Elected council candidate ruled ineligible

WINDOW ROCK

Office of Hearings and Appeals has ruled that Steven Begay does not qualify as a candidate for Navajo Nation Council and wont be representing Coyote Canyon, Mexican Springs, Naschitti, Tohatchi and Bahastl’a’a’.

OHA also ruled that the Navajo Election Administration must declare the delegate seat vacant, according to the Jan. 12 Office of Hearings and Appeals order.

Its been nearly seven months since Begay won the council delegate spot left vacant by Mel Begay after he was sentenced to 3 years in jail for mismanagement of discretionary funds. But, shortly afterward, his contender Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, who lost to Begay by 267 votes, filed an election grievance with the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

The Becenti-Aguilar grievance accused that Steven Begay was not eligible at the time of applying with the Navajo Election Administration to run for council delegate, because he was still employed with Indian Hospital Services, making him a federal employee.

According to candidate qualifications for the Navajo Nation Council: “A candidate must not be in the permanent employment of the United States or any state or subdivision thereof, or be an elected official of the United States or any state or subdivision thereof, with the exception of service on a school board or elective county office.”

It was also revealed that Steven Begay struck a deal with the Navajo Election Administration allowing him to campaign while still a federal employee, and should he win the special election he would resign from his job with Gallup Indian Health Services. No other candidate knew about this arraignment.

With Gallup attorney David Jordan representing Becenti-Aguilar, and Farmington based attorney Justin Jones representing Steven Begay, it started a months long battle in tribal court, taking much of the two years Steven Begay would’ve served in the delegate seat.

While this legal fight was happening, Peterson Yazzie was sworn in as interim delegate for those communities.

“It’s the candidate’s responsibility to investigate who they’re running against,” said Jones during a previous hearing. “At the time the issue was raised, there was no involvement by the petitioners or candidates. The issue of if Begay qualifies was already raised with this body … It’s being raised again. The same argument is being litigated twice. This matter has been resolved.”

Jordan fought back by stating that there needs to be equal application of the law and since an agreement was made between Steven Begay and the Navajo Election Administration this wasn’t fair.

“You want to talk about equal protection, what about equal application of the law?” said Jordan in a previous hearing. “There was 13 candidates for this position … Did this statue of grievance apply to each of them fairly? In this case it did not.”

Representatives from Navajo Election Administration were not available for comment.


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Categories: Politics

About Author

Arlyssa Becenti

Arlyssa Becenti reports on Navajo Nation Council, Business, Fort Defiance Agency, New Mexico State politics and Art/fashion. Her clans are Nát’oh dine’é Táchii’nii, Bit’ahnii, Kin łichii’nii, Kiyaa’áanii. She’s originally from Fort Defiance and has a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University. Before working for the Navajo Times she was a reporter for the Gallup Independent. She can be reached at abecenti@navajotimes.com.