WINDOW ROCK (AP) — Leonard Tsosie still held a seat in the New Mexico Senate and on the Navajo Nation Council at midday Tuesday. While that was fine with state officials, it didn't sit well with tribal delegates.
Tsosie had been ordered by the Navajo Supreme Court to choose one or the other by Monday morning, but he sent conflicting letters to Navajo and state officials.
Now the tribal council is questioning whether Tsosie was sworn in prematurely as a council delegate and whether he should keep his seat, representing the Whitehorse Lake, Pueblo Pintado and Torreon chapters in New Mexico.
In a letter Monday to Navajo Election Administration director Edison Wauneka, Tsosie said his resignation from the state Senate was effective immediately.
But in a letter to the New Mexico secretary of state's office, he asked that his resignation be effective upon Gov. Bill Richardson naming a successor to the District 22 seat that represents parts of McKinley, Bernalillo, Sandoval, Rio Arriba and Cibola counties.
Ervin Keeswood, who served as speaker pro tem Monday, said Tsosie's dual roles clearly violate Navajo election law, which states council delegates cannot serve in elected state or federal offices.
"This calls into question the integrity of the Navajo Nation Council," Keeswood said. "Had I known, I would have never let him take the office."
Tsosie, a lawyer, contends he complied with the court's order.
"What the Supreme Court says is give notification by 9 a.m., and I did," he said. "A resignation is a resignation."
He accused some delegates of "nitpicking."
Tsosie said he wanted to educate his successor on pending legislation, including a $15.3 million water line project for Navajo chapters in northwestern New Mexico, plans for a high-speed wireless network in the area and a settlement agreement that resolves the tribe's water claims in the San Juan River Basin.
Tsosie said his intent was "just simply looking out for Navajo people's interest."
Council delegates are allowed to serve on county commissions and election boards, and Tsosie has argued the state Senate should be no exception.
The supreme court did not address that issue in its ruling last week, but Keeswood said Tuesday that county commissioners and election board members do not hold nearly as much power as state legislators.
Tsosie submitted a second letter to the secretary of state's office Tuesday, stating his resignation from the state Senate seat he held since 1993 was effective immediately.
The office received the letter around midday, said spokesman James Flores.
"It's a done deal, and he's no longer with us," Flores said.
Legislative counsel Ray Etcitty suggested the letter might have been sent too late. He said he would talk with the Navajo Department of Justice and the supreme court and make recommendations to the council Wednesday regarding Tsosie's status as a council delegate.
"It would have been easier if he would have faxed his immediate resignation" to state officials, he said.
The Navajo Election Administration stood by its decision to certify Tsosie as a council delegate.
"I don't think it should be an issue based on the opinion given to us by the supreme court," Wauneka said.