Who is ahead in state legislative races?
State Republican and Democratic leaders sat down, separately, with the Deseret News for several hours to discuss each of the 90 legislative races this year.Present were Utah Republican Party chairman Rob Bishop, a former House speaker; GOP executive director Spencer Stokes, a former Weber County commissioner; Democratic chair Meg Holbrook; and state Democratic Party executive director Todd Taylor, who has been involved in party legislative races for 10 years and devised an extensive statistical analysis of voting patterns in each House and Senate district.
The party leaders also were asked to identify candidates with current or former leadership positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In January, the LDS Church issued a statement urging faithful members to be good citizens, get involved in politics and perhaps run for office, study the issues and vote for the best candidates.
State Democratic leaders took heart when the statement was issued - some had encouraged church officials to make such a nonpartisan statement. But after seeing how many more Republicans showed up at mass meetings and how many more GOP candidates filed, including 12 in one open House race, they worried the church's statement just energized Republicans in the state.
Not surprisingly, Republicans tended to down play the statement, not wanting to reinforce the Democrats' interpretation: It's OK for faithful Mormons to vote for Democratic candidates.
"Yes, you do see some current or former lay leaders in the church running," Stokes said. "But I don't see this as a ground swell."
House District 1 (Box Elder and Tooele counties) - Rep. Eli Anderson, D-Tremonton, will likely hold his seat. "By the numbers, that seat should be ours," Stokes said. "It's a heavily Republican area." A moun-tain man look-alike and a collector of old wagons, Anderson takes families for wagon rides "and everyone in the darn district has ridden with Eli."
House District 2 (Box Elder County) - Republican Ben Ferry, son of superlobbyists Sue and Cap Ferry, will win the seat. Cap Ferry is a former Senate president and state agriculture commissioner.
Cache County (House Districts 3, 4 and 5) likely will stay Republican, even though Democrats are working hard.
"Myrna Redd has the best chance of any Democrat up there," Taylor said. Rep. Loraine Pace, R-Logan, was just appointed to the District 4 seat last year and hasn't won an election. The district includes Utah State University (more moderate students and faculty). "Myrna can make a race of it against Pace. Myrna's husband is a (LDS Church) stake president, and she knows everyone."
Senate District 24 - Rep. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, should win this race and move from the House to the Senate, replacing retiring GOP Sen. John Holmgren. The district has only a 35 percent Democratic voting history, the lowest of any of the 15 Senate races this year.
The seven Weber County House seats - Districts 6-12 - are now split five for Republicans, two for Democrats. A couple could switch hands, party leaders say.
House District 6 - Rep. Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, should win. His Democratic opponent is Glenn Barrow, a former LDS bishop who has run for county clerk and sits on the Utah Public Employees political action committee board of directors. UPEA is the state's largest government union, and Barrow will have access to its considerable financial and membership support.
House District 8 - Rep. Joe Murray, R-Ogden, could be knocked off by Democrat James Hasenyager, a Huntsville lawyer with a practice in Ogden, Taylor said. Democrats held this seat for years until Murray, a retired Ogden fire chief, took it away four years ago.
House District 9 - "Who would ever think that a Republican could win this central Ogden district," Stokes said. "But we have a shot at" the district of retiring, conservative Democrat Jack Arrington. The Democrat, Neil Hansen, "has run for about every office in (Weber) county and always lost - why should he win here?"
In their dreams, said Taylor, who says the district has a 64 percent Democratic voting history.
House District 10 - Rep. Patricia Larson, D-Ogden, is retiring. "This will be toughest seat of a retiring Democrat for us to hold," Taylor said. But Democrat Lou Shurtliff almost beat Sen. Nathan Tanner, R-South Ogden, four years ago and carried much of the House district back then.
"We have a good candidate in Bill Turner. But this will be a tough one for us to win," said Stokes.
Senate District 18 - Along with a couple of Salt Lake County races, this could be one of the premier legislative showdowns this year, leaders of both parties say.
Tanner, R-South Ogden, is challenged by Edgar Allen, an LDS Church stake president and a physician.
Before Tanner won the seat it belonged to Democrat Winn Richards.
"We pull out all the stops here," Stokes said. "We draw the line. We don't lose this seat.
"You talk about LDS lay leaders running for office, and Eddie is the example. He's my stake president," said Stokes, who lives in the area. "He's a political animal; from an old-guard Democratic family. He's Winn Richards' cousin. We take on Eddie and we beat him."
No Democrat recently has come even close to winning one of the eight House seats - Districts 13-20 - but many of the GOP delegation are among of the most moderate Republicans in the House and Senate.
"In most other places in this country, these (Republican) legislators would be Democrats," said Taylor, who lives in Davis County and is a student of its politics.
Democrat Howard Stoddard may have a shot at unseating Rep. Nora Stephens, R-Sunset. "Howard is the beloved former mayor of West Point," Taylor said.
"Nora does have a race on her hands," Stokes said. "But in the end, she will be all right. In fact, all of the Davis County seats are ours."
Besides Nora Stephens' race, "the rest of Davis County is just very, very hard for us," said Taylor.
Senate District 22 - When Sen. Craig Taylor, R-Kaysville, filed for re-election, Democrats smiled. Their nominee was former 1st Congressional District candidate Greg Sanders, and being well-known, well-financed and running against the Republican who sponsored the prohibition of gay-student clubs, they believed they had a chance.
But Taylor was challenged by GOP attorney Terry Spencer, and Taylor dropped out. "We're safe here," Stokes said. "The Democrats may have had a chance if Taylor had stayed in. But with him out, Terry does just fine."
Not so fast, said the Democrats' Taylor. "I would have rather had Craig to run against. But no one knows Spencer. Greg is well-known."
S.L. County House
Of the 75 seats in the Utah House, 31 are in Salt Lake County. Fifteen seats are held by Democrats, three-fourths of the 20 seats the minority party holds.
So if Democrats hope to gain House seats in the 1998 election they can't afford to lose any here.
Said Taylor succinctly: "We hold all, all of our Salt Lake County seats."
But Republicans have other ideas. They think they can pick up a couple of seats, and will target a half-dozen races.
Districts 22-27 and 31 - The core Salt Lake City districts remain Democratic. Republicans have candidates but little hope.
District 28 - Rep. Afton Brad-shaw, R-Salt Lake City, is the only Republican to hold a district wholly in the city limits. Republicans believe she'll hold on again. Democrats hope not but are realistic.
"This is our seat!" shouts Taylor as he bounces in his chair. "But we can't ever win it!" Democratic candidate Bruce Cohne, an attorney, will work hard, but Bradshaw has proven very tough in this east-side, affluent part of the city, he said.
District 30 - This south-central Salt Lake seat, vacated by Rep. Gene Davis, who is running for the Senate, likely will remain Democratic. But this could turn into a nasty race.
The Democrat is Jackie Biskupski, who lost a City Council race last year. Biskupski would be the first openly gay member of the Legislature.
Already, an anonymous flier has been distributed identifying Bis-kup-ski as gay - she has never denied it, but doesn't make it part of her campaigning - and threatening to publicize those who donate to her campaign.
Holbrook, Taylor and Stokes all condemn the flier.
Stokes repeated an earlier statement that neither GOP candidate Bryan Irving nor the county or state Republican Party will bring up Biskupski's private life. However, he added: "I wouldn't be surprised to see a (separate group) get involved here. All I can predict is you haven't heard the last of this race."
Taylor said Republicans would never go after Biskupski personally, it would be a stupid political move. But he also wouldn't be surprised to see some conservative group attack her. "This is a solid Democratic district (voting 65 percent Democratic), and we should hold it. But who knows what could happen."
District 31 - Rep. Mary Carlson, D-Salt Lake City, has been targeted almost every election by Republicans. This year, Stokes said, they get her.
"I predict a win," he said. The Republican is Verdi White II, a Utah Highway Patrol trooper who is the spokesman for state Public Safety.
"(White) is on TV all the time, all that free publicity," complains Taylor. "Is that fair? But Mary works hard. The people know her, and she'll be OK."
District 34 - Rep. Orville Carnahan, R-Taylorsville, is retiring. "We think we can pick up this seat," said Taylor, adding the district votes Democratic 57 percent of the time.
"Our candidate has to work hard, but we'll hold it," said Stokes.
District 41 - Stokes said simply: "This is our No. 1 legislative priority this year."
Freshman Democrat Patrice Arent may have her sights on high-er office. "We end (Arent's) political career right here, right now," Stokes said. "We pull out all the stops. There will be state party money going into this race."
An attorney who worked for the Legislature and Attorney General Jan Graham, Arent now stays at home with children and works on legislative matters.
Her challenger is Republican Athelia Woolley, a former member of the LDS Church's general Primary board.
Woolley and her husband are wealthy. Arent was well-financed two years ago, and the lack of money shouldn't be an issue for either candidate. This could be the most expensive House race of 1998.
District 42 - Stokes says Republicans will beat freshman Democratic Rep. Perry Buckner in this West Jordan seat.
Buckner, a police officer, introduced a bill that made it a special crime to strike a police officer. And Stokes says organized labor went after him. Labor "wants to be able to take a swing at a cop on a picket line," Stokes said. "Labor hates Buckner."
Not so, Taylor said. "Oh, we talked (to labor leaders) a lot over that bill, which was misunderstood, by the way. Perry has worked hard in the community and he'll be OK."
The Republican is Max Meng. "He's a good candidate," Stokes said. "Anyway, this is a Republican district. We only lost it two years ago because our candidate (former Rep. David Bresnahan) got in trouble for firing his handgun into a canal bank" while pursuing two hit-and-run suspects.
District 44 - Rep. Robert Killpack, R-Murray, is retiring, and Taylor said Democrats could pick this one up. Their candidate is Midvale City Councilman Gary Yen-gich. "This district is actually 54 percent Democratic in its voting patterns," Taylor said. "And we could get it."
The Republican is Chad Bennion, who ran for Murray mayor last year. "We'll hold this seat," Stokes said.
District 48 - Rep. Trisha Beck, D-Sandy, was appointed when Democrat Kurt Oscarson won re-election in 1996 but died of cancer before the 1997 Legislature convened.
"This is really a Republican district," Taylor said. "But we held it 12 years with Kurt. Tris will work hard. She'll be OK."
But Stokes said this is one Salt Lake County seat Republicans could retake this year. Their candidate is Richard Berry, owner of KTALK radio. "We don't know a lot about Richard. I can't say whether owning a conservative talk-radio station will help or hurt him. Right now, this race is a question mark for us."
Others - Taylor and Stokes said other House races in Salt Lake County probably won't see any surprises, with the incumbents winning or the party of retiring incumbents coming through.
S.L. County Senate
Of the eight Senate seats up in the county this year, four are held by Democrats. In addition, Sen. George Mantes, D-Tooele, is retiring, so that seat, which includes Tooele County and some of western Salt Lake County, is open.
District 1 - Both sides agree that Democrat Paula Julander will win this seat, held by retiring Robert Steiner, D-Salt Lake City. Ju-lan-der's real test was in the Salt Lake County Democratic convention, where she defeated former Salt Lake Mayor Ted Wilson.
District 3 - "No doubt, we get it," Stokes said. "Our (Republican) candidate is Fred Jones. He's well-known, a former Murray City Council member."
Leaving the Senate is Democrat Blaze Wharton. Rep. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, is the Democratic nominee. Davis lives at the northern end of the district. "Gene shouldn't have a problem here," Taylor said. The district has a 58 percent Democratic voting history.
District 4 - Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, has had some controversial times the past several years. But Stokes said he'll run strong and win.
"Actually, we have a chance to take this one," Taylor said, even though it is a 60 percent Republican district. Stephenson is president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, a business-funded tax-watchdog group. He has taken on the Utah Education Association, and the UEA would love to get him out of office.
"Howard will be OK. And when he wins, the UEA had better watch out," said Stokes.
District 12 - Sen. Millie Peterson, D-West Valley City, won by only 400 votes four years ago.
"This is an extra Senate seat - No. 3 - we could take from the Democrats," Stokes said. Republican James Leigh "is a community leader and a tough campaigner."
But Taylor said Peterson - and Democrats in general - are better off than they were in 1994, and the recently retired Peterson has the time to work hard and will win, Taylor said.
District 13 - Stokes goes out on a limb here to say Republicans win with former GOP legislator Merrill Nelson trying a political comeback. Nelson is a Grantsville attorney.
The Democratic nominee is Ron Allen, a computer consultant from Stansbury Park.
"This is one of two Senate seats we win from the Democrats this year," Stokes said. "Some may say this is a big surprise. But we don't see it that way."
"Actually, having Merrill run again is good for us," Taylor said. Time and again in the 1990s defeated legislators have run again and been rejected. "I think once a legislator has been rejected, rarely can they come back."
Republicans hold all 12 House seats and all four Senate seats in the county now.
GOP leaders admit they could lose one or two House races in November.
Democrat Taylor said his party could pick up three - seats held by Reps. Chris Fox-Finlinson, who is retiring; Brent Haymond, who was defeated in the GOP county convention; and Glenn Way, who has declared personal bankruptcy and had professional problems.
House District 56 - This is a seat even the Republicans admit they could lose in November. "Believe it or not, yes," Stokes said.
Fox-Finlinson, R-Lehi, is retiring, and the GOP nominee is David Cox. "For some reason, Cox didn't even vote in the GOP primary," Stokes said. His campaign signs said he was not the conservative in the race, "which made some people wonder what was going on," he adds.
The Democrat is George Tripp, a longtime resident and former Lehi mayor, serving from 1983 to 1990. "He's well-known and beloved in the area," Taylor said.
House District 65 - Haymond, a former Springville mayor, didn't campaign much before the county Republican convention and was handily defeated by Matthew Throckmorton. In 1996 Throck-mor-ton ran in the area's state Senate contest as an Independent American Party candidate.
The Democrat is Glenn Bird, who held the seat in the 1980s. "I have a good feeling about this race," Taylor said. Haymond, before his personal finance troubles were reported in the Deseret News, said he was planning a write-in campaign.
Democrats would love that, Republicans hate it, for Haymond and Throckmorton could split the GOP vote giving Bird an opening.
House District 66 - "Glenn Way has self-destructed, and everyone down in Spanish Fork knows it," Taylor said. Way has declared bankruptcy, been cited for doing construction work without a license and has tied himself closely to the county's Republican right wing.
"Our (Democratic) candidate is very good, Joel Bradford, who by the way is a licensed general contractor," said Taylor, taking a swipe at Way's problems.
"We may lose this race, unfortunately," Stokes said. "That's all I can say."
But GOP chairman Bishop said Way will be OK. "Glenn has dealt with his problems up front, has made moral commitments to pay" back his creditors "and will win this thing."
Democrats have only a few bright spots here. For the most part, incumbent Republicans or GOP candidates win, both sides said.
House District 53 - Rep. Dave Ure, R-Kamas, is one of the leaders of the House's conservative caucus. And as the Park City area becomes more and more liberal, Ure's political position less certain.
Holbrook said Democrats already have decided to fund an all-out get-out-the-vote drive in Summit County this fall. "This will be a major state Democratic effort. And it could yield some interesting results," she said.
Ure's Democratic opponent is Greg Miner, and if he doesn't win this year Democrats hope to run him again in 2000. "Sooner or later, we get this seat," Taylor said.
Republicans can read the numbers, too. Stokes said he wouldn't be surprised that come redistricting in 2001, Ure's seat is carved to give him Kamas and other rural areas, not Park City.
But for now, Ure will win, Stokes said.
House District 71 - Rep. Keele Johnson, R-Blanding, was embarrassed and harmed politically after a domestic incident came to light last year. No charges were filed, and Johnson's wife is one of his strongest supporters. He survived a tough GOP primary, partly by getting Navajos to vote for him.
But will those American Indian voters stick with a Republican when faced with a Democratic candidate? "We hope so. But this race is a wild card, and we could lose it," Stokes said.
The Democrat is police officer Robert Valerio. "Bob should be quite a contrast to Keele's problems," Taylor said. "We know Keele's Navajo support will dry up; they always vote Democratic. And we've already decided to do a get-out-the-vote effort on the Navajo Reservation."
Senate District 26 - Rep. Bev Evans, R-Altamont, will likely increase the number of women in the Senate as she tries to win the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Alarik Myrin.
Evans is an easy winner in the district, still dominated by Uinta Basin voters and concerns, say GOP leaders.
Democrats have hopes in Jerry Romero, who before moving to Park City - the western edge of the district - ran and lost a Salt Lake City Council race.
Taylor said it is only a matter of time before a Democrat wins District 26.
"Don't dismiss Romero," Taylor said. The district is changing; more Democratic voters moving into Summit County. "The race is a toss up."