TUES: Crime opens political lane for GOP in Democratic NM, Trump endorses Ronchetti, + More
Crime opens political lane for GOP in Democratic New Mexico - By Morgan Lee Associated Press
Republicans are funneling resources and determination into a law-and-order campaign for governor of New Mexico led by a local TV celebrity with a hard-line message about criminal justice — hoping to dislodge an incumbent Democrat who staunchly defends abortion access.
New Mexico is one of a handful of Democratic-dominated states from New York to Oregon where Republicans hope to win the top statewide office by elevating concerns about household hardships of inflation along with rising crime and shifting attitudes about public safety.
Former TV meteorologist and GOP nominee Mark Ronchetti has relentlessly hammered incumbent Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for fostering a "catch-and-release" environment in the criminal justice system as the state's largest city, Albuquerque, sees a record-setting spate of homicides.
He's drawing support from a pack of ambitious GOP governors with little love for former President Donald Trump. Fundraising by Ronchetti's campaign has surged amid visits from incumbent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, termed-out Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and purple-state Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia.
On Monday, Trump posted a social media endorsement of Ronchetti, who has steered clear of Trump's false election-fraud claims that sparked the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and acknowledges that President Joe Biden won in 2020.
Biden is scheduled to visit New Mexico on Thursday to shore up Lujan Grisham's standing with voters in a state that Trump lost twice — and where Democrats hope to keep control of every statewide elected office, legislative majorities and the state Supreme Court.
Lujan Grisham has staked her reelection above all on abortion access as a cornerstone of women's rights — touting her collaboration with Democratic legislators in overturning a dormant state abortion ban last year ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Roe vs. Wade.
She later signed executive orders to ensure safe haven for local abortion doctors and visiting patients, while earmarking $10 million to help build an abortion and reproductive health clinic in Las Cruces.
If "women don't have equal rights, you cannot have a democracy," Lujan Grisham told news reporters last week. "It's perilous."
Biden's trip to New Mexico comes on the heels of visits and endorsements by prominent Democrats, from a video feed by Barack Obama to a moderated discussion on reproductive rights in Albuquerque last week between Lujan Grisham and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Ronchetti spokesman Ryan Sabel said Monday that the Biden visit would remind voters of reckless policies that "have led to higher gas prices, open borders, and drugs and violent crime taking over our neighborhoods."
Lonna Atkeson, a political scientist who directs the LeRoy Collins Institute at Florida State University, said Republicans have seized on the most visceral of political issues.
"Crime really affects people, and the economy is more important than crime," she said. "As long as you can keep these issues in the minds of voters, the GOP has a winning strategy."
Atkeson, a former professor at the University of New Mexico, said campaigning on abortion policy can activate voters across the political spectrum in a heavily Hispanic state with strong currents of Catholicism.
"We've got both right-to-life and pro-choice people on the other side. So it's not the clear winning issue," Atkeson said. "Abortion is in some ways an abstract issue for a lot of people that they're not going to face tomorrow."
The outcome of the governor's race in New Mexico holds other national implications.
A Ronchetti win would put Republicans back in the driver's seat on oilfield and climate regulations in the nation's No. 2 state for petroleum production. And Ronchetti has pledged to deploy troops and police to the U.S.-Mexico border, aligning enforcement with Republican-led initiatives in Texas and Arizona.
The winner also will oversee a windfall in state government income linked to oil production, in a state with persistently high rates of childhood poverty and low-marks for public school performance.
Lujan Grisham has urged voters to stay the course on increased public investments in education, health care and policing.
She recently signed cuts on sales taxes and social security benefits. Ronchetti says he would go farther, including a permanent annual rebate tied to oilfield income for every individual in the state of 2.1 million residents.
Republicans have spent heavily on turning the election into a referendum on crime and punishment.
The Republican Governors Association has invested in TV ads that provide a frightening narrative around the release of a convicted felon who went on to slay his estranged girlfriend last year.
Patty Lane, manager of a gallery of shops in Truth or Consequences, said Ronchetti's approach to crime, border security and the economy resonate in her community, and that she still resents aggressive pandemic health restrictions from Lujan Grisham that limited access to businesses while drawing down prison populations.
"Her handling of COVID, letting prisoners out that shouldn't be let out. … Ronchetti, he just seems more level-headed," Lane said.
Ronchetti, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2020, said he'll appoint hard-nosed judges and has pledged to back police officers by restoring local immunity from prosecution to policing agencies, while railing against the state's pretrial release system. A voter-approved constitutional amendment in 2016 reduced the role of money-bail and made it harder to deny release while defendants await trial.
New Mexico has alternated between Democratic and Republican governors since the early 1980s. An incumbent governor last lost reelection in 1994.
The Democratic Party also seized on abortion access as a galvanizing issue in 2020 to oust several of the party's own incumbent state senators who had balked at overturning the state abortion ban — clearing the way for 2021 legislation to preserve access.
Since then, New Mexico has taken on an outsized roll in providing access to abortion for residents of neighboring states. Operators of the Mississippi clinic at the center of the court battle that overturned Roe v. Wade have opened a clinic in southern New Mexico.
Ronchetti supports a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with limited exceptions, while advocating for a statewide referendum on whether to impose new restrictions.
At the University of New Mexico, 19-year-old student Taylor Rittman said she was unlikely to support candidates who want to restrict access to abortion.
"It opens up the opportunity for the government to continue to take away freedoms" from women, Rittman said.
Trump weighs in regarding New Mexico race for governor - Associated Press
Former President Donald Trump has endorsed Republican nominee for governor Mark Ronchetti in a social media post.
It's unclear how the endorsement influences Ronchetti's prospects in the Nov. 8 general election in a state that Trump lost twice. President Joe Biden won the New Mexico vote by roughly 11 percentage points in 2020.
In a post on the Truth Social social media network, Trump called incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham "absolutely terrible" and said that Ronchetti "will be tough & smart on Crime, the Border & everything else. Mark (h)as my Total Endorsement!"
Ronchetti has campaigned for governor at arms length from Trump and has yet to acknowledge the endorsement publicly. The two have never spoken, said Ronchetti's campaign spokesman Ryan Sabel.
In a statement, Sabel highlighted a gamut of high-profile endorsements for Ronchetti, including Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, former U.N. Ambassador Nicki Haley, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson "and now former President Trump."
"Mark is supported by people from all walks of life and all different viewpoints," he said.
President Biden has announced plans to visit New Mexico on Thursday in support of Lujan Grisham's campaign as she runs for reelection.
Prominent endorsements for Lujan Grisham's include Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and former President Barack Obama.
Most candidates for top election posts say no to hand counts - By Nicholas Riccardi Associated Press
The vast majority of candidates running to become their states' chief election officers oppose hand counting ballots, a laborious and error-prone process that has gained favor among some Republicans embracing conspiracy theories about voting machines.
An Associated Press survey of major-party secretary of state candidates in the 24 states found broad skepticism about hand counting among election professionals of all ideological stripes. Of 23 Republicans who responded to the survey, 13 clearly said they opposed implementing a statewide hand count of ballots instead of a machine count.
GOP candidates in Arizona and New Mexico have previously endorsed the idea of a hand count. But others cautioned it was a dangerous road to follow.
"Hand counting ballots is a process that requires time, manpower, and is prone to inaccuracies," Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, a Republican who is seeking reelection this year, wrote in response to the AP survey.
The desire to hand count ballots stems from conspiracy theories spread by former President Donald Trump and his allies that the electronic machines that tabulated the results of the 2020 presidential election were rigged. Now some Republicans inspired by his election lies seek to expand or require hand counting of all ballots.
Counting by hand takes longer, requires large groups of people to examine ballots, and has been found by multiple studies to be less reliable than using voting machines.
"The reason the U.S. moved to counting machines is due to both human error and fraud with hand counts, so we looked for a better way to count the vote," said Kim Crockett, the Republican nominee for secretary of state in Minnesota, in an email. "The error rate for hand counts is higher than the error rate for ballot counters in most cases."
Crockett, who has called the 2020 election "rigged" and echoed some of Trump's other election falsehoods, also stressed that she thinks her state's voting machines still need further inspection.
The process came under scrutiny last week when rural Nye County in Nevada embarked on an unprecedented full hand count of this year's midterm votes, starting with mailed ballots and those cast early in-person. The process was painstakingly slow until it was halted by the state's supreme court over concerns that early vote tallies could be leaked publicly.
While the AP survey found most candidates strongly favor machine tabulators, two GOP secretary of state candidates in politically pivotal states — Arizona and New Mexico — want to shift to the unreliable method of counting ballots. A third in yet another swing state, Nevada, has backed Nye County's effort and voiced support for making that sort of procedure standard statewide.
In Arizona, Republican State Rep. Mark Finchem, who is running for secretary of state, joined his party's nominee for governor, Kari Lake, in filing a lawsuit seeking to outlaw the use of any machine to record or tabulate votes. The case was dismissed by a judge who levied sanctions against the Republicans.
In New Mexico, GOP secretary of state nominee Audrey Trujillo has said she wants widespread hand counting of votes.
"Hand count my ballot. We already have paper ballots," she said in an interview on the video platform Rumble. "If we had that, I guarantee you tons more people would go out and vote."
Neither Finchem nor Trujillo responded to the AP's survey.
Nevada's Republican secretary of state candidate has offered conflicting responses. A campaign spokesman for Republican nominee Jim Marchant told the AP that Marchant would be fine with a machine count as long as there also are paper ballots, which are universally used in Nevada. But the prior month, Marchant told the AP in a separate interview, "My goal is to go to a hand count paper ballot system."
Nevada's current secretary of state, Republican Barbara Cegavske, told interim Nye County Clerk Mark Kampf to halt the hand count of early arriving mailed ballots and early in-person votes until after polls close Nov. 8 following a ruling late last week from the state's high court. The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had sought to halt the hand count over concerns that observers could hear the results as they were announced, risking a potential public leak of early returns.
The nascent hand-count had been riddled with problems on its first day, with repeated delays and errors among the volunteer staff of 12 teams of five split into two different shifts. They got through 900 of 1,950 ballots on the first day, with one volunteer lamenting the slow pace: "I can't believe it's two hours to get through 25."
An AP reporter observed two teams of five taking as long as three hours to count 50 ballots. When teams realized they had mismatched tallies for certain candidates, they would stop and recount the ballots for those candidates again. That effort followed a hand count in another rural Nevada county, Esmeralda, where election workers in June spent more than seven hours hand-tallying the 317 primary ballots.
Kampf said the teams improved during the second day.
Eleven candidates, mostly Republicans, did not respond to the AP's survey, including one of the most prominent election conspiracy theorists running for the position — Republican Kristina Karamo in Michigan, a community college instructor who has spread the lie that voting machines in 2020 were rigged.
"Election deniers are using the language of election integrity to dismantle the actual infrastructure of election integrity," said David Becker, the co-author of "The Big Truth," a book about the risks of Trump's voting lies, and executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. "If you want inaccurate results that take a really long time and cost a lot, then hand counting is your solution."
Voting machines are routinely checked before and after voting to make sure they count accurately. The post-election test usually involves pulling a sample of random ballots and counting them by hand to see if the automated tally differs.
But repeated studies — in voting and other fields such as banking and retail — have shown that people make far more errors counting than do machines, especially when reaching larger and larger numbers. They're also vastly slower.
Jennifer Morrell, a former local election official in Colorado and Utah, noted that hand counts are enormously labor-intensive. The election consulting firm where she works estimated that in a typical-sized jurisdiction of 270,000 voters, it would take 1,300 people to count the ballots within seven days.
That's because the typical ballot has dozens of races on it, which machines tabulate automatically but humans would have to count line by line, page by page.
"Voting equipment is uniform and efficient in a way that humans will never be," Morrell said.
Tribe seeks to adapt as climate change alters ancestral home - By Tammy Webber And Martha Irvine Associated Press
This was a land of dense forests. A creek cascading through ponds in a canyon. A valley of sage and juniper with shady cottonwood galleries and many gardens.
For thousands of years, the Tewa people of Kha'p'o Owingeh — Valley of the Wild Roses — have called Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico home. They hunted, gathered firewood and medicinal and ceremonial plants and dug clay to make shiny black and redware pottery. Fields near the Rio Grande bore a bounty of corn, beans, squash and chiles.
But heat and drought, exacerbated by climate change, have taken a toll on the the pueblo's 89 square miles, from the Rio Grande Valley to Santa Clara Canyon in the Jemez Mountains — threatening an existence tied to land, water and animals celebrated through stories, songs and dances passed down through ages.
Three large wildfires in 13 years burned more than 80% of the pueblo's forested land. The last one, the 2011 Las Conchas fire, burned so hot it hardened ground like concrete.
Two months later, just a quarter-inch of rain unleashed the first of several devastating flash floods, scouring charred slopes and sending boulders, debris and sediment through the pueblo. It buried a canyon road 50 feet deep, blew out earthen dams and drained ponds. It decimated wildlife habitat and killed all fish.
In the valley, where the tribe of about 1,350 lives, runoff after rains still fills irrigation ditches with sediment and ruins crops. Farmers who once freely diverted water from the Rio Grande now do so on designated days. They say hotter temperatures and stronger winds dry soil quickly, rain is unpredictable, snowfall scarce.
People here are familiar with drought. But the megadrought now gripping the West and Southwest, the worst in 1,200 years, makes the future less certain.
"How do you prepare ... with so many unknowns?" says Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. J. Michael Chavarria. "We can't just pack up our bags and leave."
The tribe is restoring the watershed with scientific and native knowledge: using rocks to slow water and create ponds and floodwater diversions. Tree roots and debris create habitat, enrich soil and shade seedlings and Santa Clara Creek.
Signs of progress include fir and spruce sprouting this summer along the creek. Only about 40% of the tribe's more than 2 million trees planted in the past 20 years have survived, and some unshaded slopes may never again support trees in a hotter, drier climate.
So the natural regeneration is "like the apex of restoration," says Garrett Altmann, a geographic information systems and project manager.
There are more signs of renewal: A carpet of green beneath blackened trees. Bulrushes along streambanks. Aspens filling in where conifers burned. Bears, elk, deer and bobcats returning.
But there's much to do even after about $100 million in federal disaster aid and other funding was spent on emergency response and to rebuild a temporary canyon road, install culverts, erect steel mesh barriers to catch debris in ravines, and to dig ash and sediment from ponds and the creek.
The tribe needs to rebuild a permanent canyon road and restore ponds, where they hope to reintroduce native cutthroat trout — projects that could cost almost $200 million more, pueblo officials say.
But they believe they can spend less and accomplish more with their nature-based approach, while recognizing limitations in a warmer climate.
They'll be strategic about replanting trees, leaving space between future forest stands. They'll revive prescribed burns — an ancient practice long discouraged by state and federal agencies — to keep forests from again becoming overgrown and susceptible to drought, insects and disease.
Still, some fear climate change could outpace recovery, that another wildfire could undo years of progress.
"I want to be hopeful," says Eugene "Hutch" Naranjo, 63, who wants to share his childhood experiences — hunting, fishing, camping — with his grandchildren. "But the way things are going now, I don't know."
Tribal members also worry about farming's future in the Rio Grande Valley, where dozens of families once tended plots.
"Fields just aren't producing like they used to," says Gilbert Naranjo — no relation to Hutch — who plows farmers' fields. Many didn't plant this year after losing much of last year's crop to winds, a late-summer frost and ongoing drought.
Some who did lost crops again when drought returned in spring, after heavy monsoon rains in July and August, and when elk from the canyon raided their fields.
Hutch and Norma Naranjo attribute their successful harvest — especially corn, integral to Tewa diet and culture — to prayer, crop rotation and native seeds that better withstand drought.
But farming is now "a guessing game," says Hutch.
Farmers say temperatures exceed 90 and 100 degrees more often. The wind blows harder, drying soil and flattening crops. Snowpack that melted in spring, filling waterways and recharging aquifers, is increasingly scarce.
A recent federal assessment for New Mexico projects even less snowpack in the future, along with more intense heat and drought that could trigger more wildfires and dust storms.
Changes over the past 30 years already contribute to drought and extreme weather, says National Weather Service hydrologist Andrew Mangham.
"It's becoming very, very feast or famine," Mangham says. "We either have no rain or we get 5 inches at once or 8 inches at once."
Rainfall can be bittersweet — it helps crops but can wreak havoc, like this summer when flash flood sediment destroyed former Santa Clara Gov. Walter Dasheno's irrigation system.
Tribal leaders also worry whether groundwater that supplies pueblo homes will continue to recharge adequately.
Dasheno, who's on a pueblo water rights committee, says they've discussed a solar-powered well, rerouting irrigation ditches or finding a way to store water from Santa Clara Creek.
The tribe also hopes to recreate wetlands along the Rio Grande to recharge surface and groundwater, says pueblo forestry director Daniel Denipah.
All ideas are on the table, Gov. Chavarria says.
"If you don't have good water to irrigate your crops ... they die off," he says. "So if we don't have a good water source, good quality of water, we may die off as well."
Freelance photographer Andres Leighton contributed to this story.
Gethro Muscadin, ex-Kansas, New Mexico forward, dies - Associated Press
Former Kansas and New Mexico forward Gethro Muscadin, who was involved in a rollover crash last December, died late Monday from the injuries he sustained in the crash.
Jayhawks coach Bill Self announced the news in a statement Tuesday.
"Although only here one year," Self said, "Gethro was loved and liked by all and will always be remembered as a Jayhawk. We wish his family and loved ones the best going through this most difficult time."
Muscadin grew up in the seaside city of Gonaives, Haiti, and moved to the U.S. in 2006 to pursue basketball. He played at Sunrise Christian Academy and Life Prep Academy, both in Kansas, and Aspire Academy in Kentucky, where Muscadin grew into a four-star prospect that had scholarship offers from a number of high-major programs.
The 6-foot-10 center chose the Jayhawks and appeared in 11 games during the 2020-21 season, including a loss to Southern California in the NCAA Tournament. Muscadin transferred to New Mexico, where he started nine of 12 games for the Lobos last season before leaving the program in December.
He was involved in a single-vehicle crash on the Kansas Turnpike in the early hours of Dec. 30 and never recovered.
2 arrested after Santa Fe woman fatally stabbed with a sword - Associated Press
A woman and her boyfriend have been arrested in connection with a death in Santa Fe in which the victim was stabbed with a three-foot metal sword, according to authorities.
Police said 19-year-old Kiara McCulley and 25-year-old Isaac Apodaca were taken into custody Saturday and both remain jailed on open counts of murder.
It was unclear Tuesday if either suspect has a lawyer yet who can speak on their behalf.
According to a criminal complaint, McCulley is accused of fatally stabbing 19-year-old Grace Jennings and also may have tried to decapitate her after allegedly being encouraged to do so by Apodaca.
Police said they found text messages between Apodaca and McCully allegedly conspiring to kill Jennings.
McCully said she has multiple personality disorder and doesn't remember fatally stabbing the victim, according to authorities.
Police said Jennings' body was found Saturday afternoon in an detached garage at the home of McCulley's mother.
The criminal complaint said Jennings had "several injuries consistent of being cut or stabbed with a sharp object" and her body also appeared to have injuries "consistent with attempts to decapitate."
Police said officers recovered a bloody sword from inside the garage where Apodaca and McCulley live.
Police said McCulley told them she became upset after Apodaca invited Jennings, a former girlfriend, to spend Friday night with the couple.
Want to represent ABQ Westside in the NM Senate? Nov. 10 is the deadline for applications. — By Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico
Those interested in filling the seat left empty by New Mexico State Sen. Jacob Candelaria have until Nov. 10 to apply, a date established after tensions flared among the county board charged with replacing him.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria, a Democrat-turned-independent, announced Oct. 19 that he would be resigning that day, which was two years before his term was up. Because District 26, which Candelaria represented, sits entirely in the county, the Bernalillo County Commission is tasked with naming his replacement.
The county announced Friday that commissioners will make the appointment Nov. 15. Those interested must be at least 25-years-old and live within the current boundaries of Senate District 26.
It took a heated debate to get there. Debbie O’Malley, a Westside commissioner, said she was worried the decision was being rushed to favor political insiders. The argument reportedly ended with O’Malley cursing at a fellow commissioner after the meeting, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
Commissioners who were in favor of naming a replacement quickly countered that residents shouldn’t have to wait unnecessarily long to have representation in District 26.
Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, a Westside Democrat, announced that he had eyes on Candelaria’s seat hours after the senator’s resignation, and said that he would soon apply. He told Source New Mexico previously that he hoped the commission would act fast.
How displaced or unhoused New Mexicans can register to vote - By Megan Gleason, Source New Mexico
Those experiencing homelessness or who are displaced still have the right to vote in New Mexico. They just have to register first — if they’ve never done so before — which can now happen in-person during early voting or on General Election Day, and a ballot can be cast that same day.
To register, New Mexicans are required to list a place of residence, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a permanent home address. A homeless shelter, frequent nightly dwelling or PO Box can be put down, as long as there’s a mailing address.
Voters can also add a temporary place of residence that a ballot can be sent to.
Early voting goes through Saturday, Nov. 5, and then polls are open again on Tuesday, Nov. 8 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Mark Oldknow is the associate director of the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness. He said for people who are unhoused, voting is fairly easy and not that different of a process from everyone else.
There are a few ways people who are unhoused can put down an address. They can list a homeless shelter, describe the location or draw a map of where they most often reside at night, as long as there’s a mailing address.
Deputy Secretary of State Sharon Pino said it’s common for unhoused people to put a shelter as their fixed address.
“The person still has to provide the statutorily required voter information the first time they vote, but they are not disenfranchised for being unhoused,” Pino said via email.
Still, Oldknow acknowledged that “there’s a lot of stigma around the homeless showing up” anywhere, including a polling location.
Another issue is that not enough unhoused people are aware that they can vote or how easy it is, he said.
“I think it’s kind of education and getting the word out to the homeless themselves that they’re entitled to vote,” he said. “The system is not tilted against them.”
Voters can list an alternate address to receive a ballot, even if it’s out of their county of state. That’s probably the easiest way for anyone displaced by the Hermits Peak-Calf Canyon Fire to vote, Secretary of State’s Office spokesperson Alex Curtas said earlier this month.
“You basically have to say, ‘Well, this is where I’m registered to vote, but this is where I’m living right now. Please send my ballot to this address,’” he said.
Carlos J. Arellano is a Mora County Clerk. He said a lot of displaced Mora residents are staying in Las Vegas, N.M., or Santa Fe, and will probably just come in person to vote.
He said he thinks this General Election will run a lot better than the summer primaries, the first community event since the fire forced evacuation. So far, he said, the number of ballots cast is pretty average — nearly 400 votes were in as of Thursday.
“We anticipate everything just running smoothly as usual,” he said.
Still, Mora County Commissioner Veronica Serna said last month she’s not sure everyone will find the time to vote while they try to recover from the fire and flooding disasters.
The county already has a fairly low voter turnout historically, not unlike the rest of the state. Arellano said about 30% to 40% of registered voters usually cast a ballot, depending on how interested people are in the races.
“We’re just adjusting back to everything now,” he said.
Navajo presidential hopefuls represent change or continuity - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press
Navajos next week will choose whether to elect a president who has never held political office or one whose career in tribal government spans two decades.
Incumbent President Jonathan Nez and challenger Buu Nygren emerged as the top two vote-getters among 15 candidates in the tribe's primary election in August.
Both want to ensure that tens of thousands of people on the country's largest Native American reservation have access to running water, electricity and broadband. The coronavirus pandemic highlighted the lack of basic services across the Navajo Nation and led to more than $2 billion being allocated by the federal government, some of which will fund infrastructure projects.
Nez ascended to the presidency after serving as a community leader, council delegate, county supervisor and tribal vice president. He has infused Christianity into the job while promoting a resurgence of Navajo culture and language, particularly during the pandemic when Navajos were encouraged to stay on the reservation.
Nygren was thrust into the political scene four years ago when Joe Shirley Jr. picked him as his running mate after Shirley's initial choice didn't pan out. Nez got nearly twice as many votes as Shirley, denying him a third term in office. Nygren resigned from a job in construction management to seek the tribal presidency.
More than 126,000 Navajos are registered to vote in the tribe's general election on Nov. 8 that will also determine the makeup of the 24-member Navajo Nation Council — often seen as more powerful than the presidency.
Nez and Nygren are limited to raising about $180,000 each for the nonpartisan race, including the primary. Donations can come from Navajos only.
Radio plays a huge role in campaign advertising because of the remoteness of the vast 27,000 square-mile reservation. Candidates also spend countless hours on the road meeting with voters in tribal communities and off the reservation.
The tribe has the largest land base by far of any other Native American tribe in the U.S. and its population of about 400,000 is second only to the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Nez selected law school graduate Chad Abeyta as his running mate. Nygren chose Richelle Montoya, who is president of a Navajo chapter on the New Mexico side of the reservation. The tribe has never elected a woman as president or vice president.
Nygren's energy in some ways resembles what Nez exhibited in the 2018 election where he positioned himself as a young candidate ready to work on a to-do list generated by talking with Navajo voters. Nez's tone is more measured now, as he works to assure Navajos that progress is being made but takes time.
At a recent debate at Arizona State University, Nygren suggested Nez's administration has moved too slowly on negotiating water rights in Arizona and establishing an office in Phoenix to serve urban Navajos. He also criticized the president for what he said was needless spending on a tribal office in Washington, D.C. and the purchase of property off the reservation.
"If you're losing faith and hope that we can have a better future for tomorrow, then you should step aside," Nygren said to Nez at the debate. "But as your next Navajo Nation president, I am full of hope with aspiration for a better Navajo Nation."
Nez countered that Nygren doesn't understand how tribal government operates and hasn't built a network of local, state and federal leaders to advocate for funding and other resources for the Navajo Nation.
Nez also has pushed back on assertions that his administration was too strict in implementing measures during the pandemic in which more than 1,900 Navajos have died. Nez's administration ordered lockdowns, curfews and other restrictions.
Businesses on the Navajo Nation haven't fully reopened, partly because of the less than a handful of confirmed monkeypox cases, Nez said.
"We took our sovereignty seriously," he said in an interview. "We have the ability to govern ourselves, and we kept that mask mandate in place. And if you ask Navajo people, they'll say we had to do that to keep our people safe during the pandemic, and they accepted that."