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.
Redd was appointed to the commission in May to complete the unexpired term of Calvin Black, who died.
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.
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.
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."
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.