Local candidates reflect on Democratic State Convention

Utah Democratic Party's State Organizing Convention, Salt Palace Convention Center, Salt Lake City, Utah, Dec. 26, 2014 | Photo elements by Tracie Parry, Jenica Maxwell, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Democratic delegates from across the state gathered at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City Saturday for the Democratic State Convention. The delegates heard speeches from candidates and cast ballots to determine which candidates would be facing off against Republicans this November as well as electing a new chair for the state party.

“It had a different tone this year, but it was very exciting to see us elect a new party chair, (Peter) Corroon – he had been Salt Lake County Mayor,” said Dorothy Engelman, current candidate for Utah House of Representatives District 74.

Engelman, who was endorsed by the environmental caucus during the convention, recently stepped down as chair of the Washington County Democratic Party in order to focus on her campaign. Della Lowe was elected to succeed Engelman as Washington County Democratic Party Chair at its county convention April 11.

“I had lots of encouragement up at the state convention and several legislators … were very encouraging and offered support,” Engelman said.

It definitely will not be a quiet campaign from my side of the aisle,” she added.

Cheryl Fae Hawker, another local candidate who is campaigning for Utah House District 75, said the momentum of the convention was empowering. There was a focus on bringing more diversity to Utah and also promoting greater equality in the state where women are concerned, she said.

“I talked to two people, that their main reason for coming and becoming a Democratic voter was because of equality,” Hawker said. “Not LGBT but women’s equality as far as wages, education, funding for education, and making higher education more affordable.”

“I was surprised at how many people were there,” Hawker said, “especially women who have been Republican all their life, but they were so fed up, especially with tea party Republicans, that they’ve been making their way over to the independent and Democratic parties over the years.”

The party caucuses met in morning sessions at the convention to determine which candidates would be endorsed. The caucus groups represented various interests important to Utah voters. The groups that met included environmental, educators, labor, Hispanic, LDS Democrats – a group of Democratic members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, rural, veterans and many others.

Hawker said she was particularly impressed with the Hispanic caucus. She said:

It’s probably the most passionate and involved caucus of all of them. It’s not just a once-a-year event for them. … Not only do they have the passion and drive to work on things all year long, but they keep their electorate, their candidates, in check – they are watching. You know, there’s always people that have these big, beautiful words, but there’s no follow-through. The Hispanic caucus keeps them in check.

Luz Robles, who currently serves on the Utah State Senate representing District 1, is currently running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, challenging Republican incumbent Chris Stewart. The 2nd District includes all of Washington County.

Robles took the stage at the convention accompanied by several yellow-hatted delegates representing Washington County.

“I think there (are) more commonalities than differences when it comes to issues,” Robles said. “Education, the environment, health care – these are just basic issues, and every Utahn is concerned.”

Robles acknowledged the rapid growth of Southern Utah presents unique challenges, particularly to the public education system.

The educator caucus had to expand into a second room due to the large turnout. The candidates seeking endorsements spoke out on issues ranging from class size to special education funding to teacher compensation.

Members of the environmental caucus, from which Engelman received endorsement, centered their discussion on clean air and decreasing the inversion along the Wasatch Front. Several candidates were asked about the Lake Powell Pipeline, and there was repeated discussion about whether Utah should take back its public lands from the federal government.

Wayne Stevens, running for the state Senate in District 26, spent 29 years working for the Bureau of Land Management. “If the public land disappears and goes to the state, where are people going to go hunting and fishing and recreating? Because it’ll all be either private or mines if the state gets it,” he said. “It’s important that we keep our public lands.”

Robles addressed the issue of public lands as well.  “I don’t think my colleagues on the extreme right have the right approach,” she said.”… I think we’ve done a great job as a state working with the federal government when it comes to managing those lands.”

Robles further argued that the shutdown of the national parks, which negatively impacted Utah financially, was caused by a congressional delegation that was “irresponsible.”

Engelman said environmental concerns came up in the rural caucus, as well, which she said was highly attended. Kane County Democratic Party Chair Caralee Woods, who was elected chair of the rural caucus, was among those who worked to prevent a coal-gasification plant from being constructed within Kanab city limits, a planned project that was ultimately cancelled in September 2013.

It’s interesting that the rural caucus will have very strong leadership this year,” Engelman said.

Written by guest contributor Jenica Maxwell from Salt Lake City; St. George News Editor in Chief Joyce Kuzmanic and Assistant to the Editor Cami Cox contributed to this report.

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