Truck rides and political roller coasters

By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times

January 10, 2013

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A busload of blinkered lawmakers nearly drove a pickup off a cliff, economically speaking, if you believe the big talk these days. Irresponsible elected officials, mostly older folks, shirked their duty in the name of partisan politics.

Ideology outweighed the job of governing.

Out here in the boonies, it looks like business as usual but this latest major gaffe by our leaders could have effects here.

I'd call these lawmakers children but that would give a negative label to kids in general. I speak of Washington, D.C., of course, not our local wagon full of leaders wandering in a desert devoid of new ideas and initiative. The only good thing here is the horses in the harnesses are pulling less weight with the 24-member Council.

The roller coaster in D.C., no matter the issue, reminds me of a childhood ride.

When I reminisced about the central role of cooking and eating in family and community life ("When folks shared love through meals," Dec. 29, 2012), my sister Debi, on the Web in Iowa, reminded me of a memory.

We visited our maternal grandparents often when we were young. Dad drove on the dirt road next to Black Creek Wash north of Fort Defiance. We always looked forward to a small, steep hill along the way. We always asked dad, "Go faster!" as we got near.

When our pickup went over the hill, we were suspended in the air for a second. The thrill made us squeal and laugh. (Dad wouldn't speed up if there was traffic or livestock.)

This memory and today's politics raise several issues. Among them is the obvious question: If Washington knew this tax problem and accompanying spending cuts were coming as long ago as the Bush administration, why did the lawmakers wait until the last second before the deadline to take action?

During our long ago drive to our grandparents' hogan, we knew what was coming and got ready. Granted, kids on a drive cannot be compared to the complexity and gridlock of partisan politics in Washington, but when you take a step back it is the same concept: knowing what's coming and getting ready.

In Navajo Nation politics, we don't have the luxury of knowing when something may happen or of having anything for which to prepare and plan. While our leaders may cite accomplishments and a record of progress at the midway point of the terms of office for the Council and president, has anything improved for the citizens?

The year-end interviews of President Ben Shelly and Speaker Johnny Naize in the Dec. 27, 2012, issue of the Navajo Times showed no progress, only a wish list of plans and the type of gridlock that stalls any bill or proposal in Washington.

For example, Shelly and the Council took opposing positions on the Little Colorado River settlement proposal. Government reform, a promise made to the people in 1990, shows no movement.

The overall conclusion: The Navajo Nation leaders are still learning their jobs and the issues.

Unlike our childhood drives with our dad at the wheel, the Navajo leadership's wagon appears to have no horses pulling it as it coasts to the top of a hill then rushes down the other side, its momentum ebbing until it reaches the top of the next hill, up and down for who knows how long. (I see an Ahasteen cartoon.)

Of course, the debates in Washington are important and will result in cuts to programs important to the Navajo Nation and Indian Country (for updates, a good source of info is "Indian Country & Austerity" at

We can only hope that the new Congress can tone down the partisanship and work towards compromise, although many of us know that is a fantasy.

The new Congress, with taxes, spending cuts, the debt ceiling and other issues pending before it, will show us quickly if we can expect a governing body or a group of feather-fluffing, chicken-stepping partisans with their chests puffed out.

The 113th Congress is said to be the most diverse with, for example, 101 women, 81 in the House and 20 – the highest number ever – in the Senate. Maybe we will see a load of lawmakers flying over a cliff dragging us with them. Or just rushing to the top of a hill, hanging suspended for a second, then rushing down the other side.

Similarly, the 24 Council delegates and Shelly are clinging to the sides of their wagon, maybe wondering when or if it will stop or bracing for the next downhill rush.

Out here in reality, families are struggling to get by and put food on the table. Jobs are nowhere to be found. The various bureaucracies don't help the people but have perfected a process that places barriers in front of all who seek jobs, from the young to the old.

As we begin 2013, here's hoping for momentum.

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