Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis resigning for health reasons

Published: Monday, March 24 2014 4:14 p.m. MDT

Utah State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis speaks Monday, Jan. 14, 2013.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Colorful and outspoken Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis announced his resignation Monday, citing health reasons.

Even though he's leaving the party post, Utah's openly gay legislator plans to run for re-election to the state Senate.

"While I spend the next months fighting some medical issues, I can assure you that my voice still works," Dabakis wrote in a letter to state Democrats. "I can handle the Senate job and do what I need to do to get physically better. Quitting one job was a compromise I made with Stephen (my partner of 27 years and husband of three months)."

He married Stephen Justesen during the short time same-sex marriage was legal in Utah as the result of a federal court ruling that the state is appealing.

Dabakis, 60, didn't divulge the nature of his health problems. He said some concerns came up during the 2014 Legislature for which he underwent tests. The results came back last week, and he said he'll have more tests Tuesday.

"It's serious enough that we just need to get to the bottom of things," he said on KSL NewsRadio's "The Doug Wright Show."

Dabakis credited Justesen with getting him to the doctor.

"It is party chair or the Senate or you're going to be single," Dabakis said Justesen told him, joking that he can't get divorced in Utah because the state doesn't recognize his marriage.

His resignation letter was classic Dabakis, who is rarely at a loss for words and relishes clever phrases to jab Republicans and issues he opposes.

"I was going to announce that old political standard: I am quitting for 'family reasons' — but I'm not sure that would be legally permissible in Utah. Would I have grounds to quit federally — but not grounds to quit in the state — if it was for 'family reasons'? A.G. Reyes — as a guy who is in court fighting to end my marriage, Sean, I could use a legal opinion here?" Dabakis wrote.

Utah House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, said she hopes Dabakis' medical issues come to an end with rest and that he returns stronger for it.

"It is always sad to see someone so aggressively involved in progressive issues step down, but as he said, this is not the end for him. Jim has always been a strong voice for liberal issues and will continue on simply in a different capacity. This line of work takes a toll on everyone," said Seelig, who is not seeking re-election.

Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans called Dabakis an unfailing advocate for Democrats.

"I will miss publicly debating him on the issues of the day. He brings a uniqueness and high energy to every debate," Evans said.

Dabakis became state Democratic Party chairman — an unpaid position — in July 2011. Vice Chairwoman Josie Valdez will lead the party until delegates pick a successor at its state convention April 26.

Dabakis tried to raise the profile of Democrats in Utah, including reaching out to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to join the party. Party leadership "begged and scrimped" and now has an unprecedented $430,000 in its election war chest, he said. Party staff increased from three to 14 during his tenure.

"I've worked hard to be a bridge across the state, to help people recognize that Utah Democrats are different than Democrats in Washington," he said.

Dabakis has worn two political hats since Salt Lake County Democrats chose him in December 2012 to replace Ben McAdams, who vacated his Senate seat after being elected county mayor.

Three Republicans have filed to run against Dabakis in what will be his first election campaign with an opponent from another party.

In his letter, Dabakis said he might "morph into the blazing liberal" he's always wanted to be, but kept tamped down as a statewide spokesman for the party.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: dennisromboy; DNewsPolitics

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