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Navajo VP faces challenge in bid for presidency

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Navajo Nation Vice President Jonathan Nez is facing a challenge in his bid for the tribe’s top elected post.

One of Nez’s primary election opponents, Vincent Yazzie, alleges Nez failed to disclose a misdemeanor conviction for drunken driving in 2002. Yazzie argues in a grievance filed with the tribe’s Office of Hearings and Appeals that Nez should be disqualified from the presidential race.

Nez’s campaign acknowledged the conviction Thursday but said Yazzie is wrong in his interpretation and it will file a motion to dismiss the complaint.

“We’ll argue that he’s not in any violation,” said campaign manager Clara Pratte. “It seems pretty frivolous. The law is clear.”

Tribal law prohibits Navajos from seeking the presidency or vice presidency if they’ve been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors within the past five years. Nez pleaded guilty to a drunken driving charge in Flagstaff Municipal Court in 2002 and was ordered to take substance abuse classes, according to court records. An extreme drunken driving charge was dismissed.

Pratte said Nez, 43, has not tried to hide his past from the public and uses it as a teaching point, particularly with youth, in overcoming struggles.

The message he sends is “no one is disposable, and mistakes don’t define a person,” she said.

Yazzie has not responded to messages seeking comment but wrote in the complaint that Nez falsified his application, must receive mandatory treatment and be removed as a presidential candidate.

The tribe’s Office of Hearings and Appeals has set a Sept. 26 hearing.

Nez and former two-term Navajo President Joe Shirley Jr. beat out a record number of presidential hopefuls to advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

Another grievance Yazzie filed challenging Shirley on term limits was dismissed Wednesday. Hearing officer Joe Aguirre said the grievance was untimely and Yazzie did not state a violation of the election code.

Shirley filed to run for a third consecutive term in 2010. The tribe’s Supreme Court upheld his disqualification, saying Navajos can serve no more than two terms consecutively as president but can sit out a term and run again.

Shirley entered the race again in 2014 but lost to current President Russell Begaye.