Sunday, January 20, 2008
It can't be! Republicans running as Democrats?! In Utah?!
Rolly: Voucher fallout: Some Republicans running as Dems in Utah County
By Paul Rolly
Believe it or not, there is evidence of a political sea change brewing in Utah County politics. If so, chalk it up to last year's tsunami over private school vouchers.
Whether it turns out to be a ripple or a flood remains to be seen. But two registered Republicans who are prominent citizens of their communities have announced they will run for the Legislature as Democrats. And at least a half dozen more well-known leaders will announce as Democratic candidates within the next few weeks.
"Things are changing," says Utah County Democratic Chairman Larry Brown. "The Republicans here have lost touch with their constituents. The Democratic Party is a moderate party here that represents the mainstream voter."
He points not only to the voucher debacle that dominated Utah's political climate in 2007, but to the Republican legislative leaders in Utah County having pressured a Utah Technical College official to build the party a parade float using school resources, and to some Utah Valley lawmakers running legislation that benefits them personally.
Utah County has been one of the most Republican counties in the nation the past two decades. A Democrat has not been elected to the Legislature from that county in this millennium. For the past several election cycles, many races have gone uncontested, or a token Democrat with zero expectation of victory has been offered up for slaughter. Every race in the county is decided in the Republican convention or in a primary.
But this year is different.
Steve Baugh, the former superintendent of the Alpine School District, recently announced he would run as a Democrat against Republican Rep. Steve Sandstrom of Orem. Baugh has not been much involved in partisan politics, although he says in his heart he always has been a Democrat. Still, he registered as a Republican two years ago to support Sandstrom, who was running in the Republican primary against incumbent Jim Ferrin.
Ferrin had benefited financially from the growth of charter schools made possible in part by legislation he sponsored and Sandstrom was running as the anti-voucher candidate. That is why Baugh, as an educator, supported him. Then Sandstrom shocked his supporters by voting for the voucher bill, which passed the House by a single vote.
"It seems the predominant party has moved away from the centrist point of view," said Baugh, who acknowledged he considered challenging Sandstrom as a Republican but decided against it.
That's the same for Gwyn Franson, a two-term member of the Highland City Council whose husband, Jay, is the current Highland mayor. Franson, too, is a registered Republican but is running as a Democrat against Republican incumbent John Dougall.
She, like Baugh, found the Republican Party in Utah County too closed, too cliquish. "I just decided there needs to be competition. There needs to be a race between two sides for the issues to be debated properly."
The voucher law rejected by voters was a factor, she said, but not the only one. Baugh said vouchers highlighted how out of touch GOP legislators are with their constituents. The rigid reverence most Republican legislators had for vouchers stood in sharp contrast to the general public, which defeated vouchers in the referendum by 24 percentage points. Utah County voters rejected vouchers by a 53-47 percent margin.
The Democratic Party lost its way with Utah voters beginning in the 1970s with a sharp turn to the left by the national party and many rank-and-file Utah Democrats showing a disdain for Mormon candidates.
Now, Baugh, Franson and perhaps several more respected Utah County citizens are saying it is the Republicans who have abandoned the mainstream. For the past several election cycles, many races have gone uncontested, or a token Democrat with zero expectation of victory has been offered up for slaughter. Every race in the county is decided in the Republican convention or in a primary.