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San Juan County woman likely to be first female commissioner

Published June 26, 2014 6:06 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Rebecca Benally is seeking to make history this November by becoming the first woman to serve as a San Juan County commissioner.

Benally defeated Roger Atcitty in the Democratic primary for District 3 Tuesday night, a showdown between two residents of the Navajo Nation. She will now face Republican Manuel Morgan in the general election. The region is predominantly Navajo and liberal — a Democrat has held the District 3 commissioner seat since 1987, around the time when the region was redistricted. Victor Schafer, San Juan County Democratic chairman, expects that trend to hold.

"That's going to be great for the Navajo population," he said. "I think she'll do a good job."

Calls to Benally and Atcitty were not returned Wednesday. Benally's Republican opponent, Morgan, previously served as county commissioner as a Democrat. He is now running as a Republican. The winner of their race will replace Kenneth Maryboy, a longtime county commissioner who is running for Navajo Nation president.

Unoffiical results from the primary showed Benally with a 54 percent majority. Schafer says this was a "pretty tight" vote for San Juan, though definitive. Turnout in the county more than doubled when compared to the 2010 primary election, largely because the county went to a mail-in ballot.

Benally stressed education and literacy in her campaign. She has worked as a teacher, principal and administrator for more than 20 years. She served on the Navajo Nation Board of Education and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

"The importance of education is vital in understanding current laws, resolutions and governmental procedures, especially as a leader," she said in an op-ed for The San Juan Record.

Atcitty is somewhat of a liaison between oil reserves and the Navajo tribe, currently working with the Resolute Energy Corporation in public affairs. He ran on a platform that included bettering care for senior citizens, improving roadways and resolving ongoing conflicts between San Juan County and the state of Utah.

San Juan County has three commissioners, including Phil Lyman, who is running uncontested. Lyman is known for his ATV ride through Recapture Canyon this May to protest against the Bureau of Land Management's leadership over Utah's public lands.