State Democratic Party delegates re-elected chairman Peter Billings, Jr. and the rest of the party's officers Saturday in a state organizing convention that saw old wounds publicly healed.
Billings won his first, two-year chairmanship in a 1989 election that saw a bitter contest between him and House Minority Whip Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan. Atkinson was backed by organized labor, and AFL-CIO president Ed Mayne said then he'd never seen such labor-bashing as the Billings camp undertook.Atkinson and Mayne nominated Billings Saturday for an unopposed second term, and that said plenty.
After the 1989 chairmanship race, "there was some discord, disunity and division," Billings said Saturday. "But we Democrats came together. We had great victories in 1990. And we'll have them again in 1992."
Democrats did win significant races last year. While gaining seats in the Utah House and Senate, the biggest win was Bill Orton's victory in the 3rd Congressional District. Also, Democrats Randy Horiuchi and Jim Bradley took control of the three-member Salt Lake County Commission.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, won his largest victory in the 2nd Congressional District and newcomer Kenley Brunsdale came closer to veteran Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, in the 3rd District than most anticipated.
"But there is still much to do," said Billings. Utah ranks 46th nationally in teacher pay, dead last in student-to-teacher ratio and "mediocre" in national test scores.
"Democrats can do better," he told a cheering convention of about 1,000 people meeting in the Salt Lake Hilton.
"Utah ranks in the bottom 10 in air quality. Our income is only 75 percent of the national average and our Republican leaders are selling Utah as a place of cheap wages. Democrats can do better," Billings said.
He said that after the 1992 elections, Utah will have a Democratic governor "who can lead, who has vision and energy." Utah will also have a new Democratic U.S. senator, "one who didn't create the savings and loan crisis and didn't indebt Americans in paying for it.
"Our (Republican) opponents are tired, divided and have been around too long," Billings said.
Orton said a year ago he was an unknown, not only to Utahns generally, but even to Democrats. After his surprise victory - a surprise to many, but not to himself - Orton said thousands of people have congratulated him, telling him how wonderful he is.
"Don't honor me. The honor is mine, to serve you with the trust you have given me." Political pundits are still trying to figure out how he won, Orton said. "There is no secret. The political system worked, there was no phenomenon in the 3rd District. A message? The only message is that one man can make a difference, and every man should try."
Attorney General Paul Van Dam said he's too lonely in the State Capitol, where the Republican majority holds the Legislature and Republicans hold the other state offices. "When the Legislature meets, I hide out a lot. Too much energy is used (by Democrats) against the overwhelming odds. The unbalanced system doesn't work properly."
Many problems face Utah, just one being the environment, he said. But the GOP Legislature "spends a hell of a lot of time on moral issues (like abortion) that divide the state and make it difficult for us to get along with each other." Democrats need seven more House seats and five more Senate seats in 1992 to take control of those bodies.
Besides Billings, the other re-elected Democratic state officers are D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, vice chairwoman; Rhoda Struhs, secretary; and Warren Nuesmeyer, treasurer.