Jonathan Nez, Buu Nygren advance in Navajo presidential race
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — Voters on the country’s largest Native American reservation have advanced incumbent Jonathan Nez and Buu Nygren to the general election for the Navajo Nation presidency in November.
Voters narrowed the list of 15 presidential hopefuls to two on Tuesday during the primary election.
Nez is a recognizable name in Navajo politics, having served as an elected official with the Shonto Chapter, the Navajo Nation Council and the Navajo County Board of Supervisors. He was vice president before winning the presidency, a job that was dominated by his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nez’s administration enacted some of the strictest measures in the country to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. A mask mandate remains in place. He said he would bring continuity to the tribal government as it works to spend more than $1 billion in federal relief funding.
“I think the Navajo people saw that we are able to handle a difficult situation,” Nez told The Associated Press. “Not just coming from leadership but to rally the Navajo people to take care of our people, and they did an outstanding job.”
Other candidates have criticized Nez for virus restrictions that remain in place today that mean businesses aren’t fully reopened.
Nygren, who was a vice presidential candidate in 2018, left his job in construction management to seek the tribe’s top elected post. He has positioned himself as a diplomat who will bring a modern perspective to the presidency as one of the youngest candidates.
“That’s my greatest advantage,” the 35-year-old told The Associated Press. “To effectively unite the Navajo Nation leadership, you need a president that’s willing to roll up their sleeves and make sure they have a humble approach to getting things done.”
He said the Navajo Nation hasn’t been quick enough to respond to a huge loss of revenue from shuttered coal mines and coal-fired power plants, and should capitalize on tourism.
Whoever wins will oversee the reservation that spans 27,000 square miles (69,930 square kilometers) of high desert, forests, wind-swept mesas and mountains bordering New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Its population of 406,000 is second to only the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
The slate of candidates pushed platforms that included economic development, ensuring that basic needs such as running water and electricity are met and finding ways to preserve the Navajo language. They also vowed to press the federal government to fulfill its duty to provide for the public safety, health and education of Navajo people.
Nez garnered more than 17,000 votes in the primary election, and Nygren got nearly 13,000 with all 110 precincts reporting, according to unofficial results from the tribe’s elections office. Rounding out the top five were attorney Justin Jones, former Navajo Attorney General Ethel Branch and Greg Bigman, chairman of the Diné College Board of Regents.
Their supporters set up tents across the Navajo Nation on Tuesday, offering fry bread and other food to voters as they made a final campaign push. Election day is a social event on the Navajo Nation, though some precautions were still in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 123,000 Navajos were registered to vote in the primary that’s held the same day as Arizona’s primary.
Election workers were reporting results from a sports center in the tribal capital of Window Rock that was closed to the public this year because of coronavirus precautions.
The others candidates were educator Dolly Mason; scholar Leslie Tsosie; Chinle Chapter President Rosanna Jumbo-Fitch; Frankie Davis; former New Mexico state legislator Sandra Jeff; Emily Ellison; former Navajo Vice President Frank Dayish; Ts’ah Bii Kin Chapter manager Earl Sombrero; and Dineh Benally and Kevin Cody, both of whom sought the tribal presidency in 2018.