House Majority Whip David Adams, R-Monticello, faces backcountry guide and outfitter Ken Sleight in one of only two state legislative races in southern or eastern Utah that has both a Democratic and Republican candidate.
That race, in San Juan and Grand counties, is particularly active because of voter-registration drives among Navajos. Sleight is hoping the pick up Indian voters and become the first Democrat in the House of Representatives from the state's southeastern corner in several decades.Five incumbent Republicans and two incumbent Democrats are unopposed seeking re-election to House seats in southern and eastern Utah.
State Rep. Beverly Evans wants voters to get involved in the election. "It's critical," she said. "There are some key issues out here."
For Evans, R-Altamont, the political suspense is gone from her legislative race. She is unopposed for her third term.
"You can sleep election night," she said, "go to bed and not worry. You're always sure about two votes, you think, your husband's and yours."
The tangle surrounding the future of the Heber Creeper is one major district issue, Evans said. In Wasatch County, another concern is garbage. Residents transport waste across county lines, and Evans pegged that as just a temporary situation. In Duchesne and Uintah counties, Evans said, she is seeking clarification of jurisdiction after a recent court ruling regarding Indian rights.
"We have a real opportunity to work together in a partnership with the Ute tribe. That's going to be my next priority in the next little while."
Evans is director of human services for the Uintah Basin Applied Technology Center.
She supports the Republican Party line in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment banning flag burning. She opposes the initiative to remove Utah's sales tax on food, saying such a move would translate to a tax shift. "If modifications to the tax structure are needed, it needs to be done through the legislative process.
But a keystone issue in her district remains economic health. "We're just in an economic roller coaster. We need stability."
District 55 comprises Heber City, Center Creek and everything east of U.S. 40 in Wasatch County; all of Duchesne County; and Ballard, Gusher and Fort Duchesne in Uintah County.
Rep. Dan Q. Price, R-Vernal, doesn't face any competition for his legislative job.
Price, a retired dentist, cut his political teeth serving 12 years as a city councilman. He also served for six years as chairman of the Uintah County Republican Party.
Price opposes removing the sales tax from food. But if the initiative does pass, Price believes the state should adjust taxes and reduce specific programs.
Utah's multimillion-dollar surplus should be spent on the state's needs, he said, specifying education and social programs.
He is opposed to legal abortions, except in the case of rape, incest or when the mother's health is in danger.
District 56 includes most of Uintah County: except for the Ballard, Gusher and Fort Duchesne areas; and all of Daggett County.
Rep. Joseph M. Moody, R-Delta, thinks medical care in Utah's rural areas is one of the most pressing concerns affecting District 68.
"We have a shortage, a great shortage of doctors."
Last year, the Legislature passed two bills addressing the issue but only funded one. Moody thinks it is critical that the state fund a scholarship program to encourage medical students interested in rural practices, in addition to helping rural physicians pay back school loans.
Moody, is unopposed for his fifth term on Capitol Hill. He is a psychologist for the Millard School District.
Moody said he is opposed to abortion. "I feel very strongly that it is not the right thing to do (but) at the present time, I think the laws that we have are adequate."
He is opposed to removing the sales tax from food because it would cut funds needed for state programs, such as education. He says he is an education advocate.
"We have to use our money in education wisely," he said. "I think we do a good job at the present time. I think we have good quality schools."
District 68 covers all of Millard and Juab counties; southwest Sanpete County: Gunnison, Fayette, Centerfield and Axtell west of U.S. 89; and southwest Sevier County: Elsinore, Monroe, Joseph and Clear Canyon.
Rep. Ray Nielsen, D-Fairview, thinks taxing food is wrong, and he doesn't believe removing the tax on food would deplete state coffers as much as doomsayers predict.
"Government should not tax such a basic necessity of life," Nielsen said.
If Utahns didn't pay more to buy food, they would spend more money on other goods, he believes. "Therefore, the sales tax on added purchases of consumer goods would make up, to a large extent, the sales tax lost on food purchases."
Nielsen, 74, a gentleman-farmer in Fairview who retired after working for the military and the Corps of Engineers, is running unopposed for re-election.
Nielsen said the biggest problem facing Utah is lack of money. He thinks the Legislature should revamp the state's entire tax structure and outlaw unnecessary tax breaks. He lists human services and education as the programs where the state's projected surplus should be spent.
He says abortion should be legal only in the cases of rape, incest and health of the mother.
If the sales tax on food is removed, he says income, corporate and franchise taxes should be adjusted. Nielsen thinks a better plan, however, would be to give Utahns credit for the sales taxes they pay on food on their federal income taxes.
District 69 comprises most of Sanpete County, except for Gunnison, Centerfield, Fayette and the portion of Axtell west of U.S. 89; northwest Carbon County: Helper, Scofield and Carbonville; and northwest Emery County: Elmo, Cleveland, Mohrland and areas north of U-31.
During a legislative career spanning two decades, Rep. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, has been eyeing the speaker's gavel.
But in Utah's Republican-dominated Capitol, Dmitrich has to content himself with the top Democratic office, where he has invested eight years as minority leader.
"I've been waiting 24 years to be speaker. I don't think it's going to happen in my lifetime," he said.
"We've had control twice, four years of the 22 years I've been there.
"Fortunately, we work well with the majority party," he said.
Armed with 11 terms of experience, Dmitrich is running unopposed for re-election. "It kind of gets in your blood," he admits. "Politicians don't quit. They die or get beat."
Outside of the time he spends on Capitol Hill, Dmitrich is employed as government affairs specialist for Cypress Minerals.
A major issue facing legislators is taxes, he said, especially because the state's tax policy hasn't been revamped since 1974. He thinks Utah's middle-income wage earners are bearing too much of the tax burden and supports legislation to adjust state tax brackets. "That's a democratic principle. Let's tax the people who are most able to pay."
The sales tax on food is regressive - "a terrible tax" - but instead of repealing it, Dmitrich is in favor of granting Utahns who pay it an income-tax credit. The plan makes sense, because the state has enjoyed surpluses from income tax collections.
And on abortion, pegged to be another controversial issue for lawmakers, Dmitrich had a quick answer. "Don't even talk to me about abortion," he said. "I think our abortion laws are restrictive enough."
Funding state needs will continue to be a concern, as it has been throughout his legislative career. Dmitrich is in favor of zero-base budgeting for state departments. He also supports a state program to make low-interest loans available to small businesses in rural areas. "Let's help the businesses that are already here survive, before you start bringing in competition."
He cites a similar program in Ohio, where the loan fund generates $3 for every $1 invested. "And it will work. It will work in Utah."
District 70 includes most of Carbon County, except for the Helper-Carbonville and Scofield areas; the Green River area of Emery County; and Grand County northwest of the Colorado River.
E. Dean Christensen, Richfield, thinks honest taxation is the biggest issue facing Utah.
He is running as an American Party candidate against Brad Johnson, Aurora.
Christensen is running on an platform of tax reform. He thinks a tax should be a payment for services rendered by government. He thinks the sales tax on food should be repealed, because no direct service is rendered.
Johnson said he won't state his opinion on the sales-tax initiative until he sees a specific proposal about what services would be cut to make up for the revenue loss.
Johnson is a cattle rancher and owner of a custom feed lot. He serves on a variety of national boards representing agricultural interests.
Christensen is a retired airline pilot who serves as chairman of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy program and head of the Sevier County American Party.
Christensen doesn't support an amendment banning flag burning, because such a law doesn't belong in the Constitution. And he thinks both the Utah Transit Authority and the Olympic movement should be funded through private industry.
Both candidates are opposed to abortion.
Johnson supports providing tax incentives to companies that will develop rural industries. He also says local residents need more say in the debate over use of public lands.
District 71 comprises most of Sevier County, excluding Monroe, Elsinore, Joseph and Clear Canyon; and western Emery County, generally from Huntington to Emery.
R. Haze Hunter, R-Cedar City, is running unopposed for his sixth term in the Utah House of Representatives.
Utah's rural areas still are crying out for economic help. "Economic development is the main thing that we need desperately, especially in Beaver County."
He thinks the state's enterprise-zones law, which offers tax breaks to companies that locate in rural areas, is working. While he acknowledges that most large companies won't move outside the Wasatch Front, smaller companies can take advantage of the tax benefits offered in rural areas.
Hunter is one of six legislators who represent the interests of more than half of Utah, the sparsely populated rural lands.
"We have to scream loud," he admits. "All we can do as rural legislators is see that rural areas get our fair share. I've found that it doesn't help to scream as much as it does to earn the respect" of his legislative colleagues.
Another district concern is finding the right balance between grazing interests and wilderness protection on federal lands.
Hunter, 65, a retired businessman, said he opposes the plan to remove sales tax from food. To remove the tax, services would have to be cut or other taxes increased. "Sales tax is the most fair," he said.
He is opposed to legalizing abortion, except in cases of incest, rape or when the mother's health is endangered. And he's in favor of a constitutional amendment banning flag burning.
He says his long tenure in the Legislature has been interesting, and he is running again to maintain the clout of seniority for the district he represents. As chairman of the General Government and Capital Facilities Committee, he is able to serve rural interests when money is available to construct state buildings. As an example, he points to the new health building at Southern Utah State College.
District 72 includes all of Iron County and western Beaver County - from Minersville to the Nevada line.
Depending on who you talk to, the biggest difference in the District 73 race is wilderness - or education.
"My motto is no wilderness, but I know that's not going to happen," said Rep. James Yardley, R-Panguitch.
"I think I'd be stronger for education," said his opponent, Democrat David Wilson.
Wilson, 38, a LaVerkin, Washington County, schoolteacher and farmer, is challenging incumbent Yardley, 68, an independent insurance agent.
Yardley has served eight years in the Utah House, and Wilson thinks it's time for a change. "I think we need to get some new people in there." He thinks Utah needs a stronger two-party system, rather than continuing to return a Republican-dominated majority to both the House and the Senate.
Yardley thinks the debate over the wilderness issue needs to be resolved. U.S. Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is proposing 5.1 million acres of Utah's land be designated as protected wilderness area, while Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, is backing a proposal of 1.4 million acres.
"Actually, you've got de facto wilderness on all of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land because of the study," Yardley said. "We don't want to destroy the land. There's got to be some give and take."
Wilson takes the middle ground, saying roping off some 3 million acres of wilderness might be a better option. "I don't believe in tying up the land a whole lot. I believe we need to keep multiple use of the land."
Yardley is in favor of proposals that would help rural Utah share in the economy of the Wasatch Front. He is opposed to removing the sales tax from food. "Our tourists buy a lot of groceries here in southern Utah, and we don't have to educate their children."
Wilson is opposed to the idea of taxing food, but he thinks the tax base would suffer if it were removed.
Wilson thinks education is the major issue facing state legislators. "I think if we invest in education right now it creates future tax savings."
District 73 covers Hurricane, LaVerkin, Toquerville, Leeds, New Harmony and points east in Washington County; Greenville, Beaver and the eastern part of Beaver County; and all of Garfield, Kane, Wayne and Piute counties.
It is arguably the hottest legislative race in the state, and it has implications far beyond San Juan and Grand counties.
Longtime political activist Ken Sleight is involved in a continuing effort to register Navajos - who traditionally vote Democratic - in an attempt to unseat House Majority Whip David Adams, a Republican from Monticello.
Adams is not only trying to hold the seat but also is the front-runner to become House majority leader - the second-highest position in the Utah House - next year.
Ken Sleight, 61, says he wants to see the sales tax taken off of food. "However, it would really hurt Moab and the other communities here that depend on tourism. We are too dependent on it in southern Utah with the tourist trade."
Instead of removing the sales tax on food, Sleight prefers an income-tax credit to the poor. "I don't think we ought to tax food, but down here we rely on that revenue."
If voters approve the initiative removing the sales tax from food, Sleight said the state would be forced to restructure its tax system, as well as eliminate funding for things like the Heber Creeper, subsidies for the ski industry and construction of roads like the Burr Trail and the Book Cliffs road.
On a local level, the initiative would force counties and towns to tighten their belts like never before, perhaps eliminating some basic services.
"A lot of savings could be made if everyone would get their act together and look at priorities," he said.
The major issue facing the state, he said, is economics. "We must reduce the extreme poverty, providing well-paying jobs for all of our citizens. Then all these other problems will take care of themselves."
Sleight believes the question of abortion should be left entirely to the woman. And if the state enjoys a budget surplus, he believes it should be spent on education and social services to the poor.
Sleight is a guide and outfitter from Moab who has been actively involved in environmental politics for many years.
David Adams also is opposed to removing the sales tax from food, saying rural communities never could compensate for the lost revenue. "In the long run, it's a transfer of a tax from sales to property. And in southern Utah, they can't raise property taxes high enough to make up the losses."
Adams also noted that the Legislature already passed a tax-reform package that took 80,000 low-income people off the income tax rolls. And food purchases made with food stamps or other welfare checks already are exempt from the sales tax.
"In rural Utah, many of the services provided go for tourist accommodations and protection. And the only way those tourists participate in paying for those services is sales tax on the food they buy."
If the tax initiative removing the sales tax on food should pass, Adams said, there would be no choice but to cut services or raise other taxes to compensate.
"We all talk about no tax increases, but that is political rhetoric. There will have to be a tax shift somewhere. People are fooling themselves if they think it will be a tax reduction. It will be a tax transfer."
On a local level, communities would have to deal with revenue shortages as best they can. Adams said almost every state program is underfunded and state government is in no financial position to share revenue with local governments.
Adams is opposed to abortion but did not say whether he would support more restrictive abortion laws or under what conditions abortions should be allowed.
On the issue of an anticipated budget surplus, Adams said the money should go toward continued funding of technology and textbooks in school classrooms.
Adams is a rancher.
District 74 comprises all of San Juan County plus Moab and the Castle Valley areas of Grand County.
Eliminating Utah's sales tax on food would seriously erode the tax base, says Rep. Robert Slack.
Slack, R-Washington, said other taxes should be adjusted if voters approve the initiative. Slack is a Dixie College professor who is running unopposed.
The state's surplus should be allocated to the Public Safety and Human Services departments, he said.
He supports a constitutional amendment banning flag burning. He is opposed to abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's health.
The largest problem facing Utah is its limited tax base. The state needs to expand its efforts in economic development, as well as create more incentives for business creation and expansion.
Slack, 53, served two terms as mayor of Washington City and also on the city council.
District 75 comprises Washington, St. George and western Washington County.