County Democratic caucus focuses on issues, involvement; Republican caucus details

ST. GEORGE – Democrats across Washington County gathered at their caucus meetings Tuesday to select delegates and reaffirm the Democratic stance on issues facing Utah.

Compared to the 2012 caucuses, there was a higher level of energy among participants and more money was collected, said Dorothy Engelman, chair of the Washington County Democratic Party.

However, overall attendance was also down from its 2012 numbers, she said. Engelman attributed this to it not being a presidential election year. As well, not everyone may have known about the caucus meetings, she said, referring to Democrats who have moved into Utah recently and may be unfamiliar with the state’s caucus system.

Still, people were more willing to back up their political convictions with their money this time around, Engelman said.

Issues

Issues of concern for the Democrats’ election cycle include health care and equality in housing and employment.

The Legislature’s lack of movement on Medicaid expansion has been an area of concern, Engelman said.

Democrats in the Legislature pushed for full Medicaid expansion while Republicans have spoken out against the expansion and accepting the federal dollars that would fund it. Gov. Gary Herbert has proposed his own plan that would cover 60,000 Utahns currently not eligible for Medicaid, plus help an additional 111,000 Utahns who make less than $15,500 a year.

He seeks to fund his plan through a federal block grant. Herbert currently has staff in Washington, D.C., negotiating with the Obama Administration concerning his plan and Medicaid expansion.

Another concern was the state Legislature’s not hearing Senate Bill 100 in the 2014 General Session, a bill proposing antidiscrimination amendments to existing laws, to protect lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals from discrimination in housing and employment.

“I think that was a great disappointment,” Engelman said. “It’s a civil rights issue.”

Though sponsored by a Republican senator, Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, many Democrats supported the bill, Engelman said. SB 100 along with any other bills related to LGBT matters were shelved by the Legislature, as it moved to hold off on any such legislation until the current court battle over Utah’s Amendment 3, defining marriage as exclusive to a man and a woman, was resolved.

Another area of equality the Democratic Party seeks in Utah is pay for working women. Engelman said women in Utah are paid less than men, making 70 cents on the dollar in comparison. According to a study referenced by The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah ranks fourth in the bottom 5 states in the wage gap between men and women.

Party-switch

Along with out-of-state move-ins who have added to the Democratic Party’s numbers in Southern Utah, Engelman noted that some caucus attendees said they were former Republicans or Independents.

“I have several people tell me that they were former Republicans and felt the party had left them behind,” Engelman said. There appears to be a level of frustration in the Republican Party that’s pushing people away, she said.

Engelman had a similar observation after the 2012 county caucus; at that time she said: “… many people were former Republicans who felt that Republicans have left them by the wayside.” Willie Billings, then Chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, attributed the target of Republican dissatisfaction to some of its representatives at the federal level not to the Party’s platform.  See St. George News report on the 2012 county caucuses here.

Get involved

The Washington County Democratic Party is still looking for people to fill spots as caucus chairs, Engelman said. She said anyone interested in seeking those positions can email her at chair@thewashingtondems.com, or call her directly at 435-879-1558.

As well, anyone seeking a county and state-level office can register as a candidate until 5 p.m., Thursday, at the Washington County Clerk’s Office, located at 187 East Tabernacle St., in St. George.

Republican Party caucus tonight

Republican Party neighborhood caucuses will be held Thursday, with registration at 6 p.m., caucus elections at 7 p.m. All registered Republicans or unaffiliated people may attend the Republican caucus, but to participate, vote or become elected to a position, you must become a registered Republican.  People may register Republican at the caucus meetings or may preregister for the GOP caucus online here.  To find your neighborhood caucus location, visit the Utah Republican Party website here, or in Washington County visit the Washington County Republican Web page here; or

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