“So, over the next six months, we had meetings with Sen. Buttars at his home and meetings with [conservative activist] Gayle Ruzicka. We met with the LGBT community, and when Salt Lake City adopted the ordinances in 2009, Sen. Buttars supported them, the LDS Church supported them and the LGBT community had a historic win,” McAdams says. “Today, 14 communities have adopted the protections, and 70 percent of Utahns support them.”
From that effort, McAdams took away more than just the warm fuzzies of having impact at the local level—he also learned that a coalition of communities is shaping the debate on the state level. While nondiscrimination protections still struggle to gain a foothold at the Legislature, the cause has garnered greater support than many could have imagined when they were first proposed in the 2008 session—and a lot of that momentum was built from communities in the county.
Back in the skeptical delegate’s house, McAdams responded to the delegate asking him what jurisdiction the county mayor’s office has on issues McAdams wants to build coalitions around.
“I think I’ve been effective on certain [legislative] issues,” McAdams says. “But the real big issues I care about—air quality, education—I don’t even feel like I even have a seat at the table up there.” While education is not exactly the jurisdiction of the county mayor, McAdams points out that people said the same thing about the nondiscrimination issue as well.
“I think there is a role for a regional leader to do that,” McAdams says.
With the state’s top Democrats in the Legislature squaring off in the same race, more than one pundit has wondered aloud: Why put your two best performers in the same donkey show?
If the race goes beyond the county convention on April 14, it will be headed to a primary in June. In the interim, the campaign will heat up and the two contenders will have to start pitching themselves to a broader audience—and potentially have to start fighting a little rougher.
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, however, says that the nature of campaigns means that a good race will produce better candidates in the long run.
“Yes, you spend some additional money and, yes, there may be some negatives brought out by one side or another,” Corroon says. “But by the end of the day, you get a better candidate with someone who has been battle-tested.”
Battle-tested is good, but battle-wounded is not, at least according to Matthew Burbank, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, who says such intra-party battles can have plenty of downsides.
“Given these two candidates, I would doubt that it would get terribly negative,” Burbank says. “But on the other hand, one of the things that clearly happens when you have a contested primary is the other side watches to see what happens. Some of that may come back to haunt you in the general election.”
So while there may not be much dirt-slinging by the two Dems, it could be the case that campaign rhetoric seeking to roust out the liberal vote could be used in the fall elections to scare away moderate Republicans and independents—the much-needed swing vote for a Democrat to take the county mayor’s seat.
Burbank says that doing well at the convention means keeping “liberal activists” happy, and activists and the swing votes are not likely on the same page.
“They’re not wildly liberal by the standards of many places, but at least by Utah standards, the Democrats of Salt Lake County are probably as liberal as it gets,” Burbank says.
Follow @EricSPeterson on Twitter for updates from the April 14 county convention, where delegates will vote for their candidates for county mayor and other offices.
SkiLink Case Study
When it comes to legislative voting records, McAdams and Romero have rarely disagreed. When it comes to county issues, they agree more often than not. But what may be most illustrative of the two candidates is the debate over SkiLink. The federal proposal would link Solitude and Canyons ski resorts with a gondola to create more than 6,000 combined acres of skiable terrain.
When asked about the proposal as it was introduced in Congress, McAdams said he was against it because it thwarted local control and could hurt Salt Lake County’s watershed. Romero studied the issue for a time before also publicly coming out against it.
“I think he studied it until a couple weeks ago when he decided he was against it,” McAdams says. “But the disappointment to me and many others is that while he was studying it, he was also fundraising off of it.” Indeed, during the time Romero had stated he was studying the issue, the Talisker Company, which owns Canyons Resort, held a fundraiser ball for Romero’s mayoral campaign.
Romero doesn’t shy away from being an advocate for the tourism industry and says he did not want to reactively shut down the idea. Instead, he says, a compromise idea needs to be brokered. Romero says he would study paving over Guardsman Pass between the resorts and allowing only natural-gas- fueled buses to shuttle skiers between the resorts.
“It would accomplish what I think a lot of people want on both sides—being very sensitive to the environment, yet touting this connectivity that would enhance the ski experience,” Romero says.