ST. GEORGE – The Washington County Democratic party convened Friday evening at Fossil Ridge Intermediate School for the first Democratic County Convention since 2012.
A small but passionate group of Democrats attended the convention to hear from the slate of candidates set to represent the party in 2014 elections and to discuss policy affecting the county party.
A new chair
Friday’s convention represented a changing of the guard for County Democrats as they elected a new chair to replace Dorothy Engelman who resigned her position in March to focus on her candidacy for Utah House District 74.
Engelman has served as the county chair of the political party for the past three years and members of the party give much of the credit for its growth in the county to her.
“We have seen phenomenal growth (as a party) especially during Dorothy’s tenure,” Katie Madsen, treasurer of the county party, said.
Replacing Engelman was considered a primary objective for the convention.
“The main focus (of the convention) is of course replacing Dorothy,” Secretary of the Washington County Democratic party Randy Thomson said, “she has grown the party tremendously, and since they are such big shoes to fill I think that is our main purpose at tonight’s convention.”
After a call for nominations a vote was cast and Della Lowe was unanimously elected as the new chair for the Washington County Democratic Party.
Following her nomination Lowe addressed the assembly acknowledging the hard work and accomplishments that Engelman had brought to the party.
“I know that I have big shoes to fill following Dorothy,” Lowe said, “but I have a size-10 shoe so I am going to do that.”
Lowe is a relative newcomer to Utah who appreciates its beauty and sees it not as a “red” state but as a “red, white and blue” state, she said. Though new to the region, she is not new to politics, she said, citing her experience working as a producer for ABC News – particularly covering politics – while living in New York City.
In her address, she recognized that Democrats were a minority party in the county but added that though they are small they make up for it in “persistence, passion and compassion,” she said.
Lowe’s appointment was met with approval from members of the party’s executive committee, including Madsen, who touted Lowe’s knowledge and experience.
“I could not be more excited about Della,” said Madsen, “she brings with her a wealth of knowledge that will be new for us here, her resumé speaks for itself.”
Lowe is a two-time Emmy winning news producer, Madsen said.
A full slate of candidates
County Democrats will have a full slate of candidates representing them in the 2014 elections and convention attendees had the opportunity to hear from each candidate as they introduced themselves and presented their platforms.
Speakers included; Paul Van Dam, candidate for Commission Seat B; Chris White, candidate for Commission Seat A; Shirley Nelson, candidate for House District 62; Ken Anderson, candidate for House District 71; Dorothy Engelman, candidate for House District 74; and Cheryl Hawker, candidate for House District 75.
Charles Stormont, candidate for Utah Attorney General, also addressed the convention.
While each candidate’s platforms varied slightly from one another, three major talking points were prevalent throughout the evening and spoke to the broader theme of looking toward the future.
Anderson, candidate for House District 71, cited education as one of his biggest concerns for the county. Among the things he wants to see happening in education are higher standards for teachers and higher pay to match their important positions, he said.
Anderson also hopes to see “substantial improvement in educational opportunities for everyone,” he said.
Hawker, candidate for House District 75, also spoke on the importance of education, specifically making higher education more affordable.
“I believe that every child who graduates (high school) should be able to afford higher education,” Hawker said, “and I believe it is the first step to narrow the gap between the top 1 percent and the rest of us.”
Candidates also spoke about educating the many unaffiliated voters in the county about the issues and the Democratic candidates.
“We need to talk to the unaffiliated voters, make the opportunity to talk to them one-on-one,” Engelman said, “let them see that I really am a person who cares.”
Anderson echoed Engelman’s sentiments. He said:
“The unaffiliated voters (in the county) are the thinkers, and they want the facts.”
Protecting the environment is a key point for county Democrats who talked about issues facing the county, such as the Lake Powell Pipeline, as well as the State of Utah in general, such as air pollution and federal lands.
Nelson, candidate for House District 62, said she is running for office because she loves Utah and what she calls the greatest concentration of natural wonders in the country.
Nelson believes that federal lands in Utah should remain under federal control for their protection.
“The GOP can’t wait for drill baby drill and build baby build,” said Nelson.
One of the main ideas White, candidate for Commission Seat A spoke on was the Lake Powell Pipeline.
“We need a referendum on the Lake Powell Pipeline,” said White, “we need to educate the community and we need to be allowed to vote.”
Nelson expressed a much stronger opinion toward the proposed pipeline.
“Just say no to the Lake Powell pipeline that will water the desert and contribute to an ostentatious lifestyle for few while making regular people pay for it,” she said.
Washington County resident, Dean Platis a self-described lifelong Democrat and outdoorsman, attended the convention and cited the environment in the county as the reason he moved here and puts protecting it as a high priority, he said.
From equal representation from women in government to equal rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender, equality was an issue of high priority for candidates and members of the county party committee.
This year the county Democrats will have three women vying for House District seats, a feat that pleases Madsen.
“I could not be more pleased,” Madsen said, “I am thrilled that we have three women on our ticket.”
Madsen said she is particularly pleased because women are so underrepresented in government.
“Women make up 50 percent of our state,” Madsen said, “how do we not make up 50 percent of our governing body?”
Another point of concern addressed by many of the candidates was equal rights for the LGBT community.
“Gay marriage, it’s a civil right,” Hawker said.
Anderson also addressed equality.
“I stand for equal opportunity and justice for everyone in Utah regardless of race, gender, age, education level, economic status or religious affiliation etc.,” he said.
Look to the Future
Part of the county party’s goal heading into the future is to continue to grow as a party, Madsen said, and to get charter branches of the LDS Democratic Caucus and the Utah State Hispanic Democratic Caucus in Washington County.
“They are the two largest caucuses in the state,” Madsen said.
Throughout the convention candidates and committee members continually mentioned looking toward the future, taking the county party into the future, and bringing the voters with them.
”We are Democrats, we are the unusual people in our county,” said Van Dam, candidate for Commission Seat B, “we are the people who believe in investing for our future.”
“We need to educate the people in Washington County,” Van Dam said, “move them into the future.”
When asked why she was a Democrat, Lowe had one answer: “Democrats invest in the future.”
The county party also elected delegates to represent them at the state convention and heard a motion to change the county party bylaws to allow committee officers to run for office and still retain their position as an officer of the county party. The motion was denied.
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