Call for Naize suspension nothing new

By Duane A. Beyal
Special to the Times

WINDOW ROCK, Jan. 16, 2014

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There are parallels in recent Navajo history to the current debate over whether Speaker Johnny Naize should step down due to the charges filed against him by the special prosecutor.

At the tribal and U.S. national level are plenty of examples of elected leaders who were forced to resign from their positions.

In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned because of the Watergate scandal and his almost certain impeachment and removal from office. In 1973, Nixon's vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned due to financial irregularities.

Throughout the years, we can cite many federal and state officials who found the same route the only way out.

For example, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned in 2011 after the discovery that he had sent lewd photos of himself to women online. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008 after he was linked to a prostitution ring.

Idaho Sen. Harry Craig pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge in 2007 because, in a Minneapolis airport restroom, he signaled he wanted sex. Only problem is that the person he sent these signals to was an undercover police officer.

U.S. Rep. Mark Foley resigned in 2006 after reports that he sent sexual messages to teenage male congressional pages.

And there is a long, long list of state elected officials who resigned or were forced to step down from their positions.

Of course, we can guess that many more escaped scrutiny and continued with their duties. Some continue to serve today. Corruption appears so often that we, the people and the voters, expect that most politicians serve themselves to some extent.

The major difference between these cases and here in Window Rock is that these politicians from throughout the U.S. broke the law, either criminally or morally.

The speaker and current or former Council delegates facing charges by the special prosecutor have not had their trials. They have not had their "day in court." Nor have they had the opportunity to try to wiggle out through negotiation.

But the Navajo Nation has set the precedent. Elected officials facing charges are fair game for suspension or resignation.

In 1989 the Navajo Tribal Council placed Chairman Peter MacDonald Sr. on leave with pay due to federal investigations and clouds of suspicion hanging over him. He was later convicted in federal court and sentenced to federal prison. He was also found guilty in tribal court.

This is the most famous example in Navajo history and led to changes in tribal law that established three branches of government and checks and balances to prevent any leader from using the office for his or her personal benefit.

But business as usual continues.

In 1996 President Albert Hale took a temporary leave of absence to deal with marital problems and to keep them separate from tribal affairs. Then in 1998, Hale stepped down from office to avoid prosecution for various charges of corruption.

Perhaps there should be a new Navajo law that states that elected officials who face charges should go on leave, with or without pay. But the government would have come to standstill in 2010 when 77 current and former council delegates were charged with misusing discretionary funds.

And in 2011, those charges were dismissed and new charges were filed against 142 current and former Council delegates and included other tribal officials. Should all these folks step down or go on leave?

Perhaps the new law could state that suspension or leave can only be imposed on "leaders," such as the president, vice president, speaker and chief justice. But, as with the 1989 amendments to Navajo law, any system can be used or misused.

Also the Navajo Nation Council can be condemned for holding their Monday discussion in executive session, thereby hiding their words from the people. As our elected leaders, they should always remember that their business is the people's business.

Today's controversy involves the Council which has replaced MacDonald as the beneficiary of tribal and other funds. Although the precedent has been set, how we proceed will show if we have learned anything.

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