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San Juan County Elects First Navajo-Majority Commission

For the first time in San Juan County’s 138-year history, Navajos will lead two of its three county commissioner seats. 

Democrat Kenneth Maryboy ran unopposed in District 3 and secured a quick victory over a write-in campaign. Democrat Willie Grayeyes, District 2, faced a tougher race that wasn’t determined until late Thursday.


Updated preliminary results place Grayeyes 95 votes ahead of Republican Kelly G. Laws. The county clerk’s office says Grayeyes’ lead is expected to hold while additional mail ballots trickle in.


Republican Bruce Adams, District 1, ran unopposed for re-election.


As the commissioner-elects prepare to lead the southeastern corner of Utah, applause came in from across the state. Mark Maryboy, elected in 1986 as the first Navajo commissioner, praised the county for choosing his brother and Grayeyes.


“Congratulations to the San Juan County Commision,” Maryboy said in a statement. “Which now accurately represents a Native American-majority voice.”


The election of Grayeyes and Maryboy has the potential to shift the county’s narrative. Both of the future commissioners are part of Utah Diné Bikéyah’s board of directors, an organization working to protect ancestral Native American sites like Bears Ears.


Bears Ears National Monument sits at the center of an ongoing legal battle after President Donald Trump ordered its shrinking by 85 percent, drawing lawsuits from tribes and environmental groups. President Barack Obama created the monument through a proclamation in 2016.


The election of the Navajo-majority commission did not come easy: Previous districts suppressed Navajo voters and were redrawn under court order, and Grayeyes fought to stay on the ballot after county officials invalidated his candidacy (remedied through an injunction as campaigning continued).


Now that Grayeyes is set to become commissioner, he requested his lawsuit on ballot eligibility to be dismissed, The Navajo Times reported Friday. In a statement, the commissioner-elect said it's time to move forward.


“You have to be positive to achieve consensus,” Grayeyes said. “You have to be positive in order to get results.”