Utah House District 72 candidates have much in common, but different perspectives on issues

L-R: Candidates for Utah's 72nd House District Ila Fica and Joseph Elison | Photos by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — For two candidates on opposite ends of the political spectrum and different occupations, Joseph Elison and Ila Fica have much in common. 

Shaded area of Utah House District 72 | Map courtesy of Utah.gov, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Both grew up and lived within 50 miles of each other in Idaho, and both entered the race for the Utah House of Representatives’ 72nd District because of coaxing from one of their sons, who also manage their campaigns. But neither has ever held or even run for political office.

While both have positive words for each other, they don’t share the same positions on issues such as the local economy and how to deal with financial disparities between the cost of living and the cost of living in Southern Utah. 

But each is looking to become a new face representing a portion of Southern Utah in the state’s legislature. 

Redistricting has changed the geography of Utah’s 72nd district. The seat has been previously held by Rep. Rex Shipp representing the most rural areas of Iron County. Most of that area is now represented by Utah House 71 and Shipp is running against two candidates there

House 72 represents the eastern, most rural portions of Washington County including Hurricane, LaVerkin, Springdale/Zion, Apple Valley and the Toquerville-Pintura-New Harmony corridor of Interstate 15. 

Joseph Elison, a Republican, has built and has run a financial and retirement planning firm based in St. George and is the former president of the Hurricane Valley Rotary Club. He is coming off a close and, by some, still disputed Republican primary where he beat Willie Billings by 10 votes. 

Ila Fica, whose name is pronounced “EYE-la FEE-ca,” is his Democrat challenger, a mental health professional and previously the clinical director of the domestic violence aid group DOVE Center. Fica is also trying to become the first LGBTQ candidate to be elected to the state legislature from Southern Utah.

St. George News spoke with both candidates and their responses are below.

Why do you think you’re the right candidate for the job and what issues are most pressing to you?

Fica: I think people should vote for me because we can. I’m so excited that there’s two people on the ballot this year. I keep getting my ballot in the mail and there’s one person, there’s no choice. People should vote for me because I have good ideas, because they want something new, some new energy. Someone who’s open-minded. I’m not intimidating, I will chat with you about anything. I’m not a dig-in-my-heels left person.

Ila Fica, a candidate for Utah House 72, in the heritage sculpture garden of Washington City, Utah’s Veteran’s Park, Sept. 30, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

My Ben, my campaign manager, my son called me a sensible Democrat. And I thought that fits for me. I want to hear everyone’s ideas. I think we’re missing talking because we’re too busy standing on either end of the fence pointing fingers instead of solving problems. 

Elison: I believe in the Constitution. I believe that we need to preserve our rights, our liberties. I think there’s a lot of outside forces that are going to try to swipe away and take away a lot of our rights. We’re seeing that nationwide. I don’t want to see that happen here in Utah.

 So I’m one of those that believes in small government. I believe in low taxes. I believe in free markets. And so that’s why I’m running.

What could the Utah Legislature do to help ease inflation and high gas prices?

Elison: I am one to reduce taxes.I believe very strongly in being more fiscally responsible, cutting the fat, making sure that we stay within budgets. And I have ideas and strategies on how we can increase revenue to the state without having to raise taxes.

But we need combustion engines. Electric is not going to solve all the world’s problems. Try getting to Europe on an electric airplane. It’s just not going to work. We have to have fossil fuels. Can we, and do we, burn fossil fuels cheaper? Absolutely. There’s no reason for gas to be this price. 

Joseph Elison a candidate for Utah House 72, in his office at Elison Financial, Sept. 28, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Under Trump’s administration … our gas prices were very, very low. We were energy independent, first time ever in this country. Why in the world would we not want to continue that on that path?

Fica: If I had to fix for that, I’d be pretty wealthy, right? In Utah, our inflation rate is about average for the nation. It’s post-COVID. None of us have had this situation before. It’s new to all of us. I think Utah’s faring really well.

If I could kind of make a little jump, and I think to kind of tag team onto another issue here, is our growth. We have a lot of investors buying places to rent. And we have a lot of people that are retiring come to live here, They don’t work. They consume, but they’re not working. If we don’t kind of manage that a little bit better, we’re not going to fix that problem. The unemployment rate is low, which is great. People can have jobs. There’s always the other side of that too, right? That increases inflation.

We need people that own homes here, that live here, that work here, that pay taxes here. And not so much investors coming in, buying up bunches of property for rentals.

What issues do you think are most important to constituents in the Eastern Washington County area you would represent and how would you address them?

Fica: You’ve got Toquerville and Hurricane clear up to Zion and Springdale. And I want to preserve that. It’s just so beautiful. And I love driving open spaces and I love going to see the petroglyphs … In  LaVerkin, there’s a little coffee shop that just overlooks the valley. I want to preserve the difference between what we have in Eastern Washington County. I don’t want it to become St. George. 

If I had my choice, I would preserve it. I would manage the growth really well. Yes, there’s open spaces. People say there’s plenty of space to build. Well, let’s look at our resources. Do we have the resources to build? What do we want for that part of the world? We have so much money that comes in. Replenishable money in tourism. And we’re gonna lose that if we destroy our lands.

Elison: There’s a saying that kind of goes around that says that Washington County is probably one of the most conservative counties in the state. And my district is the most conservative district in the county.. And that’s probably a very true assessment. My constituents are concerned. They feel like, for example, the Dixie name change. I know that was a very hot topic. Southern Utah feels betrayed because of that. They felt like that was a cancel culture decision. And, and whether it was or wasn’t, that’s how it came across.

I think people feel the same with what’s happening with the, the growth of government. So we, the people want to have a say in our government. The … legislative body has given way too much authority and power to the administrative state. The minute we start to forget who voted for us, That’s when you deserve to leave office at that point. 

So we have different growth issues. Water, you know, obviously is a big issue. We’re not a big city like Salt Lake. And so sometimes we feel like we’re the ugly stepchild down here. But they can’t ignore us anymore. I think we’re now the fifth largest municipality. So they’re going to have to listen to us.

With water shortages and drought becoming a major concern in Utah, especially in the more arid southern regions, what is the state government’s role in securing water rights for the state? 

Elison: So that’s one thing the legislative body must do. And that is make sure that we have what water is due and owed to Utah. I mean, if we have water rights, we need to have access to those water rights. 

Now, I’m not one to have the government come in and dictate to you and I how we live our lives. So I would hope people would be water conscious. That they would be careful with their landscaping. 

But I love our plans of water storage. I think we do need more water storage. I think that we can capture a lot of the gray water. I think it’s about 60% of our culinary water is going into yards and fields. So if we can capture gray water and use that treated water for outdoor use … we have a lot more room for growth just under our current water.

Quail Creek Reservoir, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 28, 2020 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Fica: I think we have enough water. I think we just waste it. And I think farming is, you know, alfalfa fields, use a lot of water. But there’s ways that we can, we can incentivize them and help them to change their soil so that it absorbs the water better and they use far less water. It just takes a little time and planning. It’s going to take some money on the government’s part to give them the money and say, “Hey, we wanna help you with this soil. It’s gonna grow better and it’s gonna use a lot less water.

Let’s gather our storm water. Look at the storm water that we have here that just goes down the drains. I didn’t know that there was a water shortage when I moved here. I don’t have those toilets that flush less water. I don’t recycle my gray water. But if somebody came in and said, “Hey, we’ll pay for half for you to transform your house, redo your bathroom you can collect your gray water,” sign me up. 

Is the Lake Powell Pipeline an option? 

The Republican primary for House 72 was decided by 10 votes, and some local political leaders still disputing the result and others saying the election was fraudulent. Is there a case for voter fraud?

Elison: I don’t believe there is fraud in Washington County. I know our elected election officials, not one of them would go to jail for me. Trust me. 

Staff of the Washington County Clerk/Auditor’s Office engage in a routine post-election audit, St. George, Utah, July 8, 2022 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Are there errors that can occur? Can there be ballots that are sent to people that no longer live at a residence? That is going to be a commonality, it doesn’t matter the state, because we are a mobile people. People move all the time. But do I think there’s fraud? Absolutely not. Do I think that my election was stolen from my opponent? Absolutely not. It is exactly what the county commissioner said. They said when you have two strong candidates, it’s going to be a close race. And Willie was a strong candidate so obviously it was going to be close.

There comes a point where we have to remember who we are and we are human beings. We’re brothers and sisters on this planet. To sit here and cry and complain over spilled milk, I think, is ridiculous. I think it’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of money. 

Fica: I absolutely want election integrity. We all want that across the country. I haven’t seen any solid evidence that anything unethical has happened. They’ve recounted they put the machines to the test and it’s not like 95%, its 100% percent accurate. The national election, it was the same thing. There was nothing found. If somebody comes and says, “Look, I found hard facts, Let’s look at it, let’s fix that. I don’t see it.

I would really hate to see mail-in voting go away. It reaches the people that can’t get to vote. They don’t have transportation. They have work that doesn’t allow them to, Maybe they work, you know, a 12-hour shift during that voting time or they’re out of town. There’s so many reasons. And I think by limiting that, we’re taking that right to vote away. And it’s working. 

Photo illustration. | Background photo by iStock/Getty Images Plus, photo mosaic by Chris Reed, St. George News

If there’s a problem then let’s sit down. You think that this is happening? Show me. Let’s have a civil conversation about it and let’s fix the problem. 

I think that’s one of the reasons I’m running is I’m really tired of the bickering and the conspiracy stuff. It’s like, if there’s a problem, we’re all adults. Let’s sit down, let’s have a drink, let’s have a conversation and let’s brainstorm. You brainstorm and no idea is bad.

Politically, it is a polarizing time. Is there anything positive you can say about your opponent?

Elison: I have nothing but good to say about her. And she’s a very pleasant lady. She and I actually lived probably 45 miles from each other in Idaho and never knew each other.

We’ve never really spoken about policy issues or whatnot. My guess is she’s probably a pretty conservative Democrat, I’m guessing. I mean, being from Idaho, how could you not be?

Fica: I think he’s fantastic, I don’t have anything bad to say about him. You know, I think some of our views are a little bit different. He’s super personable. I think he wants what’s best for Utah. He really wants to maintain those solid values that Utah’s built upon and I respect that. I actually don’t have anything bad to say about him. Yeah. I think he’s  great.

We are still seeing a lot of “we’re hiring” signs in our community. But people would also say that most jobs locally aren’t covering the cost of living here or the rent or the mortgage. Is there a solution for that? 

Fica: We have to take care of each other. We’re human beings. And that’s part of that pointing the finger. That’s part of I’m more privileged. I work harder and I deserve what I have. I worked for the Dove Center, which is a domestic violence shelter, as the clinical supervisor. And I’ve got to tell you, if you’re born into a family that looks like this: No education, no support, no parenting, no health insurance, living on the street, homeless, domestic violence … You can’t tell me that you deserve what you got more than they deserve what they got. And I think we lose sight of the humanity. 

File photo for illustrative purposes of help wanted flyer at the St. George Pool, St. George, Utah, June, 2022 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

I think we need to take a step back and say, “What about humanity?” And that steps back into my platform of prevention. Let’s look ahead at this. What can we do to solve this problem long-term permanently, Not short-term. Not give someone a bed for a week. Right, that’s great. But then what? So I’m thinking  permanent solutions. We’ve got to do some affordable housing where people live here, they work here, this can be their home.

Elison: Part of the challenge with living in Southern Utah and living in Utah in general … when you have a growing economy, you have a state that is very attractive that people want to come to, that’s naturally going to drive the price of homes up. It’s a supply and demand issue. The reality is all of us want our children to be able to live here. The reality is they may not be able to. 

But my encouragement to change the course financially … it boils down to education. I’m not talking about traditional college per se. I’m talking about people going into careers that they can actually make enough money to support their family. This Eastern Russian ballet crap that, you know, people get a four-year degree of liberal arts school, you’re not getting a job in that career. You’re going to be sitting in your basement of your parents until you’re 35 trying to figure out why, you know, McDonald’s isn’t cutting it. 

That’s my encouragement to youth. And shame on the guidance counselors at colleges for not pointing kids in the right direction. You’ve got to make money at the end of the day. I know that’s probably cold, but it’s reality. And so the answer to a lot of the issues is if you want to live in Southern Utah, you’ve got to realize our economy is this.

Ms. Fica, you’re running as a Democrat in a heavily Republican district. How intimidating is that?

Fica: Utah, in general, is fairly Republican. So you put yourself out there. I have had people be very unkind and rude to me already, because again, it’s that we’re standing on opposite sides, pointing fingers. But I look at it as we’re in the same country. We all want to be happy. We all want to solve the same problems. We all want water and we all want affordable housing. And we all want to take care of our families.

File photo for illustrative purposes of “vote” sign on Telegraph Street in Washington City, Utah, Sept. 8, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

People have told me “don’t bother” when they hear that I’m running as a Democrat. I’ve had people shake their heads. I haven’t had anyone say specific like name call or anything like that, but I would call it kind of rude as opposed to, “Hey, I’m glad you’re running. This is a free country and isn’t it great that we all get to have a say if we want to put our hat in the ring?

I know people that have deleted everyone on their Facebook that are not of their political affiliation. I think it’s really unfortunate. We all want the same things and we’re all on the same team. It’s like a football team that turns on each other and the offense starts beating up the defense. Nobody wins.

Mr. Elison, you’re talked a lot in your campaign literature as being opposed to environmental social governance, or ESG. Can you expound on that position?

Elison: So the environmental side is, there is a pretty large global push for what’s called the Green New Deal. There’s steps we’ve been taken to try to kill, basically, the oil, the coal industry. They want to have everything go electric and alternative energy sources. I’m not opposed to alternative energy, but it’s not competitive, it’s not reliable. You’ve got to look at what happened in California. You know, they had the ice storm. The wind turbines weren’t turning. They had no power. They now have rolling blackouts. That’s third-world country stuff.

So bottom line is that, everybody wants to make sure the environment’s taken care of. Nobody wants to have desolate landscapes. Everybody wants green. Everybody wants a beautiful place to live. Everybody wants clean air, clean water, I think that doesn’t matter if you’re Democratic or Republican. But when, when we’re being told that there are certain things, like for example, if they truly want clean energy that’s reliable, why aren’t we talking about nuclear? That is absolutely probably one of the best options that we have out there. But yet they don’t want to talk about that. They want to talk about going solar or going wind turbine. And those things are unreliable. 

Ms. Fica, as the former clinical director of the DOVE Center and a professional therapist, you have said mental illness is a priority in your platform. What are we not doing now and what can you do in the legislature to improve mental health services?

Fica:  I don’t understand why we can go to the doctor for a broken arm, but we can’t go to the doctor for depression because it’s not covered. That doesn’t make any sense to me. I know I’m a therapist, so I’m a little biased, but again it’s that prevention piece.

Ila Fica, a candidate for Utah House 72, in the heritage sculpture garden of Washington City, Utah’s Veterans Park, Sept. 30, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

I don’t know the percentage off the top of my head, but a high percentage of homeless people have mental illness that hasn’t been treated. They can’t hold down jobs. You know, they’re in the criminal justice system or they’re incarcerated because we didn’t give them help when they needed it.

It’s that preventative medicine. You get your colonoscopy paid for 100%,  right? We need to have preventative mental health care to take care of people before it.

I know one of the things between Republicans and Democrats is money. Democrats are always like, you know, let’s throw money at it. And Republicans are like, no more money. I don’t think we need it more. I think we need it better.

Mr. Elison, as the head of a financial firm and someone who has done retirement financial planning, you have talked about financial independence from the federal government. What does that entail?

Elison: It’s an out-of-the-box thinking type of a concept. I’ve already visited with our state treasurer about it. I’ve had conversations with several legislators about it. It’s a concept of being financially independent to where we do not depend upon federal dollars. 

Joseph Elison, a candidate for Utah House 72, in his office at Elison Financial, Sept. 28, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

If the day comes, and I think it already has, that the federal government says you, the state, is going to do X and we say no and they say, “Well, then you’re going to lose these federal dollars.” We can say, “Fine. And  we don’t need to take that money because we can do without it so that we can dictate our own course. That’s true of families. You’re never free until you’re financially independent. Because if you’re beholden to somebody else, then you can never truly make your own choices.

Ms. Fica, you have spoken about your partner on your website and campaign materials. There are some people in this area who may still take issue with an LGBTQ candidate. What would you say to them?

I don’t mind. I’m an open book. I was married for almost 30 years to my husband. He passed away unexpectedly almost five years ago now and I and my five kids were left to figure out what to do. And I just knew I needed to start somewhere new. And so I came down here. My partner, my best friend Mel came, moved down with us. She was already a part of our family. She actually took care of my mother-in-law who lived with us. She had Alzheimer’s and she was a caretaker for her. And my husband adored her. My kids adored her. It’s been a beautiful new family and we, you know, incorporate my husband into the family all the time and talk about him and laugh.

I’m not gonna hide that. I’m not ashamed of it. I think it’s a beautiful part of me. I didn’t have to put it out there but I’m proud of our relationship. I’m proud of how our family has adapted and I’m really proud of my kids. And by hiding that, I’ll be telling my kids to hide that too. And I won’t do that. 

I have a bisexual daughter. I have a gay son and I would not change an ounce about them and I wish people could get over the hate of love. I think our area has done a really good job over the last few years in embracing the LGBTQ+ community. I see Utah softening and accepting people for who they are and understanding that love wins 100% over hate.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2022 election by clicking here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!