Being a Democrat in Utah may seem like a lost cause, but with a growing population of liberals and minorities in Salt Lake, the party has been making grounds in this red state. The party is run by a group of elected officials that are chosen by delegates at an event on July 16. This year’s candidates include queer-rights activists and supporters. Here’s a list of the candidates and some of the issues that inspired them to run for office.

Party Chair

Robert Comstock

Why did you decide to run for state office?

For 35 years I have been involved in responding to the members of our community that are disempowered, primarily the homeless and minors in the juvenile corrections system. As a result of this involvement I began to see that many of the best solutions for these people required political action, in addition to advocacy and activism. For 20 years, I have watched the Democratic Party fall short of what I believe we can potentially achieve, notwithstanding the hard work and good intentions of so many. We must grow in sheer numbers if we are to become truly the party “of the People” and we can do this in two ways: Communicate clearly to all potential members that we truly believe that people are more important in our party than money and commit to the principle that we must stop compromising our core values as Democrats.

What issue(s) is the most important that you would like to help change?

Here are my five objectives for evolutionary change within the process of our Party: Decision-making, authority must return to the party delegates. Party leadership (the executive committee) will be facilitators for the delegates, and not gatekeepers of party power. All candidates will be welcome to run for office and receive equal treatment from party leadership. Our number one strategy for fundraising will be raising new Democrats. And finally, return to our Democratic Party core values.

How do you feel about supporting pro-LGBT legislation in Utah?

Our nation was founded as a secular democracy. Therefore, it is blatantly unconstitutional that a particular religious definition of human relationships, including marriage, should have any place in determining legislation in these matters. Such legislation is a violation of the First Amendment. Unalienable human rights are guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.

Jim Dabakis

Why did you decide to run for state office?

When I first thought about running for the Democratic Party’s State Chair position I didn’t think it was something I really was in a position to do, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it was exactly what I needed to do. The Republicans in this state have become so extreme that they have stopped representing even a politically moderate state like Utah. I feel that we have a great opportunity to speak to Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans in Utah who have felt like the Republican Party has stopped representing them. They are ashamed that our state has become a laughing stock with bills that waste time and taxpayer money like the feral cat bill and the state gun bill coming just days after the horrible shooting in Arizona, and the closing of profitable liquor stores to more serious issues like the attempt to make our government more secretive and closed with HB477, the anti-GRAMA legislation.

What issue(s) is the most important that you would like to help change?

This isn’t to denigrate those who have worked before me, but now is a time to take what we have learned in the past and let it help us move forward in the future. Internally, I am dedicated to the idea of growing our “tent.” We are obviously a minority party in this State and the only way we are going to grow is by reaching out to groups that haven’t, in recent history, aligned themselves with the Democratic Party. Although, it should be said that it isn’t that we need to change our message or our beliefs, it is that we need to better communicate our ideals to others throughout the State, and find what solutions our party has to their concerns. We feel strongly that it is our Party that is better, among many things, for our economy, creating jobs, the environment, and seeking a fair and equitable Utah for all of its citizens. These are issues that do resonate with the majority of Utahns and so we need to figure out how to communicate that better so that they understand that Democrats can be a solution to their problems.

How do you feel about supporting pro-LGBT legislation in Utah?

Our legislators have collectively shown that the Democratic Party is the party that truly represents the interests of the LGBT community. They have heralded bills ranging from the anti-discrimination ordinances to adoption laws to anti-bullying legislation. Obviously, I support the legislators who have pushed those bills, as I would the legislators in their efforts to push other bills of import to the Democratic Party such as jobs bills, public education bills, etc… As the State Party Chair, however, it isn’t in my job to be pushing my personal agenda or my own philosophies. I am there to support the Democratic brand and getting more Democrats elected to all offices across the State. Then, if I do my job of getting more Democrats elected then a more equitable and fair Utah will follow, naturally.

Vice Chair

Deb Henry

Why did you decide to run for state office?

I decided to run for Vice-Chair after looking at the field of candidates and realizing there was no one running that I wanted to vote for. I think a friend of mine put it best when he said, “I had the terrifying revelation that I might be my own best hope to save my future.” Furthermore, I believe that one of the best ways to nurture the values of true community and a civilized democracy is to help create an environment that empowers those around me to get involved in their communities. This race is not about me or who I am, it is about helping those around me realize that their participation is vital to the process of bringing about real change in our state and in our country.

What issue(s) is the most important that you would like to help change?

The most important thing I would like to change about the party is that I would like it to be an inviting, diverse and confident group of people. I often feel as if we’re on the defense to attacks instead from within and from without instead of standing strong for our values. We should be spending our time building alliances with all of the incredible groups that are already organized all over the state. The point in leadership is to bring these factions together. I have always had diverse interests and a diverse group of friends so I feel that I would excel in this role.

How do you feel about supporting pro-LGBT legislation in Utah?

I will encourage candidates for office to support pro-LGBT legislation as it is a cornerstone of a civilized society. Civil rights do not belong to any one gender or any pre-determined construct of identity or partnership. No one should be able to tell another what their vision of the pursuit of happiness should look like.

Jim Judd

Why did you decide to run for state office?

After being involved in Utah politics for many years in a number of different roles I have decided to run for party office to elect more Democrats. I believe I can use my experience and knowledge to recruit great candidates and surround them with a support mechanism needed to win. The State Party Chair will need a Vice Chair who can support him by taking an active role in the three most important things a State Party can do, raise money, recruit candidates and win elections. I am running to do just that.

What issue(s) is the most important that you would like to help change?

The Utah Legislature has lost touch with the views of the people they represent. The hard working men and women of Utah need representatives who understand our needs.

How do you feel about supporting pro-LGBT legislation in Utah?

As Democrats it is our moral obligation to stand firmly against bigotry and bias wherever it exists.

Secretary

Bob Henline

Why did you decide to run for state office?

I believe that the Utah Democratic Party is in a unique position, and my experience with grass-roots communication and engagement will help to propel the party into a better position for the 2012 elections and beyond. President Obama succeeded by mobilizing a tremendous group of people long thought to be disenfranchised, we need to recapture that energy and engage more voters in the party and the process.

What issue(s) is the most important that you would like to help change?

Utah needs to be a state that recognizes equality and values diversity in its citizenry. Civil rights and equality for all are the most important issues facing this nation today. By the same token, the party needs to respect diversity and give equal weight to the voice of all of the various elements that comprise this party. It’s not a question of top-down or bottom-up leadership, it’s a question of engaging everyone and respecting everyone’s values, thoughts and ideas equally.

How do you feel about supporting pro-LGBT legislation in Utah?

Quite simply, without equality freedom is impossible. I support any and all legislation to promote or create equality for all, in our communities, state, and nation – including the LGBTQ community.

Paul Pugmire

Why did you decide to run for state office?

I am running because I am committed to Democratic values and to electing Democrats. I have worked to elect a Democratic congressman, then worked in his congressional office; I was assistant to the Democratic leader of a state legislature; I worked for a Democratic governor; I served on a city council; I was the Democratic nominee for Salt Lake County Council; I have worked on dozens of Democratic campaigns and served in numerous positions in the Democratic party. I hope next to focus on advancing the Democratic Party in Utah and on electing Democrats.

What issue(s) is the most important that you would like to help change?

In the role of party secretary, I will bring about more timely and complete communication within our own party structure. I will see that county parties, caucuses, delegates and other interested support groups are kept informed of what is happening at the state party, and will offer myself as a conduit back to the executive committee so its members know what it happening with the support groups. As a party leader generally, I will help refine and focus the message of our Democratic values and see that all candidates have the tools they need to run successfully on these values.

How do you feel about supporting pro-LGBT legislation in Utah?

When I was the Democratic nominee for Salt Lake County Council in 2008, running in the west side District 2, I spoke frequently of my support for domestic partner benefits for county employees, the LGBT issue of the time. For this, and for my commitment to social justice, civil rights and equality, I was honored to be endorsed by Equality Utah. As President of the South Jordan Chamber of Commerce I was successful in achieving Board of Directors passage of a resolution supporting an anti-discrimination ordinance in South Jordan. I will continue to support these and other efforts for civil rights, social justice and equality in Utah.

Megan Ribson

Why did you decide to run for state office?

I have been involved with the Utah Democratic Party for 11 years now. I have previously served as the Chair of the Salt Lake County Democratic Party and Treasurer of the Utah Democratic Party and currently serve as the Chair for the Uintah County Democratic Party. I decided to get involved at the State Party level again because I feel that the party outside of Salt Lake County is being seriously neglected. As a former Chair of the Salt Lake County party, I can say that they are self-sufficient and don’t need the help of the State Party. The other county parties, however, do need the help of the State Party and we must have a true statewide, cohesive party. I have the experience of working in the rural and urban parts of Utah and know what it takes to get this done.

What issue(s) is the most important that you would like to help change?

I truly believe that Democrats can win in every part of the state. But in order to do so, we must start earlier, be smarter, and be strategic. We need to start recruiting candidates now and those candidates need to start running now. With all of the technology available to us, our candidates must be more strategic in their campaigning. Gone are the days of just running a blanket campaign for the entire district. We must specifically target voters with messages that work. I have the experience to help candidates and county parties be successful.

How do you feel about supporting pro-LGBT legislation in Utah?

As a straight ally, I have been active in LGBT politics for a very long time. I was active in the fight against Amendment 3 beginning during the 2004 legislative session (when it was still known as HJR 25) and beyond. I have served as a Political Co-Chair for the Human Rights Campaign Committee of Utah and on the board of the Utah Stonewall Democrats. I believe Utah needs a statewide anti-discrimination law that protects people based upon both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Despite Utah’s conservative nature, I am unabashedly supportive of the freedom to marry. I also pledge to actively recruit openly LGBT candidates and pro-LGBT allies to run for office.

Treasurer

Rob Miller
John Rendell

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About the Author

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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