Shelly, Jim promise teaching hospital if elected

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi’ Bureau

ROCK POINT, Ariz., May 22, 2014

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Ben Shelly

In front of a sympathetic hometown crowd, Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim announced his candidacy for re-election with President Ben Shelly Sunday, and also dropped a bombshell: a proposal for a medical school and teaching hospital in Fort Defiance, Ariz.

Jim did not provide any information on the facility other than to say a grazing permit holder had agreed to give up some land for it and there is a possible funding source. Health Division Director Larry Curley said the proposal is still in the very early stages and the details are still being hammered out, and the tribe will release more information as it becomes available.

Speaking in Navajo, Jim said the project is just one of many he and Shelly will work on if the tribe gives them a second term.

Unveiling their campaign slogan, “Together making change work,” Shelly told the crowd he and Jim are the first two leaders to campaign as a team for the tribe’s highest offices since Chairman Peter MacDonald and Vice Chairman Wilson Skeet ran together in 1974 — and won.

Asked if the two men are still getting along as well as ever after a trying first term, the president’s special advisor and campaign manager, Deswood Tome, replied, “They’re doing magnificent.”
Said Shelly in Navajo to the crowd of about 200, “When I picked him (Jim) to be vice president, we smoked in the hogan together and promised each other to work together as a team. Up to now, that’s what we’ve done.”

Watch Video Profiles of the Candidates

See video excerpts from the presidential candidates' appearance at the Navajo Nation candidates' forum June 23 in Tuba City.

The president said he had also delegated some important jobs to the vice president, including taking the lead on health and education issues.

Shelly said he and Jim have spent their first four years in office laying the groundwork for some major projects that may not come to fruition if the Diné don’t give them another term.

The president’s chief of staff, Arbin Mitchell, confirmed that, saying Shelly and Jim have done a lot of “unseen” work, including streamlining the dreaded signature approval system for projects, negotiating an indirect cost rate that gives the tribe money to administer federal programs, allowing departments to hire their own people instead of taking everything through the Navajo Nation Department of Personnel Management, and restructuring the Office of Management and Budget.

According to Mitchell, the tribe has gone from 54 audit findings when Shelly took office to 19.

Shelly defended some of his less popular decisions, like supporting the proposed settlement of the tribe’s water rights to the Little Colorado River drainage and rounding up feral horses that are devastating the range.

Shelly backed down on the water rights settlement after a series of public hearings turned up massive opposition, but he said he still believes it would have been the best thing for the tribe because of the water line projects that would have been built and the guaranteed seat at the table for future negotiations.

“There will be repercussions” for rejecting the settlement, he said.

“The grassroots people were not properly educated about the settlement,” Shelly said. “Otherwise, they would have supported it.”
As for the feral horse roundups, Shelly said, “It was a hard decision. I didn’t want to do it, but it had to be done.”
He said that now that he has negotiated an agreement with an animal rights group founded by actor Robert Redford and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, he hopes money will be forthcoming so that some alternatives can be found to selling the horses at auction.

Perhaps in an effort to avoid repeating public relations fiascos like the horse and water rights issues, Shelly announced he would create an advisory panel of elders and medicine people with whom he could consult on important issues.

As an example, he said the proposed Rangeland Improvement Act needs more buy-in from older ranchers and traditional people before it is ready for debate in the council.

In general, Shelly’s talk took a spiritual bent and he proposed putting Diné Fundamental Law into writing so it could be incorporated into every decision by the administration and council.

Jim, looking svelte in a traditional shirt with a concho belt, announced that he is leading a health crusade by example. He revealed he had lost 50 pounds since he took office and had just that morning run eight miles.

He chided his own home chapter for providing a fattening meal of fry bread, stew and meat for the campaign kickoff attenders, but the campaign itself had sent a truck laden with Baskin-Robbins ice cream (Jim did not partake).

Citing the Navajo saying “T’aa ho ajit’eego” (“It’s up to you”), Jim said he wanted to encourage Navajos to take responsibility for their own actions and their own future.

He pointed out he had attended Princeton and Oxford universities without a dime from the tribe.

“Look for other scholarships,” he advised.

Shelly cited some milestones of his first term as President, including the $300 million capital improvement plan, the Navajo-Gallup water pipeline and the purchase of the Navajo Coal Mine.

“We’re not finished,” he said. “Vote for us in the primary so that we can win the general election!”

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