One of the races for a seat on the Davis County Commission has taken on a decidedly odd aspect. Old-line, diehard Republicans are jumping ship and publicly endorsing a candidate from the Democratic Party.
And not just any Democrat, but the chairman of the county Democratic Party, J. Dell Holbrook.He's facing Republican Ed Snow, a relative newcomer to the county who charges the GOP defections are part of an effort by long-established politicians to keep a stranglehold on power in the county.
Holbrook, 45, is a lifelong county resident and owner of a construction firm specializing in commercial and business structures. A Bountiful-area resident, Holbrook has been involved in aspects of community
service for many years, serving as a volunteer firefighter, West Bountiful city administrator, a county deputy sheriff, and 22 years in the Utah Air National Guard.
Snow, 38, has a master's degree in international relations from Brigham Young University and worked in Washington, D.C., seven years, part of the time as press secretary to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.
He returned to Utah three years ago, lives in Bountiful and is community relations director for the Salt Lake City Council. Snow defeated former state legislator Jack Bangerter in the Republican primary in Septmeber.
Bangerter is one of several prominent Republicans who have publicly endorsed Holbrook for the commission seat. Beyond that, Bangerter gave Holbrook his old campaign signs, which after a quick repainting job now tout Holbrook's candidacy.
Several issues, including a badly bickering and divided county commission, prompted Holbrook to enter the commission race last spring.
"People ask me if I'm going to carry on the way the commissioners did in the past," Holbrook said. "They ask about the obstinacy, the lack of cooperation. People are offended by that.
"People want their public officials to be responsive, mature and dignified, and I think we can offer that," Holbrook said.
The county faces important issues such as staffing and operating its new $20 million jail, the future of the paramedic program and economic growth, Holbrook said.
"The sheriff is the specialist in running the jail. The commissioners should be supportive of the sheriff's recommendations on funding and staffing the jail," Holbrook said. "But it needs to be run in the most cost-effective way possible."
On paramedics, Holbrook said he supports keeping the program in the sheriff's department until the county's population grows to where full-time fire departments are required.
"I'm hearing a lot from my opponent about bringing in large, outside businesses to Davis County to foster economic growth," said Holbrook. "I support economic growth, but as a small-business owner I'm concerned about some of the effects.
"I think we need to be more supportive of the businesses that are here and make sure we don't bring someone in that will put a lot of existing family businesses under," said Holbrook.
As for the GOP defections to his camp, Holbrook said he is as amazed as anyone.
Part of it, Holbrook said, may be that many longtime Republicans don't know Snow very well, mistrust his Washington background, and think Snow may have other political ambitions and is using the race as a springboard.
"It's apparent to me, as a Democrat, that the Republican Party in Davis County has become so large and substantial that the party is becoming factionalized. People in the party aren't being heard, so they're leaving," Holbrook said.
Snow's reaction to that is that it's typical of the old-style politics in the county that he's trying to change.
"A lot of the old establishment, including in the Republican Party, is supporting J. Dell (Holbrook)," said Snow. "He's campaigning as the `native son of Davis County.' "
"How long do you have to live in the county before you can serve in its government?" asked Snow. "This is part of the movement to stop change and progress. It's the business-as-usual attitude that's been part of the problem with county government," said Snow.
"The county is growing, it's changing. People are moving here. I'd think by now the majority of the county's population moved here, not grew up here, and I think they're ready for a new style of government, one that serves all the people and not just the old establishment," said Snow.
"Jack (Bangerter, Snow's primary opponent) is supporting J. Dell because they're both part of that same establishment, trying to maintain itself," Snow said.
Snow agreed that the GOP defections stem partly from disenchantment with the party, which has dominated county politics for three decades. "People have been drifting away from the party for a number of years," said Snow.
He also pointed out that not all the Republicans have bolted: Rep. Hansen, his former employer, has endorsed him publicly.
As for his own political agenda, Snow said he is only thinking about the county commission job. "I'm not sure I want to run again for anything at this point, except maybe another four-year term on the commission beyond this one if I'm elected," Snow said. "Beyond that, I have no plans for higher office."
Snow outlined his positions on county issues early in the primary race and they haven't changed, he said. He believes the county is rapidly moving from a rural to suburban community and newer, more cosmopolitan ideas and methods of government are needed.
Snow has campaigned heavily, going door-to-door to meet voters, a technique he says is proving valuable. "People appreciate seeing a candidate at the door. They want to talk about what's on their minds.