Utah’s newly elected representative from the 3rd District will soon head to Washington to be quickly sworn in to a Congress facing tumultuous times brought on by sharp partisan divide. Congratulations to John Curtis, who has pledged to serve honorably and place Utah interests first.
There was tumult in municipal races in Utah cities and towns during an off-year election in which a modest voter turnout resulted in substantial leadership changes. In Sandy, West Jordan, Taylorsville and Riverton, incumbent mayors were turned out of office. In Provo, voters chose local school board member Michelle Kaufusi to replace Curtis. And voters in four school districts approved more than $600 million in school bond issues.
In short, much was decided by voters. In the congressional district vacated by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a little more than 100,000 people cast ballots, compared with the 285,000 who voted in that district race last year. Turnout was about 37 percent in Salt Lake County and 30 percent in Utah County, numbers much lower than we would like to see, but not particularly surprising in that it was an off-year election with no statewide races in contest.
The congressional race drew national attention, partly because of Chaffetz’s high profile and partly because there is high interest in whether voting in various districts might forecast trends that could impact the 2018 midterm elections, in which control of Congress may be at stake. In gubernatorial races in other states, pundits are weighing in on whether those races might serve as validation or repudiation of the actions and policies of the Trump administration. That was not the case in Utah, where the Republican congressional nominee quickly grabbed a large lead in the polls, despite facing credible opposition. Democrat Kathie Allen ran a focused and intelligent campaign, and Jim Bennett, the first candidate of a fledgling new third party, contributed valuable contrast in the debate over the nation’s current direction.
Curtis, who once served in a Democratic leadership role, has pledged to work across party lines. The new lawmaker will soon find himself immersed in politically charged debates over tax reform, health care policy and other high-impact matters roiling in Congress.
There was clear voter support for public education in the approval of large bond issues in four districts. The money will be used to rebuild or renovate at least five high schools and more than a dozen middle schools and elementary schools. Polling has consistently shown that quality of education is a high civic priority for a majority of Utahns — something clearly validated by the Tuesday balloting.
The results of the election will have large impacts on many communities, even though only one out of three registered voters decided to take the trip to the ballot box. Given the acutely combative nature of our current political discourse, and the high stakes of many public policy decisions locally and nationally, we would hope that all of those qualified to vote are motivated to make their voices heard whenever the doors to the polling places are open.