Nez, Shirley top presidential race in tribe's primary election

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Jonathan Nez and his wife Phefelia Herbert-Nez walk with their supporters to the Window Rock Sports Center Tuesday in Window Rock, Ariz.

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona — Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez will face former tribal president Joe Shirley Jr. for the tribal presidency in the November general election after they finished as the top two vote-getters in Tuesday's primary election.

Nez finished first with 14,105 votes, followed by Shirley with 6,947. The race drew 18 contenders, including incumbent Russell Begaye, who finished fifth with 3,883 votes. All results were unofficial on Tuesday.

"It's a humbling thing that happened tonight. There was overwhelming support from the Navajo people," Nez said in an interview.

Nez, who also has served three terms on the Navajo Nation Council, described his presidential campaign as a grassroots effort.

"We went throughout the Navajo Nation and had one-on-one discussions in communities to get their thoughts," he said while pausing from greeting supporters at his campaign event set up at the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds.

Navajo Nation Presidential candidate Joe Shirley Jr. walks with his supporters Tuesday at the Window Rock Sports Center in Window Rock, Ariz.

Plenty of those supporters were on hand Tuesday night. As soon as one of them finished congratulating Nez and his wife, Phefelia Herbert-Nez, another supporter grabbed the couple's attention to commend them for the campaign finish.

When Nez and supporters made their way from the campaign event to the Window Rock Sports Center, where the results were announced, they shouted, "Nez for prez."

Nez jumped to an early lead as returns started coming in and never trailed.

Throughout the evening, people gathered inside the sports center to watch the returns for the presidency, and races for Navajo Nation Council and agency and local offices.

Each time election administration staff members posted the unofficial results from various chapters, people checked the tallies.

Jonathan Nez supporters cheer for their candidate Tuesday at the Window Rock Sports Center in Window Rock, Ariz.

With the top contender established early in the night, attention turned to who would be the runner-up, which was a close race between Shirley and Tom Chee.

Approximately 500 votes separated the two men throughout the evening. Chee eventually finished in third with 6,411 votes.

Shirley's supporters made their presence known as they entered the sports center with shouts of "Shirley strong."

"What can I say? Other than that I feel glad, I feel like a winner. I didn’t have any doubts that we'd be here. We worked hard and had a good team in place and looking forward to the real race that's going to begin," Shirley said in an interview after hugging Nez.

He commended Nez for running a good campaign.

Navajo Nation residential candidate Joe Shriley Jr. acknowledges his supporters during his campaign party Tuesday at Nakai Hall on the Navajo Nation Fair Grounds in Window Rock, Ariz.

"It's not about coming in No. 1 or No. 2 for primaries, it's just about making it," Shirley said.

Edbert Little, executive director for the election administration, said the unofficial results reported on Tuesday evening do not include absentee and early-voting ballots.

Little said those results will be added to the unofficial count this week.

The results remain unofficial until review and adoption by the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors.

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