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Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Paul Thompson, former president of Weber State University and a longtime advocate of higher education, chuckles before he's introduced to a gathering at Bonneville Elementary in Orem.

OREM — Democrats are coming out of the woodwork in Utah County.

A third Utah County resident announced candidacy in January for the Utah Legislature on the Democratic ticket. Paul Thompson, 69, of Orem, threw his hat into the ring Thursday.

Thompson was president of Weber State University for 12 years, ending in 2002. Before that the was dean of Brigham Young

University's Marriott School of Management from 1984 to 1989, then vice president of BYU's University Relations and Development for a year.

"I'd like to see more support for education. Our first priority in Utah should be our children," Thompson said in an interview earlier this week.

Thompson will run against Republican incumbent Lorie Fowlke in District 59.

On Jan. 15, Gwyn Franson, of Highland, a former Highland City councilwoman, announced her candidacy for District 27.

On Jan. 8, Steven Baugh, 62, of Orem, announced his candidacy for District 58. He is the former Alpine School District superintendent and currently an associate professor at BYU.

Richard Davis, chairman of the Utah County Democratic Party, said as many as five more Utah County Democrats plan to announce their candidacy for the Legislature during the next few weeks.

Davis says it's simply a coincidence the three Democratic candidates so far are related to education. Other potential candidates are from diverse backgrounds, he said.

"A number of people feel like the Republican Party has left them and moved more toward the extreme," Davis said. "And they feel they can find a home in the Utah County Democratic Party, which represents a more moderate point of view."

Davis said the Utah County Democratic Party isn't taking a position on a presidential candidate. "We're focusing on local politics," he said.

Quin Monson, assistant professor of political science at BYU, said it won't make much difference in the end who Democrats in Utah County vote for in the presidential election. "They will lose to the Republican on the ballot in Utah." He is also the assistant director for the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.

Monson said he doesn't believe any of the local Democratic candidates will win, but "it's a good long-term strategy" for them to get out there and also to focus on education issues.

Thompson earned a doctorate in business administration from Harvard University in 1969. He recently lived in Boston, serving as an LDS Church mission president.

He said in Massachusetts he was a Republican. "But in Utah County, I'm a Democrat."

Speaking at an announcement event Wednesday afternoon, former state Sen. Karl Snow, of Provo, said Thompson has the ability to reach out to others and solve problems. He is quick to listen, learn and "find solutions that involve the interest of all concerned."

Thompson said he sees the big issues as per-pupil spending, educator salaries and teacher recruitment and retention.

The candidate recalls, during his years as president of WSU, going to the legislature three times a week and requesting funds for higher education. He is keeping an eye on Utah Valley State College, which is going to need funding from the state as it transitions to university status and continues to grow.

"They need better support," Thompson said, as the crowd of about 50 people clapped. "We can do better," he said. "We must do better."

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