Establishing perhaps the longest political half-life in southeastern Utah, uranium-miner-turned-politician Calvin Black announced he will resign from his 22-year post on the San Juan County Commission for health reasons.
Black - celebrated by some as the most effective political force in Utah's canyon country but condemned by others as an architect of environmental disasters - will step down following selection of his replacement.The 60-year-old commissioner has inoperable cancerous tumors in his right lung and clavicle, a cancer Black and doctors believe he contracted in the uranium mines in which he worked beginning in the 1940s.
Since 1967, except for 1973 and 1974 when he served in the Utah House of Representatives, Black has been a county commissioner. He cites the construction of roads on the Navajo Indian Reservation and providing an economic future for the economically unstable area as his greatest accomplishments.
The end of his tenure brings praise and condemnation from observers of southeastern Utah politics.
"Calvin Black has been probably the strongest moving force for San Juan County that we have ever had," said Jim Shumway, two-term mayor of Blanding, in central San Juan County.
Black's opposition to a bill sponsored by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, setting aside 5 million acres of Utah land as wilderness, "has probably been the strongest thing he has done for us," Shumway said.
Environmentalists could hardly agree.
"He single-handedly has probably represented most of what the environmental community doesn't like in public officials, which is insensitivity to the environment," said Michael Heyrend, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance staff attorney.
"It's a shame Edward Abbey isn't around to comment on Cal Black's political obituary," he added. The late Abbey portrayed Black unflatteringly as Bishop Love in his novel, "The Monkey Wrench Gang."
Black is unapologetic to environmentalists, saying they have ignored the economic realities of southeastern Utah, wracked by low oil, gas and mineral prices.
"They don't reconcile themselves with southern Utah's economic needs," he said.
Rebuilding the economy by relying on developments at nearby Lake Powell and unsuccessfully fighting to build a radioactive waste dump near Canyonlands National Park have dominated his political agenda.
"He has not just limited his efforts to one or two little things. He has tried to help in every aspect of growth for the whole area," said Jack Young, mayor of Monticello, San Juan County seat.
San Juan County's Republican Central Committee will select six candidates to replace Black and join Commissioners Mark Maryboy and Ty Lewis, who are charged with selecting Black's successor.
If the two are unable to agree on a finalist within 30 days, then Gov. Norm Bangerter will appoint the third commissioner.
While Shumway said Black could be replaced with an excellent leader, Heyrend predicted Black's anti-environment philosophy would continue.
"His (Black's) mark will remain for some time because there are a lot of people who will follow in his footsteps," Heyrend said.
Maryboy, a Navajo, has been openly critical of Black's role in providing government services for the county's Navajos, living mostly in the southern portion of the county adjacent to the Navajo Reservation.
"I think he has done an excellent job in terms of serving the Anglos in Monticello and Blanding . . . In terms of serving the people on the reservation, I think he failed to acknowledge a lot problems," Maryboy said.
Black's life as a public figure was not restricted to elected office. He was a founder of the Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement designed to wrest control of public lands from the federal government and turn it over to local control.
And controversy has followed him everywhere. In 1986, federal agents raided his home looking for ancient Indian artifacts they said were illegally taken from federal lands.