Navajo candidates debate
Associated Press

Next president expected to focus on economy
By Felicia Fonseca  
Tucson, Arizona | Published:
WINDOW ROCK About 1,000 people turned out Tuesday night to listen to a debate featuring nearly a dozen Navajo Nation presidential hopefuls who are each aiming to be the next leader of the country's largest Indian reservation.
Each candidate was given five minutes for an opening speech, and one candidate used his time to announce that he was dropping out of the race and supported current President Joe Shirley Jr.
Jon C. Reeves, an oil field inspector from Kirtland, N.M., said his views are similar to those of Shirley.
"The path that we are taking now is the right path," he said. "We have balances, we have progress, and I'm not going to stand in the way of that."
Other candidates blasted the leadership of Shirley and Vice President Frank Dayish Jr., saying the two had made promises when they were elected but haven't followed through. The candidates cited Shirley's plans to improve education, but noted that the tribe's Head Start program has been in trouble with federal officials.
The candidates also spoke some of them in Navajo about the need for teamwork among Navajo leaders as well as the importance of making sure that the tribal government is accountable to the people.
"It's time for the people to set the priorities, not the presidential candidates," said former Tribal Council delegate and presidential hopeful Ernest Harry Begay of Rock Point.
Tom Arviso Jr., publisher of the Navajo Times, the newspaper sponsoring the debate, said he had only one requirement for the questioning "that it is important and relevant to the Navajo people and Navajo voters."
The debate in the tribe's capital city comes a week before the candidates face off in the primary election. The top two vote getters will go on to the November general election.
Economic development is expected to be among one of the top issues as the tribe struggles to address poverty and unemployment on the 27,000-square-mile reservation that stretches into parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.