Gehrke: Ouster of anti-Bears Ears commissioner one important and overlooked primary election result

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake Tribune staff portraits. Robert Gehrke.

It was one of the more interesting and overlooked races on Tuesday’s primary ballot, and it could represent a major shift in San Juan County, which for the last several years has been ground zero in the war over public lands.

Kenneth Maryboy, a former county commissioner, appears to have upset incumbent Commissioner Rebecca Benally in the Democratic primary for the seat in an overwhelmingly Navajo area.

Benally is best known outside of San Juan County for being the leading Navajo spokeswoman in opposition to the Bears Ears National Monument. She was alongside President Donald Trump last December when he rescinded the monument and later talked about what a thrill it was to meet him.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) U.S. President Donald Trump is surrounded by Utah representatives at the Utah Capitol on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, as he signs two presidential proclamations to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Maryboy, on the other hand, is a board member for Utah Dine Bikeyah, the group of American Indian tribes that first proposed and then advocated tirelessly for the creation of the monument. And while Benally didn’t make her opposition to Bears Ears much of an issue in her campaign, Maryboy did send a mailer touting his support.

As of Wednesday, Maryboy was ahead by 52 votes, 626 to 574. The San Juan County Record reported there are about 200 provisional ballots left to be counted, meaning the margin is not mathematically insurmountable, but it would take Benally winning two of every three remaining votes to see the result flip — and that’s highly unlikely.

And the winner of this primary is likely to win the seat in November.

That leaves the big wildcard, and control of county government, to whatever happens with the other seat where Navajos have an advantage. Democrat Willie Grayeyes has gone to federal court challenging a decision by the San Juan County clerk to kick him off the ballot claiming Grayeyes couldn’t prove he lives in the state.

If Grayeyes, who is chairman of Utah Dine Bikeyah, gets back on the ballot, you could end up with two of the three commissioners being supporters of the monument. If that happens, you can bet those demands from Sen. Orrin Hatch and Gov. Gary Herbert to listen to local leaders would go silent.

Even if Grayeyes loses his legal challenge, Democrats would have until late August to pick a replacement for him on the ballot and the newly redistricted seat — drawn after a federal judge ruled the prior boundaries unjustly disenfranchised the Navajo voters.

Romney Tsunami part II?

The Salt Lake Tribune reported on Election Day about the relatively astounding voter turnout leading up to Tuesday’s primary, but here’s a number that is even more mind-blowing: As of Wednesday, more than 302,000 votes had been counted in the Republican Senate primary alone.

There are 643,279 active Republican voters statewide, meaning 47 percent of active registered Republicans voted in Tuesday’s primary election, an incredible turnout.

By comparison, about 236,000 Republicans voted in the gubernatorial primary in 2016 and 240,000 voted in the 2012 GOP primary.

Certainly, it has a lot to do with the move to an all-vote-by-mail system, but that is a big jump, no matter how you slice it.

And in a year where Democrats were hoping to catch Republicans disenchanted with Trump and capitalize on a Blue Wave, those hopes may come crashing into a Romney Tsunami. That could be a blow in races like Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams’ challenge to Republican Rep. Mia Love (where a new Tribune-Hinckley Institute poll shows McAdams trailing by six percentage points).

It could also scuttle hopes for Democrats to make gains in a handful of hotly contested state legislative races.

Democrats still have reason to hope. With all the talk in 2012 of how Romney at the top of the GOP presidential ticket would have huge coattails, it didn’t really work out that way. There was not a significant spike in turnout that year and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson beat Love in the 4th District.

One other takeaway from the huge Republican turnout: Nobody can credibly argue anymore that the Republican convention delegates in any way, shape or form represent the view of the mainstream Republican voters.

Before we had Herbert losing at convention and then crushing Jonathan Johnson in the gubernatorial election; we had John Curtis losing at convention, then demolishing Chris Herrod in the 2017 special congressional election.

Now we can add to that Romney, who lost to Mike Kennedy at the convention, then beat him by 43 points in the primary; Curtis, again, who was forced into a primary against Herrod and won by 40 points; and we have state Rep. Brad Last down in southern Utah who came out on top of Mark Borowiak at convention by six points, then beat him by nearly 47 points Tuesday night.

At some point, you have to stop taking conventions seriously.

Don’t call it a comeback

When last we saw David Leavitt, he was on the losing end of a race for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District that eventually saw Jason Chaffetz knock off incumbent Rep. Chris Cannon. Before that, Leavitt had been the Juab County attorney who lost his re-election bid in 2002 after prosecuting polygamist Tom Green.

On Tuesday night, Leavitt — the brother of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt — captured the Republican nomination to be Utah County attorney, beating Chad Grunander 59 percent to 41 percent. There is no Democrat vying for the seat, meaning Leavitt’s only remaining obstacle is Libertarian candidate Andrew McCullough.

Meantime, in Iron County, former county attorney Scott Burns came up short in his bid to reclaim his old job, losing to Chad Dotson, 45 percent to 55 percent. Burns served 16 years as county attorney before losing two campaigns for Utah attorney general to Democrat Jan Graham in 1992 and 1996.

He went on to serve as deputy drug czar under President George W. Bush and was executive director of the National Association of District Attorneys before returning to Utah and again losing a special election to replace Attorney General John Swallow.