WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - Navajo voters elected Joe Shirley by a landslide as the new Navajo Nation president Nov. 5. Shirley, an Apache County Commissioner from Chinle, Ariz., handily defeated incumbent Kelsey Begaye by a vote of 31,406 to 23,964, according to unofficial results posted for 108 of 110 chapters on the Navajo Nation.
In an interview the morning after the election, Shirley said he was very grateful for the people's confidence in him, and ready to go to work on their behalf.
"I feel elated that the Navajo people supported us in the way they did," he said. "We really appreciate that and we know there's a lot of work to be done."
He interpreted the wide margin as a mandate for change. "Three quarters of the people who voted in the primary said they wanted a change. They repeated that mandate in the general election, and we are going to bring them that change."
Shirley and his running mate, vice-president elect Frank Dayish of Shiprock, N.M., promised to respect the people's mandates and work to create better education opportunities and more jobs for the Navajo Nation's 300,000 members.
Shirley led a grassroots campaign during the past year by visiting more than 80 of 110 chapters on the Navajo Nation. He promised to bring a more effective form of government to the Navajo people, which has been dominated by the legislative branch comprised of 88 council delegates representing 110 chapters.
The first thing on the morning-after agenda for Shirley and Dayish was a trip to KTNN, the Navajo Nation's 100,000-watt radio station, where they recording taped messages of thanks to Navajo voters.
"We wanted to say thank you and express our deep appreciation to all the Navajo people and to our Creator," Shirley said. "It's very important to not forget the people who got you there and that was my first priority."
That was followed by meetings with current President Kelsey Begaye and the nation's financial services staff to make plans for the two-month transition.
"Come inauguration time in January, we want to hit the ground running so we are putting together a transition team and a budget for the transition. We want to put a freeze on unnecessary expenditures and start looking at people for our cabinet."
Education is the number one priority for Shirley and Dayish, according to the message they consistently delivered to voters during their yearlong campaign visiting Navajo communities.
"We feel education is the way to get people to become independent, to get good jobs so they can have homes and take care of their families," said Shirley. "We want our Navajo children to learn to be independent and sovereign, so we're going to put a lot into education."
Shirley said he is looking forward to working with Congress and the Bush administration to help Navajo initiatives toward self-sufficiency.
"I come from a Dine' belief that we are all the five-fingered people and we can work together no matter what our political parties. With prayer and concern for our people, we can reach out and make good things happen for our people."
Shirley said President Begaye was gracious in conceding when he visited the Shirley camp's election night gathering at Nakai Hall on the Navajo Nation fairgrounds where they awaited election results.
"He offered us his help and we agreed to put the campaign behind us. We need to become one again as Navajo people and move forward from here."