The race for Salt Lake County assessor took an unexpected turn when Democrat Kyle K. Kopitke lost in the primary and then re-entered the race against one-term incumbent Republican Robert L. Yates. Democrat Michael Callister won the primary and then withdrew from the race after a drunken-driving arrest.
Also unusual is that Kopitke has outspent the incumbent, thanks to a $12,637 loan Kopitke made to his own campaign to boost the total in his campaign checkbook to more than $18,000 at the end of August. Yates had raised $10,061 as of Oct. 23, including a personal loan to the campaign of $1,000.Kopitke, who works for the LDS Church's genealogy department, said he wore a T-shirt and tennis shoes the day he went into Yates' office to introduce himself this spring. "I don't think he took me seriously (as a candidate). He probably thought I was some kind of a nerd."
Yates said before the primary that he did not take Kopitke seriously because of state-required assessing certifications for the office that Kopitke, who has never been an auditor, does not possess. But Kopitke said the certifications require several tests he feels confident he could pass if elected.
Kopitke again caught Yates' attention when he won the endorsement of the Utah Public Employees Association, an endorsement that was split between Yates and his opponent when Yates first ran for the office four years ago.
Six employees from Yates' office met with UPEA's Salt Lake County political action committee two weeks ago to try to get Kopitke's endorsement replaced with a "no endorsement" for both candidates. But the PAC voted informally to keep the endorsement with Kopitke.
"It just kind of hurt my feelings," Yates said of losing the endorsement. "But I'm going to win anyway."
Kopitke ran on the Republican ticket for Congress in Illinois in 1984 and switched parties after coming to Utah three years ago, after a 27-month tour in the Peace Corps in the Philippines. He said his current perspective on politics makes him wish he had been a Democrat all along.
Yates has worked for the assessor's office since 1964 with the exception of six years spent as a commercial appraiser and supervisor with the State Tax Commission. Accomplishments he lists include the implementation of a uniform statewide motor vehicle tax and registration-renewal-by-mail program, increased property-tax relief for the elderly and disabled and a reduction of delinquent business and personal property taxes owed to the county.
Yates also implemented a countywide property reappraisal program that is expected to continue through 1992.
Kopitke has attacked the reappraisal program as being inaccurate, citing Board of Equalization statistics that show 86.4 percent of the people who appealed their assessments ended up with some kind of adjustment.
Kopitke said one of his goals if elected would be to bring better management to the office.