McEntee: Utah's land grab prompts Latina to run for Legislature
Cimarron Chacon has many reasons to dive into politics, but one stands out: the Legislature's pursuit of a federal land grab that could cost the state millions in legal fees for a fight Utah can't win.
She is also among six Latinas making their first runs for the Legislature, which is dominated by Anglo Republican men. This is the first of an occasional series on those women.
A Democrat, Chacon is running for Utah House District 75 against two-term incumbent Don Ipson, a St. George Republican who ran unopposed in his first election in 2008.
Chacon has reason to disdain the land grab. She has a bachelor's degree in environmental design/architecture and a master's in landscape architecture. She worked as a range manager in central Utah for the federal Bureau of Land Management, then moved to recreation and tourism planning for a BLM-Utah State Parks project at Yuba Lake. As a landscape architect, she helped develop natural surface trails throughout the state's southeast region.
"I know enough about budgeting and accounting. I understand the recreation economy," Chacon says. "If the land bill were to go forward, it would decimate the economy in southern Utah."
Chacon can back that up. She now runs a St. George company that focuses on event promotion, recreation and ultra-endurance racing events, and understands the unique economics in Utah's Dixie.
Lots of new jobs, she says, grow from public lands. In 2009, she adds, the BLM issued 28 new permits for guides, outfitters and other outdoor businesses, creating $28 million in revenue for Washington County.
In St. George, much of the local focus has been on roads and home construction. Chacon believes the city needs a better bus system and more cycling paths to accommodate the elderly and people who choose to ride bikes, including many Latinos.
She and other activists averted "a disaster," she says, by persuading the Utah Department of Transportation to change safety measures on Highway 18, which rolls through Snow Canyon and is often the setting for bicycle road racing and marathons. For example, UDOT moved rumble strips so they wouldn't interfere with runners and cyclists.
She has other worries, including education, although she notes that English-Spanish dual-immersion classes from preschool through third grade have helped many kids hit their grade level by the third grade.
She would like to see vocational education steer more young people who don't want to go to college into the trades, say, construction or auto repair.
"I keep busy, I keep engaged," Chacon says. "I love the community here."
It's not lost on her, though, that many minorities in her district don't understand the process of voting registering, knowing what districts they're in and who will be on the ballot. Volunteers have been out lately at Latino grocery stores explaining the rules to shoppers.
Voter apathy is a problem, too.
"It took only 19 percent of the population to keep my opponent in office," Chacon says. "I have to convince the other 80 percent to vote for me."
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at email@example.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.