FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A Navajo Nation presidential candidate can continue campaigning after a tribal hearing officer ruled he is qualified for the post.
Onetime presidential hopeful Myron McLaughlin sought to have Russell Begaye removed from the race by alleging financial improprieties and questioning Begaye's loyalty to the tribe. Tribal law requires candidates to have "unswerving loyalty" to the Navajo Nation.
The Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals said Monday that McLaughlin failed to prove his allegations. Chief hearing officer Richie Nez said that Begaye's actions as a shareholder representative for the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company were on behalf of the Navajo people and that he didn't receive any money he wasn't owed for attending meetings.
"So as long as the person appears to have had the best interests of the represented group in mind, he is legally loyal," Nez wrote.
McLaughlin's attorney, Brian Lewis, said he would appeal the ruling to the Navajo Supreme Court.
Begaye was one of four shareholder representatives that sued in federal court to overturn a decision by the tribe's high court that reinstated the company's chief executive officer and five board members.
McLaughlin said it was a clear display of disloyalty. But Nez said seeking assistance from the federal government regarding a federally chartered company is not in itself improper. He said none of the evidence showed that Begaye was serving his own interests.
Begaye testified before Nez that his loyalty to the tribe was unquestionable and said he would defend the Navajo Nation at all costs. He said Monday that he's hopeful that Nez's ruling is strong enough for the justices on the high court to deny an appeal and for the election to move forward.
"We made a really solid case," he said. "All the charges that people have been running around with were just an attempt to derail our run for the presidency."
Begaye is set to face Joe Shirley Jr. for the tribe's top elected post. The presidential contest was scheduled for Dec. 23, but election officials scratched that after the deadline to print ballots passed without a decision in Begaye's case.
If a new president and vice president are not sworn in by Jan. 13, the speaker of the Navajo Nation Council would assume the presidency temporarily.
The presidential election was separated from the Nov. 4 general election after Chris Deschene was disqualified for failing to show he met a requirement to speak fluent Navajo. Begaye replaced him.