San Juan County elections are drawing national media attention this year because of unprecedented participation in the political process by Indian residents.
More Navajos than ever before have registered to vote in this year's general election - the first in the history of the conservative, Mormon-settled county to feature an all-Indian slate of Democratic candidates for six county offices.According to the latest U.S. census figures, 12,360 people live in San Juan County. Indians comprise more than half the population, and a significant turnout of Navajo voters - who traditionally vote Democratic - could swing the balance of power away from Republicans.
Both party platforms endorse multiple use of public lands; both specify traditional uses by Indians, such as hunting, fishing and pine-nut and herb gathering for religious and ceremonial purposes.
Four Navajos and a Cherokee who married a Navajo hope to unseat five Republicans. The sixth Navajo candidate is Mark Maryboy, who heads the Democratic slate as an incumbent county commissioner, representing District 3. About 90 percent of that district is Navajo.
Julius Claw, a Navajo education consultant, is running for county treasurer against Marian Bayles. Claudia Keith, who has been studying for an associate degree at the College of Eastern Utah-San Juan campus in Blanding, is vying with Louise Jones for county recorder.
Nelson Begaye, who is studying criminal justice through Weber State College and worked nine years in law enforcement, faces longtime Sheriff Claude Lacy in the race.
Dan Nakai, an independent businessman in Blanding, hopes to claim the assessor's office from Bruce Bunker. And Cherokee Ruby Nakai, who works in a health clinic, is running against incumbent Clerk-Auditor Gail D. Johnson.
Incumbent Commissioner Bill Redd and Craig C. Halls, county attorney, are both running unopposed on the Republican ticket. Steve Boos of Bluff, an attorney for DNA Legal Services in Mexican Hat, has stated intentions of running against Halls in a write-in campaign.
The only Navajo currently in office, Maryboy is being challenged in his bid for a second four-year commission term by Republican Leonard R. Howe, a non-Indian resident of Montezuma Creek on the Utah Navajo Reservation.
Commission District 3
Leonard R. Howe, 31, grew up in Monticello and has lived the past eight years in Montezuma Creek, where he worked in maintenance for Sunrise Trading Post. He is enrolled at Brigham Young University in Provo, earning a bachelor's degree in history.
Howe has no previous political experience and says he decided to run for commissioner because no one had filed to oppose Maryboy, "and I believe in the two-partysystem."
He said living conditions on the reservation are an issue, but not one he is focusing on. Howe said he believes accusations of racism and discrimination against Indians, and their demands for better housing and a higher quality of life, are exclusive to a certain bunch of Navajos who are "almost militant . . . remnants of the AIM (American Indian) movement."
He said Navajos prefer isolation and living 10 miles apart to grouping together in communities, where benefits include electrical and water systems.
"It's really hard to provide those services when people live that far apart," he said. "I prefer the individuals come up with the resources on their own. That's what I had to do."
A San Juan County Economic Development Board member, Howe is helping research job potential in San Juan, especially for Navajos along the Utah Strip. A vocational education center in that area would enhance job creation, he said.
Mark Maryboy, 34, grew up on the reservation side of Bluff, across the San Juan River near St. Christopher's Mission. After earning a bachelor's in history at the University of Utah, he returned to Bluff in 1980 to work for the Utah Navajo Development Council, where he is now education director.
Maryboy in 1986 became Utah's youngest county commissioner and the first Navajo to hold elected office.
"If my dreams become reality," he said, "I think the county will begin to work together as a group, as one, rather than seeing half of its population as illiterate and incapable of doing things. Economically, that would be a plus for the whole community."
Maryboy believes he brings valuable knowledge of Navajo ways and reservation problems to the commission, which he says ignored Indians' needs in the past.
His action plan for the next four years is "status quo," he said: To continue working with various government agencies to improve living conditions, job opportunities, roads, health and education services and law enforcement on the reservation, where 75 percent of the population lives in substandard housing without utilities.
"It is a shame some people believe the Navajos are happy under pres-ent conditions and should provide basic services for themselves, Maryboy said. "That type of mentality has put Navajos in poverty," he said. "They really have no sympathy for Indian people as human beings."
Maryboy said he hopes to wield more influence at the tribal level as a council delegate for the Aneth Chapter. He would quit his regular job and devote full time to politics if he wins the council seat next month, he said.
Commission District 2
Bill Redd, 57, was appointed to the commission in May to complete the unexpired term of Calvin Black, who died. A Utah native and Blanding resident, Redd was a city councilman in the mid-1960s and served a term as Blanding mayor.
He is "semi-retired" from the retail grocery and dry goods business and continues to maintain several mining claims. He has a degree in business and currently serves on the National Association of Counties' Committee on Public Lands.
Redd said keeping public lands open to multiple-use is the biggest issue facing San Juan County. Resolving issues on the reservation is a major task facing the commission, he said.
To designate public lands as wilderness would relegate them to a single use, which in his opinion is "non-use."
Redd said he views the Indians' involvement in the political process as a positive thing. He claims good communications with the Navajos and believes a history working alongside Indians in herding, mining and trading to be a strength he brings to office.
The commission works well together, he said, "given the cultural gaps" between the Anglo attitude against too much government involvement in people's lives and residents of the reservation "who look more to government to solve problems for them that the Anglos solve for themselves."