Ruling expected soon on Navajo president challenge

Posted: Updated:

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- Navajo Nation presidential candidate Russell Begaye said Friday his loyalty to the tribe is unquestionable and he would defend his nation at all costs.

His comments came during a hearing in a case challenging his candidacy. Navajo law requires that presidential candidates have unswerving loyalty to the tribe.

Whether Begaye remains on the ballot to face Joe Shirley Jr. in the Dec. 23 election is now up to Richie Nez of the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals. Arguments in the case wrapped up Friday, and Nez said he expects to issue a decision no later than Wednesday.

Onetime presidential hopeful Myron McLaughlin filed a grievance against Begaye earlier this month, saying he doesn't meet requirements to seek the tribe's top elected post because he sued in federal court to overturn a ruling by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. Current Navajo President Ben Shelly has said it was an attack on the tribe's sovereignty.

McLaughlin said Friday that Navajos "want an honest leader that has unswerving loyalty to the Navajo Nation, that can be trusted and with no baggage."

Begaye sits on the Navajo Nation Council and served as a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company. He said the federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of four of the shareholder representatives and wasn't aimed at the tribal government but individual tribal members who made up the company's board of directors.

"I will defend tooth and nail the sovereignty of the Navajo Nation, and I've been doing that," he said. "In the council, I'm known for that. I will go toe to toe with anybody when it comes to that issue."

Begaye also disputed allegations of financial improprieties.

Attorneys for Begaye and McLaughlin questioned the two, and current and former company officials during the two-day hearing. The case is the second challenge against a tribal presidential candidate this election season.

Begaye replaced Chris Deschene, who was disqualified after failing to show that he could speak Navajo fluently as required by tribal law.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.