SALT LAKE CITY — The last time Utah had a Democratic governor was 1985, before any of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Cooke's youngest four kids were even born.
Cooke, a retired major general, announced his candidacy Wednesday with his wife and four youngest children in front of an energetic crowd at the Fort Douglas Museum on the University of Utah campus. His wife spoke before him and was optimistic about her husband's chances, undeterred by a 27-year stretch without a Democratic governor.
"We believe we can win," she said. "Peter is a visionary. He knows how to rally a team like no one I've ever seen."
The two-star general and father of five wasn't as explicit, never mentioning his level of confidence of victory in November. He did say, however, that Utah was under one-party rule and it was hurting the state and its residents.
"In Utah today, the common good is losing out," he said. "It's being shoved aside by one-party rule, closed caucuses and narrow political party conventions, producing results that simply do not reflect the common sense and moderation of most Utahans."
Cooke pointed to Utah's tumbling voter turnout rates — top 10 in the nation in the 1980s, but the bottom five since 2006 — and reasoned the decline could be attributed to Utahns feeling "they have no voice."
"Utah's founders never intended it to be a one-party state," Cooke said. "They, like the founding fathers of our nation, understood that the common good results from a healthy two-party system. That is checks and balance and I will bring that as your governor."
Cooke said education would be a priority if he became governor.
"If we want better education, we need our state politicians to become better educated about the vital role education plays in our economy, and to understand why raising the standard is imperative to our growth and to our future," he said.
Cooke said Utah wouldn't be able to compete in a global economy if the state's education record, which he called "a culture of continual decline," wasn't fixed.
He also touched on supporting small businesses and saving Hill Air Force Base. Cooke pointed to the 36,000 jobs the base helps create and said his time working at the Pentagon made him uniquely qualified to protect the base.
"In the course of my years as a general in the U.S. Army ... I can tell you, states do not get any points for having a governor and state legislators whose speeches and legislative votes blast the federal government and abandon our veterans."
If Cooke were to become governor, he would be the first Democrat to win a statewide office since Attorney General Jan Graham won a second term in 1996.
"Obviously, it's difficult for any Democrat to receive many votes in Utah," said Adam Brown, BYU political science professor. "Utah Democrats have nominated a few candidates since that time who, at first glance, would seem to have a chance, but none of them has matched expectations.5 comments on this story
In 2010 for example, gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon only took 32 percent of the vote, Brown said.
Cooke became the Commanding General of the U.S. Army 96th Regional Readiness Command in 2005, overseeing 10,000 soldiers and civilians. He received the Army Community of Excellence Award for the best managed command in the United States Army Reserve in 2009.
Since retiring from the Army Reserve, Cooke founded Reporting4Duty, a human capital management group for veterans, the National Center for Veterans Studies and Partnership with America, a group that helps veterans transition into the civilian workplace.