Bills propose referendums for Navajo Nation general election ballot

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and President Russell Begaye give the State of the Nation address on Monday, Oct. 15, 2015 at the Council Chambers in Window Rock, Ariz.

FARMINGTON — Two pieces of legislation are each proposing referendums be placed on the Navajo Nation's Nov. 6 general election ballot. One involves salaries for the top leaders, and the other would change the chapter government structure.

The first legislation seeks voters to weigh in on whether to increase the salaries for the tribal president and vice president.

Under tribal law, the president's yearly salary is $55,000, while the salary is $45,000 for the vice president.

The legislation, sponsored by Delegate Leonard Tsosie, was proposed after the Commission on Navajo Government Development issued a resolution on July 28 that recommended the referendum.

The commission resolution is attached to the bill and states the salaries for both positions have never been adjusted for cost of living since 1989.

Both positions were developed that year by the tribal council, and as part of the tribe's transition to a three-branch form of government.

The commission's resolution also states while the duties and responsibilities for the tribal president is similar to state governors, the pay does not reflect those offices.

JoAnn Dedman, chairwoman for the commission, said Monday the commissioners supported the proposal because it was viewed as an option to generate interest for individuals to run for the political office.

In addition to asking voters to decide the increase, the referendum would also ask them to determine the new salary amounts.

The first option would increase the salary to $85,000 for the president and $70,000 for the vice president.

The second choice proposes a raise to $102,000 for the president and $83,000 for the vice president.

Chapter consolidation proposed

Another bill sponsored by Delegate Tsosie proposes a referendum to consolidate the 110-chapter government structure into 23 cooperative governance centers and the option to create one urban cooperative governance center.

Dedman said the restructure of the chapter government system has been an ongoing project for the Title 26 Task Force.

The task force was established in 2015 by the council's Resources and Development Committee to review accountability in chapter governments and to examine ways to empower chapters.

Dedman said commissioners approved their July 28 resolution that calls for the referendum because they wanted voters to have a voice in the matter.

In 2016, a bill that proposed a similar referendum calling for consolidating the chapter governments was vetoed by tribal President Russell Begaye.

Both bills were posted on the tribal council's website on Aug. 8 and assigned to five standing committees and to the tribal council, where final authority rests.

The measures will be eligible for consideration starting Tuesday.

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