Thursday, March 30, 2023

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Guest Column | Good position for Nation

By Jarvis Williams

The 2024 United States presidential election began with the announcement of Nikki Haley as a candidate for the Republican Party. She is said to be the strong candidate that represents the ideals of the former Republican Party. She is fiscally conservative, strong on foreign policy and a former governor.

Following Haley’s footsteps, it was Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that announced his candidacy next. The field for the Republican Party vying for the top office is predicted to be a crowded field with as many as 10 candidates. Haley carries a message that the Republican voters are a new generation of voters that are looking beyond former President Trump. That will be a tough hill to climb as Trump is still the favored nominee.

The Democrats on the other hand are having a tough time deciding whether they want the 80-year-old Biden to run for re-election. There are discussions on supporting a younger candidate for president. That means possibly Buttigieg, Newsome or Vice President Harris as possible replacement nominees for the Democratic Party.

The other election we should keep an eye on is the election for Arizona Congressional District 2, which is currently held by Republican Eli Crane. Crane, a Navy veteran and Navy Seal, won the seat from Democrat Tom O’Halleran with a 53% edge. The congressional seat covers the Navajo Nation and is a two-year term so we should see the Democrats gear up to try to take the seat back.

I hear former President Nez may seek the democratic nomination to vie for the District 2 seat. Former Vice President Lizer tried that as a Republican but stepped out before the primary. So, it is something to watch out for as the year progresses.

Nez does have some attributes that make him a viable candidate. Nez has been in the media spotlight for the last two years as a tribal leader battling the deadly Covid virus that exploded on the Navajo Nation. Therefore, his face and name are familiar with voters all over Arizona.

On a tribal level, President Nygren welcomed Crane to the Navajo Nation last week and seems to have found an ally on public safety and veterans issues. These are key campaign promises that Nygren wanted to focus on.

Last week, I listened to the Budget and Finance Committee and came away not feeling confident that the Navajo Nation will expend the ARPA funds in the timeline that was provided by the federal government.

There were mentions of lack of appropriate personnel, delays in hiring and lack of necessary amendments to fill the vacancies. BNF vice chair Carl Slater was candid in his frustration with lack of progress.

Slater expressed that the comments of “we are looking into it and don’t have anything right now,” from the new human resource director were the same ones he had heard from the last administration.

I would be frustrated too. Think about it. Slater is saying that for the last four years this issue has been around, and no one has taken the time to fix it. That means that the Nez Administration did not recognize it, nor did they do any work to fix it for four years. I think Slater wanted to hear that there was some work left behind to fix the broken pieces of the hiring process.

A bright spot is that it took the new administration 30 days to acknowledge the obstacles in the process. It will take a few months to present new or amended procedures which will be a welcomed report to the BNF Committee.

The constant variable in this whole process is the tribal employees. Many of them have been there for years and know the obstacles that face every administration yet no changes. They work with the existing rules and see where the changes need to happen.

Where is the voice of the employees? I find this concerning. It makes me wonder what the level of employee engagement is.

The BNF report from the director did not mention that there was an existing outcry from the employees or that employees had provided some language to work with.

The report also revealed that there were stories of applicants that had waited too long for a response from the position they were applying for and had found new jobs during the process.

The message from Slater was clear. He wants improvements immediately. All fingers point back to the administration for the upcoming changes.

This new administration has its work laid out for them as it must answer to legislators, fix a broken process and build employee engagement so it can fill hundreds of vacant positions within the tribal government. Then they must adjust the salaries to fit the current cost of living adjustments.

We must keep in mind that the BNF Committee is learning the difficulties of spending $2 billion and how to account for the expenditures. That means having the right personnel there to properly account for those dollars, which includes hiring a worthy controller.

With a Republican Congress at the helm, the message of fiscal conservatism aims to cut spending to balance the budget. That also means a larger spotlight on the expenditure of funds already provided to tribes and states.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy expressed his frustration with federal spending and the U.S. hitting the borrowing limit by using an analogy, he said it’s like giving your kid a credit card and they charge it all the way up. At some point, you must pay it down and not just keep spending.

The Navajo Nation is in a good position right now. I like the pressure that Slater is giving to the administration. Now, we just need to hear from tribal leaders that we need to generate revenue as well. Perhaps that will be on the agenda for BNF next week.


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