The five candidates to replace Ben McAdams in the Utah State Senate spoke unabashedly about being liberal and progressive, and vowed to bring those values and policies to the Utah Legislature.
In the end, Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis edged out outgoing Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon for the seat by a vote of 67-61.
Dabakis repeatedly hammered home his intention to make education funding a priority if he won the seat. After his win, Dabakis said the first bill file he would open would be to mandate that education funding keep up with growth every year. “Funding new growth would be the default starting point. There would be no more argument as new growth would be the baseline every year.”
Corroon tried to assuage the fears of the delegates that he “wasn’t liberal enough” to represent the district. That statement would have been completely shocking in any other district in Utah, but it is the price of admission in a district that is a safe home for Utah’s progressives.
That’s a fact that’s not lost on Dabakis. After winning the seat he told the delegates that 9 out of 10 times Corroon would have won, and SD2 is the only place he would have prevailed.
“The Governor still has to sign the paper appointing me to the Senate. I’m not sure he’s going to do it,” he joked in the first few seconds after the win.
Reality is going to come quickly for Dabakis. Republicans on the hill are still angry at him for the way he dealt with them during the fight over HB477 and the redistricting battle. One legislative Republican said a few minutes after learning of the final results that they would be “absolutely shocked if Dabakis got a single bill out of the rules committee.” A harsh assessment, but one that is entirely plausible. They added “67 votes is hardly a mandate.”
Other Republicans are giddy about what they see as an opportunity to use Dabakis’ presence on the hill against the rest of the Democratic party. One member of the Senate said, for all intents and purposes, Dabakis is now the face of the Democratic party in the Legislature. “Why would anyone go to Jen Seelig or Gene Davis for a quote when they know they will get something good from Dabakis? That’s a real problem for them.”
For his part, Dabakis sees his new position as a natural extension of his current duties as the head of the Utah Democrats.
“The word ‘Senator’ before my name gives me a great opportunity to educate people and let them know that most of their values are the values of the Democratic party.”
That may be a problem since the word “progressive” is used as a pejorative in many parts of Utah. Dabakis says he wants to change that.
“You change that perception by not being afraid of that word. You can’t run away from it.”