Sometimes intra-party legislative races are about issues. But just as often they are about style and personality.
A few of those differences will play out Saturday in the Salt Lake County Republican Party Convention in the Salt Palace.
There are a number of interesting GOP state House and Senate races where candidates will be voted on by their district delegates.
You can find the races here, at the county convention web site.
One race I find compelling is between incumbent Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, and party worker/officer Austin Linford, as both seek the GOP nomination in the newly-redrawn House District 32.
Christensen is a lawyer/developer known for his stands on the U.S. Constitution and his tendency to eloquently argue any number of issues on the House floor and in committee.
A little political history here:
Christensen first came to the House by winning the seat in 2002. He quickly made a name for himself as a conservative who sprinkled his bill arguments with lessons from the Founding Fathers or other notable leaders, like President Ronald Reagan.
In 2006 Christensen gave up his legislative seat to challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in the 2nd Congressional District.
It was believed at the time Christensen would make a good run against Matheson, but he ended up losing rather badly.
In 2008 Christensen set his sights on getting back in the state House.
He ran for his old Utah House seat, beating the then incumbent Republican Silva Andersen in the county GOP convention. (Andersen returns the favor this year by backing Linford.)
But Christensen then lost a close race to Democrat Trish Beck, who had held the seat previously.
In 2010 Christensen ran again, this time beating Beck and coming back into the state House.
Last fall, Christensen was none to pleased when fellow GOP House members redrew his district to put him in with Rep. Todd Kiser, R-Sandy, who sat on the Redistricting Committee and basically drew himself in with Christensen to avoid combining two other southeastern Salt Lake County incumbent Republicans.
So, it appeared the 2012 GOP race would pit incumbents Kiser and Christensen.
But Kiser in early January decided to retire from the House, saying setbacks in his private insurance firm prevented further legislative service.
Christensen looked like a shoe-in for his GOP nomination until Linford jumped into the race.
(An interesting aside, Linford is a webmaster, among other things, yet the Christensen site appears slicker, and even has a long, well-produced video.)
On the county GOP web site you can find messages posted by each of the 39 candidates in Saturday’s convention, a nice touch and informative to voters.
Linford – and this speaks to the personality dynamics of the internal House GOP District 32 campaign – is subtle when he says one of his main traits is that he listens to people.
Christensen, in his zeal, is known to go on about constitutional principles, wise governing and arcane points of law.
“Ask first. . . . then listen,” says Linford.
But in a third message posting, Linford goes directly at Christensen (who doesn’t mention Linford in his messages or web site.)
Linford writes: “Our parents, teachers, local districts, state department of education, our elected state school board, charter school boards and even private school can find unique solutions to our education challenges.”
““The legislature’s job is to provide funding, not mandate curriculum””....as LaVar Christensen attempted to do in the 2011 session.”
“He actually wanted to develop character and civic education through a commission he chaired bypassing everyone from parents to the elected State School Board. He even wanted to fund it by diverting money from the state school trust lands.”
Christensen indeed has tried to bring more civic education into classrooms, saying on a number of occasions that Utah school children are not adequately taught the genius of the American system of governance, among other issues.
And, in naming his accomplishments, Christensen lists his bill for “civic and character education in our public schools.”
What will be interesting to watch Saturday in the House 32 delegate voting is whether this new crop of delegates – many politicos say this year’s delegates are more moderate and less ideological than the 2010 crop – are willing to throw aside a veteran legislator for a newcomer.
In short, whether they will look to a problem solver – as Linford is portraying himself – over a conservative stalwart, as Christensen has clearly shown himself over the years, sponsoring, among other things, a state constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman.
In the 2010 delegate pool, Christensen likely would be safe from such a challenge.
But is the 2012 District 32 group more moderate, less dogmatic or conservative?
If one of the men can get 60 percent of the District 32 delegate vote, he wins the GOP nomination outright.
If not, the two will advance to a closed June 26 party primary.
In a primary, like almost any incumbent, Christensen would have an advantage.
Campaign finance reports show Christensen has $14,000 in cash as the county convention approaches.
Linford’s state filing appears to be incomplete. He does list raising $4,400, but has no expenses or cash balance.
There could be a fine for not properly filing a pre-convention report, but unlike missing a pre-primary or pre-general election report a candidate’s name is not struck from the voting ballots, says the head of Utah Elections Office, Mark Thomas.