Navajo Nation president vetoes salary referendum

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
In this file photo, from left, Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez and President Russell Begaye address members of the tribe's council at the Council Chambers in Window Rock, Arizona.

FARMINGTON — Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye vetoed a resolution to place a referendum that would have asked voters to decide whether to increase the annual salary for the tribe's president and vice president.

Begaye vetoed the resolution on Saturday and it was returned to the Office of the Speaker with no veto message on Monday, according to the president's office.

The Navajo Nation Council passed the resolution on Sept. 7 and recommended the referendum be included on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Begaye previously stated the president and vice president should not be singled out in receiving raises and such proposals should include delegates.

"The overall salary for delegate's needs to be addressed and there needs to be more transparency in terms of what delegates are actually paid. A salary increase is not a big concern of mine and it hasn't been. In coming into the presidency, I knew what I signed up for and it wasn't about money or salary," Begaye said in a statement released by his office.

He added annual earnings should not dictate productivity or addressing the tribe's needs.

The Commission on Navajo Government Development recommended the referendum after a report by the Office of Navajo Government Development examined the salaries.

The report stated that there has never been a cost of living adjustment for either position and the earnings are significantly lower than salaries for governors in New Mexico and Arizona.

Edward Dee, executive director for the government development office, called Begaye's action "undemocratic" and it "tinkers" with the people's right to determine such proposals.

"It was a simple up and down vote to give to the people," he said on Tuesday then added he thinks Begaye's action was in retaliation for losing a re-election bid.

In May 2014, a council delegate requested the commission and the office examine salary increases, Dee said adding the examination took time to complete due to changes in office personnel and rebuilding the commission membership.

The council can override the veto. Such action must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the 24-member council, according to tribal law.

Tribal law mandates that the override be done before the council's next regular session, which is in October.

Dee said if an override were proposed, it would need to take place before the Navajo Election Administration orders ballots for the general election.

Ballots need to be ordered by Sept. 26, according to the election administration.

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