engineer for the BIA, Shirley would like him to take a lead role in improving the road system on the reservation.

When Shirley announced he was seeking a third term last February, no one could know the presidential election would face numerous delays and legal challenges and that fluency in the Navajo language would be at the center of those challenges.

He said people at campaign stops remained interested in hearing about his platform but they also wanted to know when they would be able to vote.

Shirley said during his time in office, he talked about the importance of the Navajo language and about establishing a number of language immersion programs because Navajos want to learn. "They're thirsty for it," he said.

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

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