Indianz.Com > News > Former Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez launches bid for Congress
Jonathan Nez for Congress: I’m running to represent #AZ02 in the U.S. House!
Former Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez launches bid for Congress
Monday, October 16, 2023

Jonathan Nez, a former president of the Navajo Nation, is running for Congress in one of the most Native-populated districts in the United States.

Nez announced his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for Arizona’s 2nd Congressional district, where 22 percent of the population is American Indian or Alaska Native.

“I lived in Arizona my whole life,” Nez said in a video posted on social media. “I grew up in a rural, low-income home without electricity or running water.”

“I understand the struggles that 2nd district families are facing right now — from the rising costs of food, gas, and child care to increasingly devastating wildfires and health care deserts — and above all, a sense that their elected representatives don’t care about them, that D.C. politicians have left them behind,” Nez continued.

The 2nd district is currently represented by Eli Crane, a Republican who has been a prominent participant in an internal party uprising that has left the House without a permanent Speaker for the first time in U.S. history. The GOP efforts almost led to a shutdown of the federal government.

“As we face these challenges, we can’t afford to have an extremist representatives who will take us to the brink of a government shutdown just to prove a political point,” Nez said in his campaign video.

Crane is a first-term member of Congress, having won election to the House in November 2022. He defeated Democrat Tom O’Halleran, who was the incumbent in what was previously known as Arizona’s 1st Congressional district.

The 1st district was heavily Native as well — it included the Arizona portions of the Navajo Nation as well as the reservations of several other tribes. O’Halleran made efforts to address Indian Country’s needs during his six years on Capitol Hill.

Indianz.Com Audio: Former Navajo Nation president Jonathan Nez launches bid for Congress

But the 1st district was redrawn — and renumbered to the 2nd — in a way that made it significantly more beneficial to the Republican Party even though it is home to 12 reservations. Just last week, a coalition of advocacy groups released a report that said Native voters in Arizona “lost political power” as a result of the redistricting process in the state.

“Arizonans deserve leaders that work for them,” Nez said in launching his campaign. “I’m no stranger to adversity, but I know that we overcome it by working with each other, not against each other.”

The U.S. House of Representatives currently includes four members who are citizens of federally recognized tribes. They are Rep. Josh Brecheen (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Choctaw Nation; Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation; Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation; and Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska), a citizen of the Orutsararmiut Native Council who is also a shareholder in an Alaska Native corporation.

The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, has just one tribal citizen. Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), who hails from the Cherokee Nation, is in his first term in the chamber, having previously served in the House.

Historically, voters on the Navajo Nation have supported Democratic candidates in overwhelming numbers. In the 2020 presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden easily defeated Republican Donald Trump in the three counties that fall within reservation boundaries.

Just last year, Myron Lizer, who had served as vice president of the Navajo Nation with Nez, sought the Republican nomination for Arizona’s 2nd district. He didn’t secure enough support to appear on the GOP ballot.

A month later, Nez filed for re-election as highest-ranking executive of the Navajo Nation, and later chose a new vice presidential running mate. Though he came in first in the tribal primary, he ended up losing the general election to Buu Nygren, who is the youngest president in the tribe’s history.

In terms of acreage, the Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the United States. It was among the places hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Nez taking numerous measures to curb the spread of the virus on tribal lands.

Jonathan Nez
Jonathan Nez, then serving as president of the Navajo Nation, is seen at the headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., on September 27, 2022. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Related Stories
Few states make the grade when it comes to tribal inclusion in voting maps (October 12, 2023)