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Home / Articles / · Archive / News & Columns /  Election Issue 2008 | Tipping the Balance: This could be the Democrats? year to shift power on the Salt Lake County Council.
News & Columns

Election Issue 2008 | Tipping the Balance: This could be the Democrats? year to shift power on the Salt Lake County Council.

By Katharine Biele
Posted // October 29,2008 -
The District 4 Salt Lake County Council race is apparently the one to watch—not because it’s interesting, but because it has potential. That’s potential for the Democrats, who have been pretty much beside themselves with anticipation.
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“It’s the demographics,” says Republican Mark Crockett, who calls his district “Utah’s bank of swing voters.” That takes in Emigration Canyon, Sugar House east of 1700 East, all of Millcreek Township, Holladay and most of Cottonwood Heights.

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Crockett is the slightly sardonic incumbent who sets up a counterpoint in personality traits as he faces the warm fuzzies of newcomer Jani Iwamoto.

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This year, there are four county council seats up for grabs. Randy Horiuchi takes the prize, as usual, for Best Billboard Campaign. This election season, the bigger-than-life Horiuchi professes “He’s Got Game,” in various sporting outfits—sometimes with a little remark “for hockey moms.” Take it as a sneer, or a thumbs-up, he’s hoping to engage both sides of the Sarah Palin debate this way.

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Horiuchi’s opponent, Republican and county Sheriff’s Captain Steve DeBry, is focusing on polls that show he’s neck-and-neck with Horiuchi even though he’s brought in a tiny fraction of campaign donations—$21,000 to Horiuchi’s $144,000. At press time, a Salt Lake Tribune poll showed DeBry with a 4-point lead over Horiuchi.

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“You need to raise money when you’re a Democrat,” Horiuchi says. “My elections are always kind of close … I’m non-Mormon, a Democrat and non-white—it’s difficult to get elected.” That hasn’t stopped him from winning county elections four times since 1990.

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Despite Horiuchi’s public humor, the race that’s been most publicly pugnacious has been in District 2 where Democrat Paul Pugmire is battling incumbent Michael Jensen. It’s a west-side district that leans heavily Republican. Have you heard the shocking news that long-Democratic Magna—where Jensen lives—is moving toward the GOP?

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/And finally, Councilman Marv Hendrickson is leaving office and his GOP seat up for grabs—one more potential prize for the Democrats. Democrat Roger Harding will face Republican Max Burdick, setting up a classic insider/outsider race between two residents of Sandy.

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So you might think that Burdick, a property developer and longtime Sandy planning commissioner, would have the election bagged. But Harding has outspent his opponent. As of September’s reports, Harding had raised $32,000 to Burdick’s $20,700.

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Frankly, that’s about as close as it gets in this year’s county races where campaign coffers are all over the map. Pugmire has raised $33,000 to Jensen’s $56,000, and Iwamoto has far out-raised Crockett—$71,600 to $22,700.

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But Crockett is indifferent, at best, to the funding disparity. He’s contributed $14,000 of his own money and guesses he should be making more calls, but he’s just doing the sign thing and walking. Crockett’s signs are blue, white and red. Iwamoto jokes that X-96 radio jocks say her signs with the big daisy look like advertising for feminine-hygiene products.

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Crockett, meanwhile, can bask in the endorsement of The Salt Lake Tribune, which was wowed by the virtues of his incumbency—“knowing the ins and outs” of county government.

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Both Crockett and Iwamoto are lawyers, although Crockett’s career focuses on finance—consulting, hedge funds and, now, as the principal in an investment firm. And, because the county faces a flat budget year, he’s looking at savings on the jail, where more is spent than on any county program.

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The mothballed Oxbow Jail is an issue for most candidates. The GOP-dominated council has favored alternatives to jail time rather than pouring money into opening the jail. “Isn’t it interesting that the Democratic progressive agenda is putting more people in jail while the Republicans are interested in finding alternatives?” Crockett quips.

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He wants to improve air quality and likes plans to limit automobile idling while creating a “bike plan” with corridors throughout the county. Crockett also has spent much of his time on Millcreek’s municipal needs—a direction that piques Iwamoto.

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“His focus has been on Millcreek, and that guides a lot of his decisions,” she says. Crockett admits he acts a bit like a mayor, but that’s because he’s the closest to an elected official they have. He wants to shore up the township’s infrastructure and make it feel more like a community. Iwamoto thinks he wants to push Millcreek toward incorporation, although the whole thing’s iffy since the Legislature will have to revisit the township law before 2010.

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Iwamoto has a long history in community activism starting as a University of Utah Hinckley Institute intern. She went to Washington, D.C., to work for Rep. Rob Bishop, and was mildly surprised to find how conservative he is. “I told him, ‘I thought you were this liberal hippie,’” she says.

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With a background in journalism and mass communications, she stayed on in Washington, doing newsletters for the Senate Republican Conference and working complaints at The Washington Post. Later, she worked for a Republican representative from Michigan.

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After graduating in law from University of California-Davis, Iwamoto practiced in the San Francisco Bay area and volunteered with low-income and high-risk youth. In 1998, she and her husband moved back to Utah to be near family and raise their children.

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This is where she became involved in revitalizing Japantown, and found it “weird” to be appointed to the Convention Facilities Advisory Board after fighting the Salt Palace over its impact on Japantown. But it’s all part of the balance she’s learned.

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Interestingly, she and Crockett have yet to go head-to-head. Councilwoman Jenny Wilson stood in for Iwamoto at a recent environmental forum, and Wilson drew swords with Crockett over his seemingly flippant response to the county’s hiring of an arborist. While he does have a penchant for sarcasm, Crockett thinks serious priority should be given to hiring more district attorneys.

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Speaking of style, Pugmire has given county electioneering an edge it hasn’t seen in years. He called Jensen on the carpet for absences—almost a third of formal council meetings. Still Jensen, a deputy chief of the Unified Fire Authority, has managed to get elected council chairman.

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Jensen also managed to dig up a blunder of Pugmire’s, in which he responded on a high school reunion questionnaire that he was “born a poor black child.” Pugmire has apologized for what he calls a wrong attempt at humor, via Steve Martin’s line in The Jerk.

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Pugmire has a long history in politics in Idaho, Arizona and Washington, D.C., and runs a small public relations consulting firm. He was spurred to run over the Jordan School District split, which he calls fundamentally unfair to the west side.

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Harding, from District 6, also saw the Jordan split as a disaster and wants to make sure it happens fairly now. That will be a hard job, given legislative support for the split.

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Oxbow’s an issue for him, too, and he thinks the vote against opening it was obviously partisan—5-4 again. Harding is also a supporter of open space and better environment.

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The Democrats think he’s a winner. The bad vibes dogging House Speaker Greg Curtis and Rep. Greg Hughes—both Republicans on the east side of the county—may work to Harding’s favor. But Burdick is emphasizing that, even though a Republican, he’s no fan of partisan politics but believes in good communication. He wants to focus on the budget. “I’m worried about the money, and any tax dollar we pay is a dollar we can’t spend on our family,” Burdick says.

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That includes looking at how efficiently county programs are run—including the heretofore-sacrosanct golf courses.

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While the Democratic Party has been high-profile in these races, it’s pretty much leaving Horiuchi alone. He’s managed to pull out close wins every time and has been pummeling DeBry where it hurts. DeBry lost the endorsement of several law-enforcement groups, although he says it was the power and fear of incumbency that did it. “He’s conniving,” DeBry says of Horiuchi.

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Unlike the other Republicans, DeBry wants Oxbow opened but without raising taxes. He wants to focus on drug prevention, too, since drugs drive crime. And he thinks Horiuchi is in office for the wrong reasons.

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“Look at his personal businesses and lobbying and financing companies,” DeBry says. “I believe he is in this position basically so he can take care of other issues in his personal life.”

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On development issues, “It is what it is,” Horiuchi says. He got tagged for a couple of controversial zoning votes. One, at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, was actually decided by the Board of Adjustment. The other, the Family Center on Fort Union, caused a long, drawn-out court battle and left bad feelings all around.

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He’s become a supporter of the “foothills and canyons overlay zoning ordinance” and says he’s become a lot stricter over time. And he has a major interest in sports and sports facilities.

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For the county council, this election will tell who gets to keep the game ball—the Republicans or the Democrats. tttt

 
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