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Dabakis: Utah Democrats nearly persuaded top LDS leader to run

Published March 28, 2014 1:50 pm

Politics • He says such a candidacy may be needed for Dems to regain power in Utah.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Jim Dabakis says he knows what it may take for the Democratic Party to become a true power again in Utah.

"One of the things it would take is a great LDS candidate," like maybe a former LDS general authority — which the party almost pulled off two years ago," said Dabakis, who stepped down this week as chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.

He told Trib Talk on Thursday, "We came very close to getting Marlin Jensen to run. He had just retired as LDS Church historian" in 2012, was a member of the LDS First Quorum of the Seventy and is now an emeritus general authority.

"He is a moderate and reasonable man," Dabakis said.

More important for Democrats, he said, Jensen is someone who could help the party overcome what he jokes many Mormons believe is a "14th Article of Faith" — beyond the church's real 13 Articles of Faith — "Thou shalt be a Republican."

"A great LDS leader like a Marlin Jensen to be on top of our ticket," he said, "would allow LDS people to actually open a door and have a clear look at the practicality and good that would come in having a state that had a two-party system."

Dabakis appeared on Trib Talk to discuss his three years as Democratic chairman, his decision to step down — but at the same time still seek re-election as a state senator from Salt Lake City.

He said he sought to attract more Mormons to the party — and is proud of dialogue with high-level church officials and the faith's statements of political neutrality, but is disappointed that it never "penetrated enough into the rank and file of LDS wards."

Dabakis said, "If you ask most people blindly, 'What do you think about health care? What do you think about the poor? What do you think about protecting the stewardship of our lands? About education?' As you take those issues exclusive of ideology and party labels, they score off the charts for where Utah Democrats are."

Dabakis said problems with attracting Mormons, combined with what he asserts is gerrymandering by the GOP-controlled Legislature, have made it difficult to persuade Democrats even to run for many seats. Democrats failed to field candidates in 12 of the 89 legislative seats that are up for grabs this year.

"Utah Democrats in the Legislature get almost 39 percent of the votes," he said, "but we only get 19 percent of the seats. This is an astonishing fact. Vladimir Putin … would be pleased with that. It is such a serious manipulation of our electoral system" from gerrymandering.

Dabakis said he decided to step down because of health reasons, but declined to be more specific, saying doctors are still performing tests before giving him a precise diagnosis. He said he chose to step down from party chairman because it is a high-pressure, 24-hour-a-day job.

He chose to still seek re-election as a state senator, joking that it is a relatively "cool, calm reasoned job." Although he is outspoken, he said the change may allow him to be even more blunt without worrying about harming the interests of Democrats around the state.