Proponents of tax limitation have trumpeted an unmistakably clear message in recent months: The Legislature raised taxes, and now it's time to throw the rascals out.
However, Utah voters responded Tuesday with a vote of confidence for seven of nine representatives facing primary challenges."I think the tax protesters have to look at that as a tremendous defeat," said state Republican Chairman H. Craig Moody. "I think that's a good indicator of how the tax initiatives will fare."
Only Reps. Ray Schmutz, R-St. George - ironically, a vociferous opponent of the 1987 tax increases - and Ervin Skousen, R-Salt Lake, chairman of the Social Services Appropriations Committee, failed in their re-election bids.
Both seats are considered safe Republican seats.
"In my estimation, the public is saying they may be frustrated, but they are looking for reasonable alternatives rather than a throw-them-out-and-start-over approach," Moody said. "Frankly, I was quite surprised. I thought four or five incumbents would not be elected tonight."
Moody said that if five or more incumbents had been defeated, it would have been a message that Utah voters are frustrated with legislative leaders and want wholesale changes in state government.
The fact the incumbents did win doesn't mean voters aren't frustrated; rather, it suggests the tax-initiative proponents may not be having as big of an impact on Utah politics as some have suggested.
Of the 17 primary races, at least eight involved contests that pitted tax- limitation proponents against tax-limitation opponents. Those opposing the initiatives won seven of those races.
Voters in November will vote on three tax initiatives: one calling for a rollback of cigarette, sales and gasoline tax increases passed by the 1987 Legislature; one a property-tax limitation measure; and the third allowing a limited tax credit for parents with children in private schools.
Republicans were watching two races especially close: the District 17 contest between incumbent Walt Bain, R-Farmington, and challenger Don S. Redd, and the District 14 contest between incumbent Scott W. Holt, R-Syracuse, and challenger D.J. Fisher.
Both incumbents won, but not without significant, and sometimes acrimonious, opposition from tax-limitation proponents.
One Republican House member even called the District 17 primary race a mirror of how the tax initiatives and tax-limitations candidates will fare in the November election.
"It's the key one to watch in the whole state," he said. "It pits a Utah Education Association candidate against a tax-limitation candidate, and a lot of money has been spent."
Bain was funded heavily by UEA and other organizations opposing the rollbacks. Redd, on the other hand, was supported by tax-limitation organizations.
"They (tax protesters) targeted me," Bain said. "They picked me out. I can't call (tax initiative spokesman) Mills Crenshaw what I would like to over the phone. I think many people who heard them attack me resented it and that helped. They came at me, but they didn't make it."
Bain said his UEA support was the result of questionnaires he and all other candidates filled out. The UEA chose candidates from those questionnaires who they would support, and Bain was one of those candidates.
"My wife is a teacher, and I think a lot of people use that to say I am for the UEA. I think my voting record is as fair to every group as is possible. I am a moderate, and my opponent is an ultraconservative. People recognized that, and I think that is why they supported me."
Bain remains an ardent opponent of the tax-limitation initiatives and intends to maintain that position throughout the election.
"I don't support them in any way. I think the tax increases helped people stay in Utah. We (the Legislature) knew where the problem was and we went to work. Those measures helped us get the people at Kennecott and Geneva back working. I think it helped our economy recover two years sooner than was expected."
District 17 covers Kaysville, except the area west of I-15; Farmington; Fruit Heights; and part of Centerville north of Parrish Lane and west of Main Street.
Holt faced an uphill campaign against a tax-limitation candidate highly critical of the Legislature's stand on tax increases. "I feel I was a good legislator and I feel somewhat vindicated by the results," said Holt.
District 14 includes Syracuse, West Point, Clearfield west of the railroad tracks, Layton west of King Street, Clinton south of 18th North and Kaysville west of I-15.
Holt and Bain were not the only incumbents to face strong intraparty challenges. Of the 17 primary races involving Utah House seats, nine involved incumbent candidates.
The hotly contested state Senate race in Washington County between Republicans Dixie Leavitt and Jim Eardley had a direct impact on the District 75 House race as well.
Incumbent Republican Ray Schmutz was challenged by Dixie College teacher Robert Slack. Slack won the race by about 250 votes, but not before almost 6,300 votes were cast - about three times more than any other House race in the state.
"Our race was really intense, but it wasn't as high profile (as the Leavitt-Eardley race)," said Slack. "They spent a lot of money and we did not. There's no question their race resulted in a higher voter turnout for ours."
Slack, whose candidacy was heavily funded by educators, said the higher voter turnout probably helped him more than it did Schmutz.
District 75 includes half of Washington County.
Only two Democrat representatives faced challenges, and both won. Rep. Jay Fawson, D-Salt Lake, was challenged by Sam Taylor, the man he beat in 1986 to claim the District 29 seat. Fawson's victory this time was decisive: 566-369.
"He kept hitting at me hard on the tax increases," Fawson said, "but the people seem to have seen through that. I don't think people blamed me individually for the tax increases.
"It seemed at the time as the best thing to do (raise taxes). The people seem to realize I'm going to do what I think is best and right, not what is popular with some voters."
District 29 is bordered on the Jordan River on the west, 21st South on the north and 48th South on the south. The eastern boundary runs along Fifth East, jogs to Seventh East and then back to State Street.
Rep. Ted Lewis, D-Salt Lake, faced a strong challenge from home-grown candidate Leif A. Syversen in the District 22 race but won despite exceptionally low voter turnout and convention delegates who blamed Lewis for the 1987 tax increases.
"A lot of folks didn't vote and it made a big difference," Lewis said. "The turnout was so low it's hard to draw any conclusions from it."
Lewis' district is bordered on the north by the Rose Park Golf Course, the west by the proposed I-215, the east by I-15 and the south by I-80 and North Temple.
Other incumbents who won Tuesday included Rep. Michael Waddoups, R-Salt Lake, who garnered 73 percent of the vote; Rep. Tom Christensen, R-Richfield, who won with 56 percent of the vote; and Rep. Donald LeBaron, R-Highland, who trailed in his race until the last voting district was counted. He won in a 683 to 659 tally.
Two former Republican lawmakers also earned the right to vie for their old House seats.
Don Strong of Springville narrowly defeated Michael Stansfield, also of Springville, for the right to challenge incumbent Rep. Glenn V. Bird, D-Springville in the District 65 race. Alvin S. Merrill of Murray defeated Craig R. Vierig of Salt Lake City for the right to challenge incumbent Rep. Janet Rose, D-Salt Lake, in the District 32 race.
In other Republican races, Nancy Sontagg Lyon defeated Loren D. Martin (56 percent to 44 percent) for the District 20 seat formerly held by Rep. Jack Redd, who failed in his bid for the Senate.
John L. Valentine of Orem defeated Brice D. McEun, also of Orem, 57 percent to 43 percent, for the District 59 seat formerly held by Rep. Craig Peterson. Peterson is running for the state Senate.
Republican Terry J. Wirth of West Valley defeated Douglas P. Bates for the right to challenge Democratic incumbent Brent Goodfellow.
"I will be hitting Mr. Goodfellow on his stance on constitutional issues," Wirth promised. "I called Mr. Goodfellow four years ago about the 4 percent surtax and how it was an ex post facto law and was unconstitutional. I spoke to him about how it was illegal to use school money to balance the state budget. He agreed but voted for it anyway."
In the closest House race, Thomas G. Goudie defeated Frank G. Strickland by nine votes -
290 to 281 - in the District 49 contest. The closeness of that race may result in a recount.
In other Democratic races, Bob Adams defeated Lloyd Siegendorf (52 percent to 48 percent) for the right to challenge Republican incumbent Afton Bradshaw in the District 28 race. Dan Hirst defeated Ken Zenger (61 percent to 39 percent) in the District 35 race for the right to challenge Republican candidate Reese Hunter.