Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

November 8, 2012
Reports of local Democrats demise could have been greatly exaggerated

Transcript writers take turns writing this column and through fortuitous timing I drew the long straw for the column on the Thursday after the presidential elections of both 2008 and 2012.

Looking at my column from four years ago, “Democrats claim victory as jaws of defeat close down on them,” I recall very distinctly receiving a call from Toby Dillon, Tooele County Democratic Party chairman at the time, accusing me of being anti-Democrat. I think he may have even called me a Republican.

In the 2008 column, I wrote about the Tooele County Democratic Party taking solace in the fact that Obama managed to get 34 percent of the vote in Utah and captured Salt Lake County. These marginal victories, all outside Tooele County, had optimistic local Democrats elated, while my glass-half-empty outlook pointed out that here in Tooele County things were crashing down around the once-dominant party.

Some of those things I mentioned did come true, making my batting percentage perhaps higher than James Carville’s — and I have more hair on my head.

I pointed out that Jim Gowans, an eight-term Democratic legislator from Tooele County, barely squeaked by a political newcomer with less than half the votes cast — and was ripe for defeat. Two years later, Gowans lost his bid for re-election, leaving Sen. Brent Goodfellow of West Valley City as the only Democrat in Tooele County’s legislative delegation.

Two years later, Goodfellow was defeated by a Republican.

In 2008, Democrats still had five elected county officials in office, but I wrote “that too may be coming to an end as a new breed of Republican voters move into the county.”

Today there is one Democrat left standing at the county building: Sheriff Frank Park. Other Democratic elected county officials have either lost to a Republican or switched parties before they could lose.

I chastised the Democrats for being incapable of recruiting a challenger to Colleen Johnson for county commissioner in 2008, and pointed out that their invisible opponent to Ronda Menlove failed to show up for any meet-the-candidate forums or return a questionnaire from the Transcript-Bulletin.

We couldn’t even find a picture of the guy to run in the paper.

However, my prediction that the Democratic Party in Tooele County needed to prepare for a funeral, not a victory party, proved dead wrong.

“While the state and national parties bask in the light of Obama’s victory, our local Democrats have work to do if they are to survive,” I wrote in 2008.

Although Tooele Democrats suffered losses in local elections in the last four years, the party has grown in numbers and strength. They have gone from a caucus attendance four years ago that would barely fill a telephone booth to a standing-room-only crowd in the basement of the Tooele County building.

The party recruited candidates for all of the offices on the local 2012 ballot and the candidates they recruited campaigned hard and were visible and viable.

The Tooele County Democratic Party has even adopted their own county party platform. While a bit vague when it comes to specifics, the platform is a good attempt to define who Tooele County Democrats are in terms of economic development, environment, ethics reforms, education and health care.

They have done their homework and my report of their imminent demise was premature.

David Swan walked his way through House District 21 knocking on doors to get 35 percent of the votes cast and George Young campaigned his way to 33 percent of the votes for county commissioner.

Not bad percentage for a party that had to battle the incumbent advantage and the coattails of a very popular Republican presidential candidate.

You wouldn’t know the Democrats were losers by the tone of their gathering on the night of the election. They held an informal potluck at a beautiful home of one of their party members at the end of Pine Canyon Road. The house was full of Democrats, with more people in attendance than showed up for their caucus meetings four years ago.

They greeted each other like long lost friends, and a roar went up when CNN predicted a victory for Obama nationally.

They talked about the 2014 county elections with positive vigor.

There was no doom, gloom and sadness, but a sense of purpose and excitement.

Tooele County Democrats are not ready to go quickly into that good night, but are raging, raging against the dying of the light.

Oh goodness, now I’m going to get a call from Chris Sloan, Tooele County Republican Party chairman, accusing me of being a Democrat.

Tim Gillie

Staff Writer at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Tim covers education, Tooele City government, business, real estate, politics and the state Legislature. He became a journalist after a long career as an executive with the Boy Scouts of America. Tim is a native of Washington state and a graduate of Central Washington University.

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