Thursday, November 13, 2008

Utah Dems' Message Not Getting to Tooele

I'm working on putting together a piece on how "successful" the Utah Democratic Party was this year compared to 2004. I was hoping to have it done by now. However, work responsibilities, finding a new job, and the complexity of it are taking more time than I thought.

However, Jason, posting at KVNU, led me to this from the Tooele Transcript Bulletin:

Gowans, the most popular and well-known state legislator in Tooele County, a man who has campaigned and won re-election to the House every two years for the better part of two decades, narrowly defeated his Republican challenger Dan Egelund by a margin of 3 percent of the vote. That photo finish seems all the more improbable when you consider Gowan’s war chest was more than eight times as large as Egelund’s, this was Egelund’s first run at any political office, and Egelund ran a fairly low-key campaign during which he often praised Gowan’s leadership.

This race proved it’s becoming almost impossible for a Democrat to win elected office in Tooele County. In fact, no Democrat in the other three legislative races covering the county got more than a quarter of the total vote. And the Democrats didn’t even bother to field a candidate as an alternative to incumbent County Commissioner Colleen Johnson — whose Constitution Party challenger, by the way, got a higher percentage of the vote than any Democrat except Gowans.

Local Democrats anemic showing was especially pronounced in light of the fact that the national party claimed the presidency and gains in both houses of Congress, and Utah as a whole voted less red than in 2004.

In the past, the local party has thrown up its hands, claiming an influx of young Republican families has diluted its base in the county. But that excuse ignores the fact that the party itself often appears weak and disorganized. Not being able to field a candidate for county commission is shameful, and many of the candidates that did turn up for the party in other races were markedly below the level of their Republican opposition in background, experience, funds raised and enthusiasm for campaigning. To make matters worse, the party’s senior leadership doesn’t seem to offer those brave souls who do carry its banner much in the way of campaign advice, fund-raising aid or general promotion.

A second problem is that nobody seems to know what local Democrats stand for. That wasn’t true 30 years ago, when they were the party of the working man — civilian employees at Tooele Army Depot and Dugway Proving Ground, tradesmen and builders, cops and firefighters, farmers and ranchers. How many of those people would consider themselves Democrats now? And where’s the opposition message? Where are the traditional Democrats who are willing to oppose foreign nuclear waste, put the breaks on rampant development and urban sprawl, stick up for working families, and fight for quality-of-life issues along with economic development?

1 comment:

Obi wan liberali said...

Certainly, the Democrats are not doing well in Tooele. Formerly, a rare bastion of Democratic control in a solidly Republican state, Tooele has changed both demographically as well as politically.

One problem for Tooele Democrats is that Tooele County has been systematically disenfranchised by the Republican legislature. Tooele County has been split between four different Senate Districts, none of them with enough Tooele voters to remotely affect the outcome of that race. So some of us are represented out of Tremonton, some out of the Sevier valley and some out of West Valley and some out of Lehi.

As for the house, nearly 1/3 of Tooele County has been linked with again, Box Elder County. Outside of the 3 people in Tooele who work for Thiokol, Tooele has no significant economic and social ties to Box Elder County. We are a bedroom community for Salt Lake County. And legislatively, we have almost no effective representation with the exception of Jim Gowans.

Reapportionment didn't only damage Tooele and it's democratic base, it damaged Carbon County. Notice that Sen. Dmitrich's once safe Democratic Senate seat fell to a Republican and once solidly Democratic Carbon County voted for John McCain.

As a basic trend, urban areas are becoming more Democratic, and rural and suburban have trended Republican. This election, except in much of Utah, brought more suburbanites voting for Democrats. But as Tooele became more of a bedroom community as less of a depot/smelter town, some political changes were inevitable.

But this laying the blame on the local party which has been swimming upstream isn't appropriate.