Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll, left, and Chief Deputy Clerk Jana Smith go through mail-in primary election ballots on Tuesday, June 28. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

Elizabeth Tubbs’ second term as the Grand County Council’s chair will be her last – for now, at least.

Tubbs finished third in the three-way June 28 primary election race for her District 4 seat on the council, narrowing the general election contest down to challengers Heather Jo White and Greg Halliday.

“I am, quite frankly, a little surprised,” Tubbs told the Moab Sun News. “It wouldn’t be truthful if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. However, I do believe that the voters have made their decision.”

In the race for the District 5 seat on the county council, voters reduced the three-candidate field down to incumbent Rory Paxman and challenger Rachel Nelson. Both candidates will advance to the general election in November, leaving Jed Lawley out of the race.

White is the tailings pile supervisor for sub-contractor Nielson Construction at the Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action (UMTRA) Project, and Halliday is a U.S. Army veteran who served as the Town of Castle Valley’s road manager for six years. Nelson is an adjunct professor in the Recreation Resource Management Department at Utah State University-Moab, while Paxman is the general manager of Canyonlands by Night and Day.

Progressive-leaning voters in both districts appeared to be split, while conservative-leaning voters united behind their respective candidates.

According to unofficial results from the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office and the Grand County Clerk’s Office, White came out with 278 votes total, followed by Halliday, with 273 votes. Tubbs, whose term will now end when the new council takes office next January, finished a distant third, with 207 votes.

Halliday could not be reached for comment. However, both he and White have said that they’re excited to move on to the Nov. 8 general election.

White also thanked county voters who participated in the primary, and suggested that the results are a sign of things to come this fall.

“I think that having roughly over 50 percent of the ballots turned in during this primary shows that people are concerned and are paying attention to what is going on in our county,” White said. “Our message is resonating with people and the local primary results should leave little doubt that better leadership and representation is on its way.”

In the District 5 race, Nelson finished first, with 145 votes, followed by Paxman, with 129 votes; and Lawley, with 105 votes, according to the unofficial results.

Nelson could not be reached for comment, and Paxman declined to comment on the primary.

Overall turnout for the primary election topped 42 percent, which isn’t as low as it might sound, considering that only two county council district seats and three inter-party races for state and federal office were in play.

“We had a pretty good turnout for a primary,” Grand County Clerk Diana Carroll said.

Grand County made the move to a vote-by-mail system in 2014, and while election observers reported some hiccups that year, Carroll said that this year’s primary election went off without a hitch.

“There were no problems whatsoever,” she said.

The Grand County Council is scheduled to conduct its official canvass of the vote during a special meeting on Tuesday, July 12. As of Wednesday, June 29, five provisional ballots remained to be counted, and Carroll said that she and her staff are prepared to tally additional ballots that may be en route to their office.

“Monday (June 27) was the last day for them to be postmarked, so if we get any more back, we’ll count those, too,” she said.

Candidates look forward to primary, reflect on current council

In addition to the primary races, one more contested council race will be decided this fall: Curtis Wells and Sarah Sidwell are both vying to replace Grand County Council member Lynn Jackson, who decided not to run for re-election.

However, whatever the outcome of that race might be, the county council’s current progressive-leaning majority is poised to remain in place: After two of his challengers formally withdrew from the District 2 race, Evan Clapper is now running unopposed for the seat that Ken Ballantyne currently occupies.

Speaking as a candidate and as the Grand County Republican Party’s chair, Wells said he thinks it’s “pretty significant” any time that voters replace an incumbent county chair.

“Last night’s primary results were another strong indicator of a community hungry for leadership and direction,” he said. “Heather Jo is a very serious and determined candidate and her message is clearly resonating with the voters. Overall, it’s great to see the community respond to our call for logic and sound management in local government.”

Wells also congratulated each of the candidates who are moving on to the general election, and thanked Lawley and Tubbs for their willingness to serve.

“Jed’s candidacy was a breath of fresh air and Liz has worked hard for her county during her first term, and for that, I’m sure we’re all very grateful,” he said.

Tubbs said she had a feeling that either she or Halliday would go on to face White, based on the county’s current political dynamics. During the campaign for the nominally nonpartisan seat, Tubbs said she made the conscious choice not to align herself with one side of the political debate or the other, and she suggested that decision may have cost her on primary election day.

“I tried to stay as independent or as unaffiliated as I could, and I think that could have played a part in it,” she said.

Tubbs said that she’s valued her work with the county, and will continue to do so until her term is up.

The last three-and-a-half years on the council have been turbulent at times, she said, with often-contentious debates about the Public Lands Initiative and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Master Leasing Plan. But other vital work is happening out of the public eye and beyond the political discourse, she said, with little disagreement among council members.

“Most of the work of the council is fairly mundane,” she said. “They are routine things that keep the county running.”

Although it’s not a “sexy” thing to talk about, Tubbs said she is surprised that more people haven’t taken a stronger interest in the county’s budgeting process.

In the time that the current council has been in office, Tubbs said it has done much to utilize Transient Room Tax money wherever it can legally, freeing up more of its general fund budget for other community needs.

In addition, she said, county officials are at long last making headway to address the community’s affordable housing woes.

“As far as I know, this council has taken the most direct approach,” she said. “There’s a momentum built up, and I’m sure that it’s going to do something to address the housing crisis in this county.”

She suggested that all of the talk about economic diversification doesn’t do much good as long as the community lacks more affordable housing options.

“We can’t have diversity in terms of economic development if we don’t have housing for people to do the jobs that need to be done,” she said.

Moving forward, she said that the county has to keep its eye on the future.

“And I think the current council is getting us to that place,” she said.

Once she steps down from office next January, Tubbs hopes to do some more traveling. However, she’s more than willing to help out however she can, she said, and has considered the idea of volunteering for at least a couple of local boards.

“I’d like to stay involved in the community,” she said.

Halliday, White to compete in general election; Nelson will face Paxman

It wouldn’t be truthful if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. However, I do believe that the voters have made their decision.