Navajo Democrat Willie Grayeyes is set to be sworn in as a San Juan County commissioner on Monday after winning election by 159 votes.
But his Republican opponent, Kelly Laws, is asking the courts to annul Grayeyes' election and declare the commission seat vacant, reviving allegations that Grayeyes does not live in San Juan County.
“Mr. Grayeyes is a resident of the State of Arizona, not of the State of Utah,” reads a lawsuit filed last week in Utah’s 7th District Court, “thus he is ineligible to run for, or serve, as a San Juan County Commissioner.”
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In August, a federal judge rejected claims that disputed Grayeyes' residency and ordered that the Democratic candidate and Utah Navajo activist be placed on the San Juan County ballot. Grayeyes had previously been stripped of his Utah voting rights and candidacy by County Clerk John David Nielson, based on the complaint of a Blanding resident who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for the commission seat Grayeyes won.
Next week, the three-member commission will shift from a long-standing white Republican majority to a Democratic and Navajo majority after a court-ordered redrawing of election maps led to the election of Grayeyes and Kenneth Maryboy.
Grayeyes told The Tribune on Thursday that the ongoing dispute of his residency is politically motivated.
“There’s a bunch of people that want to continue the status quo of taking advantage of the government,” he said.
Grayeyes maintains that he lives in the Navajo Mountain community on the Navajo Nation reservation, which straddles the border of Utah and Arizona. Because of the remote nature of the area, Navajo Mountain residents commonly travel to Arizona for routine errands and other activities like postal services.
Laws' lawsuit includes Grayeyes' ownership of a home in Page, Ariz., as evidence of his true residency, as well as claims that Grayeyes lacks a Utah driver license, spends time visiting his girlfriend in Tuba City, Ariz., and witness statements gathered during an investigation by local law enforcement that led Nielson, as clerk, to remove the candidate from the ballot.
“Mr. Grayeyes owns a horse, which he keeps at his uncle’s house in Arizona,” the lawsuit claims. “Mr. Grayeyes sometimes stays the night there.”
Laws is represented by Peter Stirba, a Salt Lake City-based attorney who previously represented outgoing San Juan County commissioner and incoming Utah House member Phil Lyman, as well as Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel. Stirba was not available for comment on Thursday.
Grayeyes confirmed that he owns a property in Page, Ariz., where he previously resided. But he compared his Utah residency to that of Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who previously lived in and was governor of Massachusetts before moving to the Beehive State.
“Why don’t they go after him too?” Grayeyes said.
Laws is also seeking attorney’s fees and expenses, as well as any other orders deemed just by the court.