SAN JUAN COUNTY — The four Democrats vying for San Juan County's District 1 commission seat all are Shiprock residents, but they have different ideas about what the county's biggest issues are and how to solve them.

Gary Montoya said low employment rates county-wide and limited public safety on the Navajo Nation are issues he'd address. Eva Stokely said she would work to maintain jobs at the Four Corners Power Plant as it closes some of its stacks. Wallace Charley said he wants to increase "funding."

Repeated efforts to reach Jerry Jay Todacheene by phone on Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful.

Voters will chose a Democratic candidate in the primary election on June 3. The Democratic primary winner will run against Republican Sammy Ahkeah, of Shiprock, in the Nov. 4 general election.

Jerry Jay Todacheene
Jerry Jay Todacheene (Courtesy of San Juan County)

District 1 starts west of the La Plata River and generally covers the western third of San Juan County with a leg on the bottom of the county that stretches to Chaco Canyon.

The three candidates who returned calls to The Daily Times feel differently about zoning in the county.

Montoya would not say whether he supported the current commission's vote in November to indefinitely table proposed county-wide zoning codes. He supports zoning in certain areas of the county, but the issue is complicated and all sides need to be considered, he said.

Stokely said county zoning is better done in portions and not with the kind of comprehensive document the commission tabled. Passing one zoning code at a time allows more community input, she said.

Charley would say only that he would meet with his constituents.

In 2010, Montoya ran for a seat on the New Mexico Public Regulation Committee but lost. He has not served in any public offices, but he said his diversity of employment has earned him experience and people-skills he would use to solve problems. Among his many jobs are carpenter, welder and oil and gas line inspector. He has worked for BHP Billiton.

Wallace Charley
Wallace Charley (Courtesy of San Juan County)

"I may not have a direct answer to their problems," he said of District 1's residents, "but I can certainly make a viable attempt to point them in the right direction."

Stokely holds a bachelor's degree in education from Northern Arizona University and a master's degree in school administration from the University of New Mexico. She spent 30 years as an elementary school teacher and was a principal with the Central Consolidated School District. She has served on San Juan College's school board and is currently the vice president of the Shiprock Associated Schools, Inc. board.

"And now I thought I would see what I could do to work with the communities that are in District 1," she said.

Gary J. Montoya
Gary J. Montoya (Courtesy of San Juan County)

Charley was a state representative in the mid 1990s. He spent 12 years on the Navajo Nation Council and eight as a county commissioner.

"I still have an interest," he said. "I still believe that with my experience I can gain some access into other resources to help the community."

Montoya said the county could boost its employment rate — which he believes is one of the biggest issues — by offering more and better services. He said surrounding states such as Texas are a good example of how this can be done.

When asked if the county's budget is sufficient to improve and expand services, he said he has not looked at the budget and does not know. He said he's been more concerned about knocking on doors and talking to residents.

To improve public safety on the Navajo Nation, he said the county could hire more deputies and build an alliance with the tribe. Then the county could tell deputies to patrol the tribal lands freeing Navajo Nation police to protect their residents.

"That's an easy fix," he said, "But again, they have to come to an agreement to accept that."

Stokely said there are many benefits and downfalls to closing stacks at the Four Corners Power Plant, "but our folks need the employment."

The local economy is poor, and the power plant used to pump tax money into schools, she said.

She did not say how she'd try to correct this issue.

Charley said funding is low everywhere, and he won't know if a way exists to increase local revenue until he's elected to office.

But continuing to build strong relationships between the state, county and Navajo Nation would be a good start, he said. "I want to keep that going, all for the interest of the people, native and non-native Americans," he said.

He said there are also various "different sources" from which the county can obtain funding, such as nonprofit organizations and "resources" in Washington, D.C.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.