She has organized and motivated hundreds of Utahns in separate fights against gun control, light-rail mass transit and riverfront development.
If Janalee Tobias can get voters equally excited about the June 23 primary election, she could be on her way to the state Capitol as something more than a citizen activist.Tobias, 35, hopes to put the same energy into her run for the District 50 seat in the House of Representatives as she has into various causes since the Idaho native settled in the Salt Lake Valley more than a decade ago.
"I hope I can have that kind of appeal," said Tobias, a Brigham Young University communications graduate who has turned political activism into a full-time, unpaid career.
"I'd hate to talk big and then not have it happen, but we can usually get people out. If people are excited about something, they'll show up."
That's what worries Lloyd Frandsen, the District 50 incumbent, who is taking Tobias' challenge in the Republican primary seriously. District 50 includes South Jordan, southwest Sandy and small portions of south West Jordan and northwest Draper.
Frandsen, first elected to the Legislature in 1974, has survived primary- and general-election battles before. But he has a healthy respect for Tobias' organizational skills and the enthusiasm of her supporters, particularly in a primary race when the average voter is more likely to be apathetic - and absent.
"She kind of represents more of that . . . right-wing element. And those people participate and they come out to vote," said Frandsen, a 50-year-old medical claims consultant. "If I'm going to be successful, I've just got to get people out to vote because those people turn up."
Tobias decided at the last minute to compete for the Republican nomination.
She received 41 percent of delegates' votes to 59 percent for Frandsen at the recent state GOP convention and has had her hands full with an effort to preserve open space along the Jordan River in South Jordan.
Tobias and a friend who founded the group Save Open Space (SOS) are being sued by the developers of the RiverPark Office complex for their efforts to stop that development. Tobias, who, ironically, is married to a developer, ultimately was spurred to run for office by the lawsuit.
If elected, Tobias said she would attempt to add Utah to a list of 15 states that do not allow developers to sue individual citizens who protest their development activities. So-called SLAPP lawsuits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are an infringement on First Amendment rights, she said.
"You should not be able to sue citizens for speaking out for what they believe in," Tobias said. "It's a fairly common thing and it's absolutely wrong."
Tobias, most often, has spoken out against gun control. Three years ago she formed Women Against Gun Control, which now has its own Internet Web site (www.wagc.com) and members in most U.S. states and some foreign countries.
She founded or helped organize three groups opposing the Utah Transit Authority's light-rail project, started two Neighborhood Watch groups and has been involved with the Libertarian Party.
Ultimately, Frandsen said, she hopes voters will discriminate between what he sees as Tobias' more extreme leanings and his own moderate or more mainstream conservative beliefs.
"My moderate voting record will be an issue, I'm sure," Frandsen said. "I think if people understand what the issues are and understand the differences between us, I think that's going to be critical."
Tobias, too, wants to point out the chasm in political philosophy between the two. Frandsen, she said, has voted in a less conservative manner than "a lot of Democrats" in the Legislature.
Tobias said she wants to improve the quality of education without increasing taxes, and is concerned about rapid growth. She does favor one type of tax increase, to allow communities to purchase open space - but only if the people vote to support it, she stressed.
Frandsen cites a long list of successful legislation he has sponsored aimed at making gov-ern-ment more efficient and said he will continue that quest. But his first task is to persuade supporters to show up at the polls.