For Mike Stewart, the lone Republican left on the Salt Lake County Commission, the future just got blurry.
Thanks to two major upsets in Tuesday's general election, Stewart soon will go from being the chairman of the all-Republican commission to being the minority member, struggling for power against Democrats Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley."I'll probably be sitting over there next to the press," Stewart said half-joking on Wednesday while pointing from his seat at the center of the three-member commission to the seat at the outer edge.
Stewart was the only commissioner not up for re-election Tuesday. He is in his 10th year in office and always has been part of a Republican majority. As president of the National Association of Counties, Stewart has enjoyed influence and power that extend beyond the Wasatch Front.
But Stewart remained philosophical and optimistic Wednesday morning, despite the shock that engulfed his defeated comrades.
"Randy and Jim are bright guys," he said, referring diplomatically to Horiuchi and Bradley. "They will acknowledge that now that the campaign is over, they have to run county government."
But the new commissioners are likely to change the way county government is run.Some of the things Stewart has supported without opposition from fellow Republican commissioners Bart Barker and Tom Shimizu include golf courses in Dimple Dell Park and Old Mill Valley. Organized groups of local residents oppose both. So, likely, will the Democrats.
Other age-old controversies, such as whether the county should stem the proliferation of billboards that block mountain views, suddenly may take on new dimensions.
The change in county power comes just at the time when elected officials will have to deal with some of the most serious budget matters in recent years. Mass transit, Salt Palace renovation, increasing crime and jail overcrowding threaten to force commissioners into either cutting vital services or raising taxes.
Stewart said he will invite Horiuchi and Bradley to sit through the county's annual budget hearings, which begin Friday, even though the new commissioners won't be sworn in until January.
He said he believes he will get along with the new commissioners better than he did with Dave Watson, the last Democrat to sit on the commission. Of course, Watson was a minority member.
"I'm a little stunned," Stewart said, referring to the election results. "We'll be discussing for months what things contributed to this."