WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – Despite facing charges of conspiracy, fraud and theft in a Navajo Nation “slush fund” probe investigation, presidential candidate Ben Shelly prevailed in the Nov. 2 election with more than a 5 percent lead over New Mexico State Sen. Lynda Lovejoy.
Shelly garnered 33,692 votes to Lovejoy’s 30,357. Early reports indicate that Lovejoy will seek a recount, but attempts to contact her at press time were unsuccessful.
President-elect Shelly of Thoreau, N.M., currently serves as the Navajo Nation vice president. His vice-presidential running mate, council delegate Rex Lee Jim, was also charged along with 76 other delegates in the criminal complaint filed in Window Rock District Court by Special Prosecutor Alan Balaran and Chief Prosecutor Bernadine Martin. The arraignments began Oct. 21 and continued through Nov. 8.
Navajo Nation Attorney General Louis Denetsosie called for an investigation into the use of chapter house discretionary funds, aimed to help the elderly, students and otherwise needy residents.
While Shelly wasn’t available for comment, he has run his platform based on his vision to improve highways, secure full appropriations to pump water to rural areas currently without running water, a focus on community and business development, education and governmental accountability.
“This election is about our future. … it’s about a strong, confident Navajo Nation, repositioned and ready for advancement,” he said in a pre-election statement.
According to reports, the AG complaint filed against him alleged that he applied and approved requests for discretionary funds to benefit himself and his family between 2005 and 2006, totaling more than $8,000. He could face jail time and hefty fines if convicted.
Thoreau Chapter Community Service Coordinator Jacynthia Johnson said she’s giving the delegates the benefit of the doubt, hoping the missing money was the result of poor bookkeeping. Even though she has taken a neutral stance, she said, the sheer number of delegates facing charges has left many chapter members feeling betrayed. “We feel really sad about it. We thought that the money was going to the people in the chapter.”
Just days before the election, according to Lovejoy’s website that linked to an article in the Navajo Times, she claimed to have filed a complaint with the tribe’s election office citing Shelly violated campaign ethics. She alleged that he violated the tribe’s election law by accepting a $10,000 contribution from the United Mine Workers of America, considered a non-Navajo entity, and used tribal vehicles, phones and supplies to aid his campaign. Shelly’s spokesperson denied the allegations.
If she chooses to pursue the matter any further, sources confirmed that she must file the complaint to the tribe’s Office of Hearings & Appeals.
During an election night interview with 660 KTNN-AM radio, Lovejoy said her gender may have played a role in election results, but she added that she respects the vote of the people. Reports have indicated that conservative, traditional Navajos believe a man should hold the highest office.
She said in a pre-election statement that she was motivated to run for president due to what she perceives as “a real problem with leadership,” and how this gives outsiders the perception that the nation “has been weak.”
While she may have lost the election, Lovejoy prevailed in her hometown of Crownpoint, N.M., with a 387-270 lead over Shelly.
Crownpoint Chapter Community Service Coordinator Jamison DeVore said despite Lovejoy’s lead, the voter turnout was dismal in a community of 3,500 residents. He attributed the low numbers to the recent media attention surrounding delegates, and the apathy of older adults who feel let down by the broken promises of past administrations.
“I think it’s one of the things that unsettle them, and they don’t want to go forth and support anyone,” he said. “It’s sad.”
It was a history-making election. Shelly is the tribe’s first vice-president elected as president. If Lovejoy had prevailed, she would have been the first woman president.