Utah County Democrats bring candidates together for united push
For the last time before Saturday’s party convention, a handful of Utah County’s Democratic candidates for office gathered in the Provo City Library on Tuesday for a get-to-know-us round of speeches and a question-and-answer session. While there were only a few attendees who aren’t themselves candidates, it was an opportunity for everyone to get on the same page.
Among those in attendance running for federal office were U.S. Senate candidate Kael Weston, 4th Congressional District candidate Darlene McDonald and 3rd District candidate Archie Williams.
McDonald had a chance to speak as the only Democrat running in her race for the seat currently held by Rep. Burgess Owens. The longtime activist is running for the seat for the second time, coming up short in the primary against Ben McAdams in 2018.
McDonald spoke of her pride in being a Democrat and her association with the party. “It means showing up when people need you. It means showing up for your community. It means being present for everyone whether they look like you, love like you, worship like you — or even vote for you. It means showing up,” she said.
McDonald added that she is running to better representation in the 4th District, which covers a larger swath of Utah County after legislative redistricting. Saying it three times, McDonald pointed to her main issue — health care. She told the story of her child who passed away at 3 years old due to health problems he had at birth. She ended her presentation by saying she was running for office to give a voice to people who haven’t been heard, and “certainly not start a new culture war.”
Running in a contested race for the 3rd District seat is Williams, a proudly perennial candidate from Orem. Striking a different tone than every other candidate, Williams mentioned living in Utah County, as a Democrat, for 35 years. He mentioned his running for mayor of Orem by saying, “I run for a lot of things because I believe in Democrats,” Williams said.
He discussed his faith in the Democratic ideals while adding that he is religious, though not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and is pro-life despite how that belief, in particular, stands in contrast to most of the Democratic party.
The other Democrat in the race is Glenn Wright, a former Summit County Council member and Vietnam war veteran. Unable to attend, his biography was forwarded along and read to the room by Katie Adams-Anderton, the county party chair.
Weston also joined the local Democrats to pitch his candidacy and explain why he’s running for office. The race for the U.S. Senate seat has been anything but traditional, with Sen. Mike Lee running for reelection and facing two primary opponents in Becky Edwards and Ally Isom, with independent and former presidential candidate Evan McMullin in the middle. Weston previously ran for Congress in the 2nd District against Rep. Chris Stewart.
While McMullin has drawn attention, and the endorsement of multiple prominent Democrats in the state, Weston reiterated his stance on issues as the only Democrat in the race and who he is targeting in his campaign.
“The people I think about most, and I thought about them a lot two years ago, are the people who are working right now. And they’re working two or three jobs, not to buy a house but to pay rent,” he said. “It’s the people who get up early, get home late and do it all over again.”
He mentioned Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, energy rights, public lands and — repeatedly — water as issues he cares deeply about, along with the historic successes of Democrats.
Weston also mentioned his race against Stewart in what was the most rural district in Utah, encompassing 14 of the state’s 29 counties, as a benefit to running statewide.
“If you ask people, they’ll tell you (issues they care about) and too many, I think, incumbents take for granted voters. We as Democrats will never take voters for granted because we can’t,” Weston said.
Running in Utah County, though, was far different as the second-most populated county in the state. He acknowledged the growth in Utah County as a positive — despite the risks and worries over housing and water — and said the historically conservative voting pattern in the valley made it the right place to campaign both for the present and for the future.
One by one, candidates for various Utah House seats explained who they were and why they are running for office.
Daniel Friend, running for District 62 in south Provo and north Springville, discussed schools and air quality as his primary reasons for running. Specifically, better schools and air for his young children.
“Our legislature is not doing its part on any of those topics. They keep undermining our schools. They keep avoiding making the hard decisions that would really clean our air,” Friend said.
He called the district, represented by Norm Thurston, the most “flippable” in Utah County, adding that it contains 75% of Provo’s precincts that voted for Joe Biden for president and a handful of others that barely favored Donald Trump.
Michael Anderson, running in District 61 in Provo against Rep. Marsha Judkins, decided to get in the race after seeing there had not been a Democratic candidate for the seat since 2014.
Saying he’s already knocked on 1,200 to 1,500 doors, he is still excited to knock on more doors and talk to more potential voters. “I believe we can switch Utah County to blue,” Anderson said.
Bursting to the front of the room with a high-energy speech was Lucas Ramirez, a nurse practitioner running in Orem against Rep. Keven Stratton. He is running for office for the second time, having run in 2020 after being encouraged to do so by his children.
Putting aside his prepared speech, Ramirez said he wanted to speak from the heart. A former ambulance driver and current substitute teacher, Ramirez said he decided to run again after seeing some of the “really bad bills” put forward by the Utah Legislature.
“We don’t need to be making life harder for teachers; we need to be encouraging people not only to become teachers, but to stay teachers,” he said.
Nikki Pino, running in the Highland area for the seat held by Brady Brammer, told the story of how he, a film school graduate, connected with politics and decided to run for office to help others. He cited his upbringing, as he joked, in a family of half nerds — learning technology and computers — and military, with his father and grandfather having served.
Closing out the House candidates were the two Democrats seeking the nomination for District 53: Ann Schreck, a data analyst, and Carl Bechtold, chair of the Utah Democratic Party’s Senior Citizens Caucus.
Though running against one another, there is no bad blood between the neighbors and friends.
“We support each other. The important thing is that we’re representing another voice and we want there to be other people who feel like they can be heard,” Schreck said. “In order to really be the patriots that we need, that means we have to engage as voters, as candidates, as people who come and learn about candidates.”
She discussed the importance of people with a wide range of experiences being in seats at all levels of government and the value of conversations leading to participation in society.
Bechtold agreed, not just that he and Schreck are friends, but in the importance of democracy. He told the gathered audience about his 20 years of work with the Utah Democratic Party and the need for a change in their district, which covers part of the area from Point of the Mountain to American Fork.
“I’m running because we need to refocus the work of the Utah House of Representatives,” Bechtold said. “Our legislature in redistricting violated the spirit of American representation. They chopped it up so that a group of people would not be represented.”
After the speeches, when the flow was opened for questions, a voter living in Ramirez’s district asked where he should volunteer his time, in his neighborhood or in the “flippable” race for Friend.
All were in agreement that the best door-to-door campaigning would be done near his home, but that winning any race would take the work of any Democrat willing to offer their time and energy.
Catherine Voutaz, running for state Senate against Dan McCay in District 18, did not attend, neither did County Commission Seat A candidate Jeanne Bowen or Provo City School Board of Education District 1 candidate Ashley Hoiland.