With the politics of Grand County being decidedly non-partisan in local elections — at least for the time being — the local Republican and Democratic parties held their election-year caucuses in Moab on Tuesday, March 20 to decide on a slate of delegates to their respective party conventions and to elect captains and secretaries for the 11 precincts used in the November election.
Grand County Republican Party
The Grand County Republican Party held its caucus meeting to a packed house at Grand Center on Tuesday night, with presentations by party chairman Jeramy Day, former Grand County Council Member Lynn Jackson, and Grand County Council candidates Brian Ballard and Natalie McDowell.
“We meet at caucus to introduce some candidates that we support because we don’t have a county convention here, it’s non-partisan politics in Grand County right now,” Day said. “Hopefully, that will change in the future … but for now we do it this way. Everyone here will break into neighborhood precinct groups and elect their fellow citizens. It’s the democratic process at its finest.”
After a discussion of the duties potential delegates and precinct captains would face if elected, Jackson took the stage to tell the audience about the party’s battle to change the form of government in Grand County back to a three-member commission, rather than the current seven-member council system.
According to Jackson, he led the way in filing a petition to challenge the current council system on March 15, just minutes after Gov. Gary Herbert signed House Bill 224 into law. That piece of legislation allows Utah counties to change their form of government at the council or commission level.
“The council form of government in Grand County is going to be changed,” Jackson told the audience. “The [legislature] finally decided this goofy little system we have in Grand County is no longer acceptable. There will be partisan politics, there will be no recall provision, and there will be no term limits so, if you are a county commissioner and you are doing a good job, you can stay as long as you want.”
Under the new system a variety of governmental forms could be implemented. The county could move to a three-member county commission with legislative and executive powers (which is the form of government in most rural Utah counties), or an expanded commission with between five and seven members. Grand County could also shift to a county council with an elected executive, or a council with a county manager that would be hired by the body.
Meanwhile, the Grand County Council unanimously tabled a proposed resolution on the matter Tuesday evening at its regular meeting.
Day added that a move away from the current system in place in Grand County has its origins in a movement called “community-run” government, as he puts it, in the 1990s.
“The reality of why we are doing this is that you don’t get very strong candidates without a partisan, convention-style system on either side,” Day said. “You’ll get better candidates through a caucus system when you have county delegates who choose who gets to run, in essence who gets the rubber stamp of the Republican Party. If we get partisan politics back we will be able to have those stronger candidates who will be stronger leaders. With the current system we have seen more than 25 years of ineptitude here in Moab and Grand County. We have failing infrastructure, a housing crisis and leaders who can’t make hard decisions. This is what happens when any Tom, Dick or Harry from somewhere in the county can run.”
Grand County Democratic Party
While the Republicans gathered at Grand Center, Grand County Democrats held their caucus at the Moab Valley Inn. As the party nominated officers, leaders of the party spoke with concern about H.B. 224 and how it will affect Grand County’s traditionally non-partisan government.
“I am very concerned about the sneak attack on Grand County’s form of government by the Republican Party,” Party Chair Kevin Walker expressed. “It will concentrate more power in the hands of the parties, which I do not think is a good thing.”
According to Vice Chair Robert Greenberg, the county’s non-traditional form of government has allowed the council to become a more accurately representative body of the county’s citizens.
“Over the last four years we have seen the Grand County government look more like Grand County. And that’s very gratifying and long overdue,” Greenberg said. “It used to be that local government was dominated by the most conservative elements of the community, and that’s no longer the case. Now it more nearly looks like who we really are, which is a broad spectrum of people.”
Walker and Greenberg argue that to do away with the non-partisan politics would hinder the ability of citizens to effectively participate in their local government, giving more power to the national political machine’s two-party system.
“It probably gives both the Democratic and Republican parties a little more power, because we get to say who is on the ballot, and I don’t think that’s good. I think the voters should decide. I like the current system, which is non-partisan,” Walker explained. “The Grand County Democratic Party has always supported the form of government here, which is popular, and we’re happy to work with not just Democrats, but also unaffiliated voters, and we think that’s what most people want here.” Greenberg spoke of the importance of accessibility and openness in his involvement in local politics, saying, “I remember myself thinking ‘gee, I don’t look like any of those guys.’ My life experience was very different.” He continued, “We are reaching out to more and more people. We think that as people agree to serve, that creates an atmosphere where more people are willing to serve because they see people like themselves running for office.”
“I think we elected a good central committee and some good delegates, so I’m happy,” Walker said of the outcome. Greenberg added, “It’s great to see people who have been involved in politics for a long time and people who are just getting involved.”
With county council elections coming up, Walker and Greenberg spoke of what the party will focus on in their platforms.
“There’s been really explosive growth regarding tourism in town, and a lot of people are upset by that. Our candidates are proposing practical solutions. The Republicans seem like they just don’t want to interfere, and that hasn’t been working for us downtown,” Walker said. “I think we need to be more proactive to keep Moab a more livable place.” Greenberg echoed this, saying, “Moab and Grand County are kind of at a crux in terms of our development. A lot of people feel overwhelmed by our success in the tourist business. We need people who are equipped to find solutions to the problems that are appearing and are created by our success. That means expanding our base and the people who are willing to serve.”