The Seven Dwarfs didn’t get along so well with each other in the Snow White fairytale, but at least they could belt out a good song.
Not so sure the same can be said about the seven Democratic members of the Utah Senate.
Division is probably the nicest term to use; grumpy the catchword.
There have been hard feelings in the minority party in the Senate over the years – which is understandable when one vote may decide who their leaders are.
The new split comes because both Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero and Senate Caucus Manager Ben McAdams, both D-Salt Lake, are running for Salt Lake County mayor this year.
Romero had let it be known for some time that he would seek the office being vacated by Democratic Mayor Peter Corroon.
It was a bit of a surprise, then, when McAdams, a relative newcomer to elected politics, decided to run for the same open seat in 2012.
And hard feelings are bubbling over as Democratic senators are expected to take sides.
The latest complaint is that Romero leaned on Senate Assistant Minority Whip Pat Jones, D-Holladay, to support his county mayor’s campaign in return for Romero saving Jones from having to run for a newly-combined state Senate seat in 2012.
Romero says that’s not the case, but that when he stepped forward during redistricting and offered to give up his seat to run for county mayor, he believed he had the support of the other six senators, and rightly so.
Here’s the background.
In the GOP-controlled legislative redistricting of 2011, the majority Republicans told the minority Senate Democrats about where the GOP/Democratic incumbent lines would be drawn in Salt Lake County, and then told the Democrats it was up to them to squeeze their current seven seats into six seats.
In other words, as Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, put it: “We got to decide which one of our own to eat.”
That could have been really ugly, except that Romero had already let it be known that he wouldn’t be running for the state Senate in 2012 – but would run for Salt Lake County mayor instead.
So, it was politically logical (and the population-shift numbers also worked out) for the Democrats to just combine the Romero and Jones two Senate districts into one eastside district.
“I asked the caucus at the start of redistricting if anyone wouldn’t be seeking re-election; if anyone planned on leaving. I thought that perhaps Pat would retire for various reasons. But she wanted to stay,” Romero says. “They all wanted the chance to serve.”
By giving up his seat, Romero says it was only fair and right that all the Democratic senators would support him in his county race, since he basically made it possible for the remaining six to have their own seats.
Romero and Jones happen to be on the same four-year election cycle. So if they were put into the same district, Jones, who ran an expensive re-election campaign in 2010, would have to mount an equally expensive effort in 2012, since she would need to be elected into the new, combined seat.
Republicans agreed to help -- as part of their redistricting bill it would be written that if two senators elected in 2010 were put in the same district in redistricting, if one of those incumbents filed an official letter with Lt. Gov. Greg Bell by Jan. 3, 2012, saying he or she was NOT running for the Senate in 2012, the other senator could just serve out the remaining two years of his/her original term in the new district and not have to run again in 2012.
Romero said he’d do that for Jones, and did. Jones, appropriately, said thank you.
But, UtahPolicy is told, after McAdams got into the county mayor’s race (and before Romero handed in the “no-run” letter to Bell), Romero wanted a favor in return – Jones would endorse him in the county mayor’s Democratic nomination race, give him some campaign cash and fund raise for him.
When asked if that was true, Jones first told UtahPolicy that she didn’t want to comment on those questions.
She then said she would clarify the issues a bit.
“I’m not really endorsing anyone” in the county mayoral Democratic nomination battle, she said. She will, of course, support the ultimate Democratic nominee.
“Yes, I did give (Romero) $2,000” for his county race. “But I’m sure some money (from her campaign account or personal assets) will go to Ben at some point. I don’t know when or how much.”
“I’m not involved in (Romero’s) campaign (as a fund raiser). This year I will be fund raising for Democratic (state) Senate candidates, that’s where my efforts will be,” said Jones.
Romero said it was his understanding that Jones had endorsed him. In fact, he said, Jones and some other female Democratic legislators are appearing with him at a Jan. 17 campaign fundraiser whose title is “Women for Ross.”
“I guess I need to talk to her about that in private,” said Romero. “She has endorsed me. . . . has made a donation, and is coming to my fundraiser.”
Romero added that he had expected all the Senate Democrats to contribute to his campaign and/or help him with fundraising – it’s just something that political colleagues do for someone who has helped them in a variety of ways.
“I’ve never suggested anything inappropriate,” Romero said. “I thought I was giving all of the Democratic senators an opportunity to serve in the Senate, since I was taking myself out. I asked for their help” in the county mayor’s race and believed he would get it.
McAdams declined to comment for the story except to say that he believes the Senate Democratic caucus will come together in the upcoming session to fight for common goals, like more funding for public education.
In any case, it seems the seven-member Senate Democratic caucus enters the 2012 general session in two weeks with some bad feelings among its members.
As one GOP senator told UtahPolicy: “Sometimes it is the GOP (Senate) caucus that is fighting among itself. But the really dysfunctional group now is the Senate Democrats.”