A Grand County Republican candidate mounting a challenge to Utah House District 70 incumbent Cark Albrecht doesn’t have the support of local leaders in her own party.
That’s because, those leaders say, candidate Ashley Korenblat isn’t a true Republican.
“Interesting thing happened yesterday,” wrote Grand County Republican Party Chairman Jeramy Day in a post on the party’s Facebook page on March 16, the day after the deadline for candidate filings. “Ashley Korenblat, a long time progressive Democrat and environmental recreationist of Moab decided that the best way for her particular brand of politics to have influence at the Utah State Capitol was to register as a Republican and make a run at the well-respected incumbent Carl Albrecht of District 70.”
The post ended with a transparently sarcastic, “Good luck with that.”
Korenblat, however, perhaps admittedly not as conservative as many Republicans in Utah, says she is running from the center of the political spectrum.
“I feel like everything has gotten so polarized,” Korenblat said Tuesday. “We need somebody who can work from the middle.”
Korenblat said Day was wrong: she has never been a Democrat. “No. I was unaffiliated,” she said, up until the time she registered with the Republican Party in order to run for the Utah Legislature.
“I got encouragement to run as a Republican, from a lot of people, on both sides of the aisle,” she said.
And though local Republicans found and posted photos of Korenblat with both Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s, Korenblat said that’s because, as an Arkansas native, the Clintons had been family friends.
“Over the years, I’ve worked on committees for both Democrats and Republicans,” she said. “I’ve worked with a lot of different folks,” and she mentions photos that could also be found of her with Gov. Gary Herbert, Rep. Rob Bishop or Sen. Orrin Hatch. “I’ve worked with a lot of different folks."
She acknowledged that much of the reason she chose to run as a Republican is because that is where “influence in Utah really lies.” And she says, “Right now I want to focus on the economy, and that’s more associated with the Republican Party.”
Korenblat’s main issue is public lands and how they are used, but she departs from a traditionally conservative view on the matter — and admits as much.
“Tourism, energy and jobs are good, but we need more balance in the community,” she said.
Korenblat works for a non-profit organization, Public Lands Solutions, which she says helps match certain public-lands areas with specific land uses. She’s an advocate of public lands remaining in “public hands,” and as such differs with conservative Utahns who traditionally want the federal government out of the land ownership business.
She doesn’t like the fact that Utah spends a lot of money — she cites a $14-million figure — on consultants and attorneys to fight the federal government on public-lands issues. “We could do an awful lot in rural Utah with that $14 million.”
She sees public lands as an economic-development tool, and not just from the perspectives of tourism and energy extraction.
In Moab and Grand County, she says, “We’re crushing it on the tourism piece. I think that is great. But I also see the limitations of the tourism industry.”
She would like to see the state lead the way on attracting companies precisely because of all the public-land access in the state.
She points to two companies — Chobani Yogurt and Cliff Energy Bars — who both located to Twin Falls, Idaho. “They chose Twin Falls because of their outdoors access,” she said. Communities in surrounding states that used to be totally dependent on tourism or energy are finding other ways to use their pubic lands as an economic resource. She doesn’t want Utah to get left behind — which would mean staying behind.
“No one’s really talking about this at the [Utah] State Legislature.”
But Day says he’ll be quite surprised if she makes it to Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City.
Day says Korenblat is using the provisions of SB 54, the Utah law that allows candidates to get onto primary election ballots by gathering signatures rather than through the caucus-convention system. The signature-gathering route is the one Korenblat said she is taking.
On Tuesday, the U.S. 10th Circuit of Appeals rejected the Utah Republican Party’s legal fight against SB 54, and upheld the law in a 2-1 vote. The state party has several days to decide whether or not to appeal the case either to a full 10th District panel or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the meantime, though, “Will the Grand County GOP oppose Ashley Korenblat?” Day asked The Times-Independent Tuesday. “Let me put it to you this way: We won’t support her. We won’t support the underhanded attempt to game the system just to further an individual’s agenda. I would not support anyone in doing that.”
Day said Korenblat doesn’t hold views consistent with the Republican platforms on the county or state level.
“Is she for the Second Amendment? Is she for limited government? Is she pro-life?” Day asked. “These are reality checks. I get that the system allows her to register as a Republican, and I get the system allows her to run. But the system doesn’t tell me, and it doesn’t tell the GOP, that they have to support someone just because they have an ‘R’ by their name.”
Korenblat identifies Ronald Reagan and former Congressman Jason Chaffetz as people who started out as Democrats (or progressives or liberals) but became perfectly respectable Republicans.
Day, however, said, “I think she’s a smart person. I think she’s a nice person. But I don’t agree with Ashley on enough things to want her to represent me. And Ashley hasn’t shown me through her actions that she believes in the same things as what the Utah Republican Party and the Grand County Republican Party represent."
“If she took a political analysis test, and she was honest about it, I highly doubt it would come out as Republican.”
“The Republican Party is not just conservative,” she said. “Both parties have to include people with diverse views ... Moab needs more balance. All of rural Utah needs more balance.”
Korenblat must gather 1,000 signatures of registered voters in District 70 by April 9 in order to avoid a state convention fight and make it onto June’s primary ballot.
In addition to Albrecht, Grand County Democratic Party Vice Chair Robert Greenberg is running in District 70.