FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Voters on the country’s largest American Indian reservation are headed to the polls to narrow a record field of 18 candidates for Navajo Nation president.
More than 93,000 Navajos are registered to vote in Tuesday’s primary. The top two candidates move on to the November general election.
Candidates have spent the last couple of days campaigning on the radio, in tribal communities and on social media. The field includes seasoned politicians who tout experience and newcomers who are challenging the status quo.
Polls close at 7 p.m. MDT.
Improving on an unemployment rate that hovers around 50 percent on the vast reservation that stretches into New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, and ensuring Navajos have basic necessities like running water and electricity are central to the campaigns.
“Everything is urgent and emergent on Navajo land, it doesn’t matter the issue,” said presidential hopeful Joe Shirley Jr. of Chinle, who served eight years in the post.
The candidates’ plans for economic development include tourism, manufacturing, encouraging entrepreneurs and changing policies that candidate Hope MacDonald LoneTree of Tuba City says are “hostile” toward job creation. Alton Shepherd of Ganado, a tribal lawmaker from Ganado, says he’d like to see less government interference in business.
Current tribal President Russell Begaye, who beat Shirley in the last election, is seeking re-election. He hasn’t campaigned much but radio spots this week focused on his support for student and veterans housing.
Vice President Jonathan Nez, a former tribal lawmaker and county supervisor, is among his challengers.
Candidates like Emily Ellison from Chilchitah, New Mexico, and Nick Taylor of Klagetoh have targeted the youth in their campaigns mostly run through social media.
Norman Patrick Brown of Chinle and Calvin Lee Jr. of Greasewood Springs have advocated for a tribal government based on a constitution.
The other candidates from Arizona are Benny Bahe of Houck; Kevin Cody of Pinon; Trudie Jackson, a doctoral student from Teec Nos Pos; former tribal Vice President Rex Lee Jim of Rock Point; Shawn Redd, a businessman from Dilkon; Tom Tso, a former Navajo chief justice from Teec Nos Pos; and Vincent Yazzie, an activist from Tolani Lake.
The other candidates from New Mexico are tribal lawmaker Tom Chee and Dineh Benally, who is pushing hemp farms. Both are from Shiprock.