ST. GEORGE – Washington County Democrats met for a party-organizing convention Saturday to elect a new executive committee and discuss party business and initiatives. They also heard from the state party chair about a push to support and strengthen the county parties overall.
Held at Fossil Ridge Intermediate School, around 50 members of the Washington County Democratic Party attended the convention. Outgoing county party chair, Della Lowe, said the number was good for an off-election year.
“We’re small, but we’re mighty,” Lowe said, adding that a challenge the party faces locally and nationally is “getting out the vote.”
Democrats are very good about getting out to vote during presidential election years, Lowe said. The midterms are another story. In contrast, the percentage of Republicans who go out and vote during presidential and midterm elections is fairly consistent.
More Democrats need to get into office if programs like Medicaid and Medicare are to be saved from Republicans, Lowe said.
One of the areas where the county party has improved is getting itself noticed, Lowe said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of getting ourselves seen,” she said.
With no candidates to select for county offices this year, party members instead focused on the election now: party officers.
Attendees voted in a new executive committee for the county party. As there was no opposition to the four individuals running for committee positions, they were unanimously approved by convention attendees.
Zachary Almaguer was named party chair with Chuck Goode named as vice chair. The new party secretary will be Daphne Selbert and Vicki Peludat will be the party treasurer.
Almaguer originally hails from Texas where he was initially raised as a Republican. However, as a young adult, he was converted to the Democratic Party thanks to the education he received along the way. He also has a passion for politics, he said, and feels qualified for the position of county party chair due to a background in managing teams in the corporate world. He also sports a bachelor’s degree in business.
“I am committed to building a base,” Almaguer said. “I don’t believe we’re done everything there is to be done in the youth community, reaching out to the university and to schools. I think there’s also an opportunity to reach out to the disenfranchised and uninterested.”
Almaguer said establishing a Democratic voice in Washington County could feel like an uphill battle and “completely unwinnable” yet remaining silent is not an option.
“That’s why I’ve chosen to run today,” he said. “I want to make sure we don’t remain silent.”
Utah Democratic Party Chair Peter Corroon gave attendees an overview of the 2015 legislative session, calling certain elements good and bad.
The good entailed the passage of Senate Bill 296, the LGBT rights and religious liberties bill. The bill, signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert March 12, extends housing and employment protections to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, while also protecting freedom of religious expression in the workplace for individuals whose religious views may be in opposition to the LGBT lifestyle.
“The best thing about that is that we had people working on both sides of the aisle,” Corroon said of the legislation which was a the result of compromise. “Not everybody got everything they wanted … but people were working together. Hopefully this is Step One of future discussion as well.”
Lowe called the legislation “a very powerful tribute to the power of bipartisan support of nondiscrimination.” She also said she hopes to see more of that kind of bipartisanship in the Legislature in the future.
In an effort to focus more support on the county parties, Corroon said, the state party will begin to provide training to the party leaders and working on initiatives at the grass-roots level.
“Without the county parties, we can’t be strong as a state party,” Corroon said.
In additional to the training, the state party will also provide financial support through grants for efforts that benefit the county party as a whole.
Among these new efforts is getting the county parties more involved in selecting candidates, as well as sharing what the Utah Democratic Party stands for.
Democrats stand for a strong middle class, for education, health care, and decent wages – the things that help people and their families succeed, Corroon said.
“Tell people you’re proud to be Democrats,” he said.
Lowe echoed Corroon’s sentiment that area Democrats need to share their message more.
“We need to write letters to the editor, we need to be visible, we need to go into debates,” Lowe said, yet added she didn’t like seeing attacks on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in area newspapers. It was the church’s support of the Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments that helped get the bill passed, she said. While the church’s influence can be intrusive, she said, she feels attacks on it are very detrimental to the Democratic Party.
“We’re living in Utah,” she said. “For those of you living here, don’t attack someone else’s religion.”
TJ Ellerbeck, the state party’s political director, said another initiative the party will be pushing is voting by mail, which has a higher rate of participation among voters than voting at the polls.
Other voting initiatives will focus on garnering the Latino and LDS votes.
Corroon and Ellerbeck visited other county party conventions in Kane and Iron counties prior to visiting Washington County. Sen. James Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, was also slated to appear, but was unable to make the trip.
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