In an unpredictable election year, it may be one of the most unpredictable legislative races.
It's a Senate district held by Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, that was held by Democrat Scott Howell until he vacated it in 2000 to run for Congress. Senate District 8 is also in an area where many of the elected officials, including legislators and a congressman, are Democrats.
So it should come as no surprise that Democrats are targeting Walker's race against their candidate, Lewis Garrett, in their attempt to win enough Senate seats to hold the one-third needed to stop vetoes, constitutional amendments, and continue floor debates. It's also a vital district in terms of other major races, especially Rep. Jim Matheson's, D-Utah, re-election bid and the Salt Lake County mayoral race.
For her part, Walker, 57, remains confident that her record of work on issues important to the district will win her votes from people who support other Democratic candidates, especially Matheson. The district is in the southeastern portion of Salt Lake County, covering much of the new Cottonwood Heights city, as well as parts of Sandy and unincorporated county.
"Matheson is kind of an anomaly, because he is perceived as more of a moderate," Walker said. "The district is kind of split down the middle, but I think that people are happy with what I've done."
Garrett, 50, agreed that the district is evenly divided, and that when he decided to run he knew it would take a good candidate and a good campaign to win. After all, political observers pointed to Walker's 2000 campaign strategy as a key to her victory.
"Many areas are so controlled by Republicans, that it's impossible to even think about winning," he said. "But my area is more moderate, where good, solid candidates need to be fielded" by both parties.
Education is one of the primary issues for both candidates, and both agree that the schools need more funding. They also want to free up teachers to simply teach, instead of requiring them to do burdensome tasks outside of the classroom.
Garrett, who is the director of the Davis County Health Department and lives in Sandy, said that the biggest funding problem is primarily that legislators do not give it the attention that their rhetoric would imply.
Public education, especially at budget time, should be a priority, "not just a campaign slogan," he said. "We say it's a priority, but when we really get down to it, it's down near the bottom."
Walker, who is the chair of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman's education policy team, said she would like to take his ideas for increasing public-private partnerships as a way to increase funding. That way, the state would be able to make sure teachers have the time and money to perform their jobs adequately.
"We're asking teachers to do so much," she said. "We're asking them to be everything to everyone."
Other issues important to Walker include helping protect people from identity theft, allowing local communities to determine things like billboard regulation, and her work on driving under the influence prevention and prosecution. Additionally, she feels that she is a strong advocate for her district because of her experience.
"With each year, I think I get more effective," Walker, a "full-time senator" who works at least 30 hours a week on her elected post, said. "There is a lot of value to understanding the process."
For Garrett, allowing schools and universities to determine whether they want guns in their buildings or on their campuses is important, as is support for those decisions from legislators instead of retribution. He also wants to see Utah have a more vibrant two-party system, so that the best ideas on every issue are found."We lose the benefit of the two-party system, where good ideas on both sides can be debated," he said. "The Democrats don't have the power up there to make it happen."
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