That’s the very real question facing those delegates who will vote on Ben McAdams’ replacement this coming Saturday. Democratic party chairman Jim Dabakis is certainly among the favorites to win appointment to the Senate District 2 opening.
Some are wondering if it’s proper for Dabakis to even be in the race given his role with the party. Dabaks says he doesn’t see a conflict.
“I would find it hard to believe there’s a great deal of concern within the party about my running for the seat,” says Dabakis. “This isn’t about my position within the party, it’s about who can do the job best for the people of that district.”
One of Dabakis’ biggest critics is Republican Senator Todd Weiler. Weiler was the chairman of the Davis County Republican Party from 2003 to 2007 and served as the Vice-chair of the state party from 2007 to 2009. He says the role of a party chairman is to build the stage for their candidates to shine. Now that Dabakis wants a part of that spotlight, it’s a problem.
“It’s inappropriate and offends me to my very core. How would you feel if you were the other candidates with a party chairman asking you to get out of the way? The party is to provide a level playing ground for the members to participate in the process. Who do the candidates go to if they feel things aren’t fair? Certainly not Dabakis in this case. Who’s the neutral arbiter?”
The logical answer would be the Salt Lake County Democratic Party. After all, they are the ones running the election, not the state party. Weiler says that’s poppycock.
“Not one square inch of the legislature is represented by a Democrat outside of Salt Lake County,” Weiler says mockingly. “The Salt Lake County Democratic Party is the defacto Democratic Party in this state.”
Jenny Wilson, who is also running to replace McAdams in the Senate, has nothing but praise for the job Dabakis has done as party chair, going so far as to say he’s done an “A+” job in that role. But, she does have some misgivings about what it would mean for the Democratic party if he were to win the election.
“If my best friend were party chair and wanted to do this, I’d tell them that the roles are impacted in a negative way by doing both. How can you throw a grenade into the room - which you should do as party chair - then walk out, turn around and walk back in to sit down at the negotiating table?”
Wilson also says it would be hard for Dabakis to maintain his focus by serving two masters.
“I don’t know why we would divide his time and create a problem by doing this. If you look at the caliber of candidates in the race, you are going to have a good person up there no matter who wins. Why not keep Jim at the party where he’s doing a great job and have someone else on the Hill work as his partner?”
That thought is echoed by Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, another top contender to replace McAdams.
“I think Jim Dabakis is doing a great job as Democratic Party Chairman and he should keep at it,” says Corroon. “It will be difficult for him to try to be a party chair and Senator, and will create time and fundraising conflicts.”
More than a few Legislative Republicans and Democrats tell me that if Dabakis were to throw bombs and bombast as a member of the Senate, it could lead to repercussions against the rest of the caucus in both the House and Senate - possibly endangering the survival of Democratic bills and could lead to less discretionary funding for the minority party.
Dabakis seems aware of that.
“My job is not to go up there and yell and shout. We only have 5 out of 29 seats (in the Senate). Our ability to control the legislative agenda does not exist. I’m not Rocky Anderson. This is not a personal thing for me. I like Gary Herbert. I have known a lot of these legislators for years. There’s nothing personal and there won’t be. I just feel the people who live in the 2nd Senate District are true progressives in Utah and deserve to have their voices heard.”
If he wins, Dabakis will have to quickly learn another skill - that of a political acrobat. It would be the only hope of successfully walking the tightrope between the world of compromise in the Legislature and partisan leader with the Democratic Party.
“We set no special value on the possession of a virtue until we perceive that it is entirely lacking in our adversary.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche