Bob Bernick Jr.: Professor remembered; candidates chosen

Published: Friday, Sept. 14 2007 12:15 a.m. MDT

Two items this week: a remembrance of an old friend and the Salt Lake City mayoral elections.

J.D. Williams died last week after a life filled with joy and generosity.

A longtime political institution at the University of Utah, Williams, like all really fine professors, left his mark on his students and university.

I was not fortunate enough to take a political science class from J.D. But I got to know him well later in life.

J.D. always wanted those around him to feel important and needed. This small incident tells much about him: J.D. caught the tennis craze in the 1970s, and I frequently ended up playing near him at the U.'s outdoor tennis courts.

He would compliment his opponents and partners constantly during play. "Pretty forehand, nice shot, way to go" was just the running commentary one had to overhear if you were anywhere near him.

It didn't bother me. It was just J.D.

And he will be missed.

· · · · ·

The Utah Democratic Party will jump into the Salt Lake City mayor's race now that the final pairing has a Democrat facing a Republican.

State House Minority Leader Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake, faces former state GOP Sen. Dave Buhler to see who succeeds retiring Democratic Mayor Rocky Anderson.

As is the case with all municipal offices in the state, the Salt Lake mayor's race is nonpartisan.

That means that political parties play no official role in picking the candidates. And a candidate's political affiliation does not appear next to their names on the ballot.

In many municipal races, I'm sure that the candidate's party affiliation is not known to voters.

But that is not the case in the state's premiere mayor's office.

Traditionally, Democratic mayoral candidates run partly on their party affiliation. For example, mayoral candidate Jenny Wilson, who was knocked out by last Tuesday's primary, had "Democrat" on her lawn signs and fliers.

Becker ran TV ads clearly mentioning that he is a Democrat.

GOP candidates, on the other hand, are glad to let their party connections slide, since the city is Democratic.

Most of Buhler's quirky ads don't mention that he's a Republican. (One ad does, making light of the color of the city's blue recycling bins.)

So while Becker will use his party's fund-raising and organizational abilities, Buhler says he won't use any state or county GOP resources. "I'm running my own campaign," says the eight-year veteran city councilman.

Salt Lake County GOP Chairman James Evans, a former Republican state senator from Salt Lake City, warns Becker and state Democratic leaders that there could be "far reaching implications" if the Democratic Party comes into the race big-time and pounds Buhler.

What Evans is really saying is that the super-Republican majority in the Utah Legislature could take some action against the minority party. That action could be changing state law to make all municipal elections partisan.

And since Utah is overwhelmingly Republican, any closet Democrats would have little chance to win city council or mayor's seats in most of the state's 242 municipalities.

There is already a move in the Legislature to make State School Board candidates run under party labels. That is mainly retribution for a number of board members refusing to implement a flawed private school voucher system this summer. Ultimately, the Utah Supreme Court backed the school board, and the voucher issue will be settled in a Nov. 6 referendum.

The school board's audacity in not following the Legislature's demands, however, could result in the politicalization of board elections, which are now nonpartisan.

Let the Utah Democratic Party mess with the Salt Lake City mayor's race, and the same could happen there, GOP leaders seem to be saying.

Just another example of the arrogance of Republican power in Utah.

And we'll see if Democratic Party leaders take the warning to heart or go ahead with helping Becker.

In any case, Buhler has an uphill battle ahead of him. Salt Lakers haven't elected a Republican mayor in 36 years, and the city votes 2-to-1 Democratic nowadays.

Both Becker and Buhler would make good mayors, I believe. And partisan politics will play a role in this election, whether party labels are officially recognized or not.


Deseret Morning News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at bbjr@desnews.com.

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