Navajo Council plans override of presidential veto of their emergency election bill

The Navajo Nation Council plans to override Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly’s veto of their EMERGENCY LEGISLATION to add language to the tribal election code that would allow voters to decide with their vote if a candidate is qualified.

Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates stated in a PRESS RELEASE that Council Delegate Leonard Tsosie, who was one of the sponsors of the emergency legislation, today introduced legislation 0309-14, which would override Shelly’s veto.

According to the electronically posted copy of 0309-14 to the Council’s website, public comment ends on Nov. 2 and it’s ready for committee action on Nov. 3, which is the tribal general election day. The legislation must go to the Naabik’iyati Committee and then to the Council for final approval.

Bates explained that an override requires a two-third vote of approval from the Council. Two-thirds of the 24-member Council is 16 delegates.

“While it is fundamentally important to preserve and maintain our Navajo language, it is also important to uphold fundamental law which teaches us that the people have the right to choose their leaders,” Bates stated. “By virtue of the resolution passed by this Council, we upheld and respected the voices of Navajo voters who cast their ballots.”

The Council’s amendments, which were retroactive to the time that an individual filed to be a candidate in the tribal 2014 election, were barely approved in the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2014, after hours of heated debate.

The Council’s initial vote was a tie, 10 in favor, 10 opposed. Speaker Pro Temp LoRenzo Bates broke the tie with a “yes” vote. The final vote was 11 in favor, 10 opposed.

According to Shelly’ Oct. 28 veto message, he vetoed legislation CO-47-14 “Relating to an emergency; to address a matter which directly threatens the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation; amending language requirements of the Navajo Nation Election Code” because “I took an oath to uphold the laws. The Navajo Nation Supreme Court ordered the 2014 ballots to be reprinted and the election unavoidably rescheduled to ensure a valid election. I therefore exercise my veto authority.

“The court has ruled on this matter and its decision should not be so easily or hastily disregarded,” he emphasized. “This legislation is only intended to help one candidate who has been disqualified.”

Shelly’s statement about the Council’s emergency legislation favoring disqualified presidential candidate Chris Deschene was repeated numerous times by council delegates during the Council’s debate over it.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court is holding a hearing on a request by former presidential candidates Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne to hold Navajo Election Office Director Edison Wauneka, Navajo Election Board Chairperson Wallace Charley, Election Board Vice Chairperson Tom White and Election Supervisors Norman L. Begay, Harry D. Brown Sr., Michael Coan, Lenora Fulton, Frannie George, and Ruth Watson in contempt of court and to issue an order to show cause.

According to the motion filed by attorneys David Jordan and Justin Jones for Tsosie and Whitethorn with the Supreme Court on Oct. 27, the CONTEMPT OF COURT is for the failure of the election office and board to comply with the Supreme Court’s Oct. 23 permanent Writ of Mandamus, which ordered the election office and board to immediately reprint election ballots without the name of disqualified presidential candidate Deschene and to postpone the Nov. 4 election.

Jordan and Jones stated that as of Oct. 27, the election office and board have refused to comply. “The election is still scheduled for Nov. 4, 2014, and Deschene is still on the ballot. The respondents have blatantly defied the orders of this court. Respondents’ conduct is neither supported nor excused by the Council’s passage on Oct. 23, 2014, of legislation that purported to alter the fluency requirement for presidential candidates.”

The attorneys noted that the Council may not pass legislation that purports to remove the rights of Tsosie and Whitethorne.

On Oct. 9, the tribal Office of Hearings and Appeals disqualified Deschene as a presidential candidate for lying on his affidavit of candidacy by swearing that he spoke the Navajo language fluently. The OHA ruling was a default judgment after Deschene repeatedly refused to answer questions from Jones during cross-examination.

Tsosie and Whitethorne filed election complaints against Deschene for lying on his candidacy affidavit.

In the legal request to the Supreme Court to find the election director and board in contempt, Jordan and Whitethorne, on behalf of Tsosie and Whitethorne, are also asking the court to remove Wauneka and the Board, to disqualify Board and rule them ineligible for any current or future tribal elected office, to jail the Wauneka and the Board until the court’s orders are complied with, and to have them pay all legal fees and costs.

The Supreme Court, in setting a on Halloween at 10 a.m. in the Chinle, Ariz., District Court, allowed Wauneka and the board the option of not appearing in court and being represented by their attorney, Chief Legislative Counsel Levon Henry.

The court has also scheduled a 9 a.m. HEARING at the Chinle District Court also on Halloween on a request by Tsosie and Whitethorne for Deschene to pay legal costs and fees since they won their case against him.

And a similar HEARING for legal costs and fees has been ordered by the Supreme Court on Halloween in the Chinle District Court at 2 p.m. This hearing is also at the request of Tsosie and Whitethorne for the Election Board and office and Deschene to pay their legal costs and fees regarding the court’s approval of their request for a Writ of Mandamus against the election office and board and Deschene.

Shelly noted in his veto message today that the “election cycle has been mired in debate and controversy over issues regarding the fluency qualifications of candidates for elected office. The Navajo Nation Supreme Court has weighed in on the meaning and interpretation of fluency in Tsosie v. Descheene, No. SC-CV-57, 58-14, Sept. 26, 2014, and has provided an interpretation of the meaning of a standard for fluency. This should be the standard until the people have been consulted.”

“We are a nation of laws, and I took an oath to uphold those laws,” Shelly noted in his veto message. “The Navajo Nation Supreme Court has said that ‘Navajo culture is forward looking and it is never preferable to unwind events that have already occurred.’ Sandoval v. Navajo Election Administration, No. SC-CV-62-12 at 4, Feb. 26, 2014.

“The Dine’ language is sacred,” Shelly explained. “Navajo leaders should have both language and cultural fluency in order to be qualified. Every society has an obligation to hold onto their traditions. If we lose our language and culture, who are we?”

“I understand that some people will be upset by my decision today, but it is important that we avoid civil unrest such as occurred in 1989,” the president stated. “We have a responsibility to ensure each other’s safety and well-being.”

Deschene’s responded to Shelly’s veto in a press release: “It is with tremendous pride in our campaign and disappointment with the president’s veto, that the future of my candidacy is uncertain. The Board of Elected Supervisors has firmly protected our fundamental right to choose our own leader. They have yet to change their position despite the court’s position.”

He also stated, “Regardless of the outcome, words cannot express the pride and gratitude I have in my family, friends, staff and supporters who stood by me throughout this process. You have carried yourself with honor and calm, and I want to see that continue. The nation needs that to continue.

“It’s too early to speculate the future of my service to the Navajo people,” Deschene stated. “I have spent my career helping to solve serious problems facing our nation. Again, thank you for your contribution to our democratic process. Your voice needs to be heard. Vote. And let’s walk together with pride and peace.”

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