David Rodeback's Blog

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Saturday, April 8, 2006
First Impressions of County Republican Candidates

Early notes on candidates for County Commission, County Attorney, County Treasurer, and County Clerk/Auditor. I'll even tell you which way I'm leaning on each -- but so far, I'm just leaning.

I'm a delegate from my precinct to the Utah County Republican Convention, so I was invited to spend a few hours this afternoon getting acquainted with candidates.

At the April 29 convention the delegates will vote, where more than one Republican seeks a particular office. (If only one Republican files for office, there is no convention vote.) If any candidate for a given office gets 60 percent or more of that vote, he will be on the ballot in November as the Republican candidate. If no candidate gets such a majority, there will be a primary election between the two top finishers, and the winner of the primary will be the Republican candidate in November.

Essentially the same thing occurs at the state level. You may recall that in 1995 incumbent governor Olene Walker, a Republican, was eliminated at the state Republican convention, because she didn't finish first or second. Then there was a primary election, from which now-Governor Huntsman emerged as the Republican candidate, and he was subsequently elected in November.

The state conventions handle statewide races and other races where constituencies cross county lines. County conventions handle races within a single county.

The power of either convention is easy to underestimate. But consider this: In a heavily Republican county, a candidate who can command 60 percent of the vote at the county Republican convention -- 60 percent of a few hundred delegates, that is -- will not face a primary election and is likely to win big over a Democratic opponent, if there is one, in November. Even if there is a primary, it is the convention who chooses which two candidates will participate, if there are more than two for an office.

Today's event at Lakeridge Junior High in Orem was sponsored by a new organization, Citizen's Resource, which apparently began recently with two young couples who think voters need to be well-informed. Having done some of that sort of work, I have a pretty good idea how much work it is. Apparently, both couples have a pair of toddlers each, so it's not as if they have a lot of spare time. I appreciate their efforts; I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Here are my first impressions of the candidates for the several races on which I will be voting. They really are first impressions, since I hadn't met any of them before, and I haven't yet had a chance to scrutinize any of the mail or e-mail I've received from them.

I should add three notes: I am not nearly as well informed about Utah County issues and candidates as I am about such things in American Fork. And I won't be discussing Alpine School Board candidates here. None participated in today's event, because those are nonpartisan races. And where I've linked to candidates' Web sites, the URLs are from the Utah County Web site or the candidates' materials. Where I don't link, it's because I don't know the candidate's Web site. (Perhaps some candidates haven't noticed that it's the 21st century.)

County Commission

The Utah County Commission consists of three Commissioners elected to four-year terms. Two are up for reelection this year. The seats are at large; the county is not divided up into districts, with one representing each district. I'm inclined to believe that three is not enough for a county of nearly half a million residents. So voters in Utah County can vote in both races.

While it is true that some of their work applies only the the unincorporated areas of the county (those areas not part of a city or town), much of what they do applies to the entire county. Planning and zoning decisions are theirs only in unincorporated areas, where a very small fraction of the county's population lives. But they are also over the County Attorney's office, the Sheriff's Department, the Utah County Jail, and other entities which serve the entire population of the county. I'd also like to see the commissioners elected from specific districts. Some of the challengers said similar things this afternoon.

Seat A (at large) is currently occupied by Jerry Grover, who has served for more than a decade, if I am not mistaken. His challengers are Gary Anderson and Howard Stone. Seat B (at large) is occupied by Steve White; he is challenged by Shirrel Young and Bill Ellis.

The incumbents seemed intelligent enough, and they had the incumbent's command of details. Naturally, they listed a lot of things they've accomplished in office. I'm relatively unimpressed by such lists, because almost any incumbent accomplishes some necessary and good things. For me the question is not whether they have done any good, but whether there is someone better for the job.

Keep in mind that these are first impressions. The incumbents seemed a bit arrogant, and I noticed that they were quite devoted to supporting each other.

The subject of mass transit came up repeatedly in the question/answer format of the afternoon. The County Commission, justly or otherwise, has the reputation of resisting mass transit. Grover was careful to insist that he's in favor of it. Like every incumbent, he claims to have led the charge. He is even "willing to consider" a 0.25 percent additional sales tax to fund it -- but that's not necessarily the same as voting for it. On the matter of Utah County being far behind the other heavily populated Utah counties in mass transit, he was inclined to pass the buck to the cities, not all of whom, he suggested, are open to the possibilities. If he's such a leader in the area, I would have hoped that he could have led them to a consensus in favor of mass transit -- a consensus which he himself says does not currently exist.

White got light applause for his pledge of no tax increases -- but I'm not convinced that this is the one issue above all others, this year. (White seems to be convinced; his Web site's URL is "not1redcent.com." Perhaps that's why we don't have better mass transit in Utah County?)

Young is nearly 90 years old and came almost literally wrapped in the flag. He was wearing a robe with red and white stripes and white stars on a blue field. I didn't think before that I had seen everything, and I still don't. But seeing that spectacle was definitely something. On a probably unrelated note, he has NASA background of some sort.

Bill Ellis emphasized the need for a more accountable Commission and proposes increasing its size from three to five or seven. He emphasized the important of mass transit and other transportation issues. He joked at one point, in response to a question about the allegedly inevitable avian flu epidemic, that it would at least mitigate our transportation problems. In general, I approve of gallows humor, but a candidate with opponents probably ought to avoid such jokes, which are almost certain to be remembered, exaggerated, and used against him. (See yours truly on the "gotcha.")

Gary Anderson is a former county commissioner and county prosecutor. He emphasized that the current Commission has frustrated and alienated the mayors and major county departments, and presents himself as an experienced and credible leader who can fix a lot of the problems.

Stone wants to approach the government as if it is a business -- which is a nice, comfortable, common phrase, but he didn't do much of a job explaining what it means.

For all their knowledge, the incumbents rubbed me the wrong way, with their slightly haughty style and their circling of the wagons to protect each other. Add that to the fact that Utah County really is behind the curve in transportation -- under their leadership -- and I find myself leaning against both incumbents. So far, Ellis and Anderson seem like the most credible leaders among the challengers, so I'm leaning toward them.

County Attorney

This is the most heated race, so far. City and county attorney races tend to be so, in part because they are frequently races between the incumbent and one or more of his or her employees. Kay Bryson is the incumbent; he is running for his fifth consecutive term, if I'm not mistaken. Challengers Curtis Larson and Jeff Buhman ("BYOO-muhn") are both attorneys in Bryson's office. They emphasized that the relationship between Bryson's office and the municipalities is strained at best, and that it's common for cities to file misdemeanor cases instead of felony cases against offenders who deserve the latter, because that way they will be tried at the city level and not by the county. Both defended plea bargains as a necessary tool but said they are overused. Larson said we need to be more aggressive in drug cases, including more use of forfeiture (where property, such as a car or home, which is involved in drug offenses is seized by the government).

During the half hour or so devoted to County Attorney candidates, Bryson appeared to grow increasingly angry and resentful. Finally, he emphasized repeatedly that if his opponents have things to criticize in his office, it's because they are doing (or not doing) those things. It wasn't quite "How dare you run against me?" and the man is in a tough position, running against his deputies. But if he can't keep his cool in the face of modest provocation of today's sort, I think it's time for him to go. So I am leaning strongly against the incumbent. Between the challengers, I lean toward Larson, because I like his background as a police officer and detective.

County Treasurer and County Clerk/Auditor

I was pleased to see that most of the 250 delegates present for the earlier, more interesting races remained to meet the candidates for County Treasurer and County Clerk/Auditor.

Robert C. Kirk is currently a State Deputy Treasurer; his opponent is current County Clerk/Auditor Kim Jackson. Kirk was not present, but sent a speech to be played on DVD. I didn't find much to divide the candidates, but I lean toward Kirk simply because, all else being equal, I think at the local level it's good to have someone who has actually experience at higher levels -- somewhere outside the county, in this case. Jackson's experience inside the county would probably serve him well, too.

Cary McConnell, who currently works in the County Clerk/Auditor's office, is running for County Clerk/Auditor against Bryan E. Thompson, who has a background in quality assurance and operations and project management. I imagine that either would serve acceptably, but I lean towards Thompson for these reasons: I like someone bringing in outside experience; I share his caution about the new electronic voting systems and early voting (McConnell was very much a cheerleader for both, at least this afternoon); and, less relevantly, I found Thompson to be a much better public speaker and was repeatedly a little irritated by McConnell's high-pitched, nervous giggle.

So Far, I'm Just Leaning

Please note: These are just first impressions, and I'm just leaning, not firmly committed. I intend and expect to learn more about the candidates for each race. In particular, there are some folks I can ask about the current County Commissioners and County Attorney, who have worked with them. I may or may not report what they tell me, but I will definitely consider it. I'm also hoping to have some personal time with certain candidates.

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