The next Utah governor will be a Democrat, party boss says
Murray » Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland struck a confident tone Saturday after being re-elected to a second term, predicting a Democrat will win the statehouse in 2010.
"I'm not sure which one it was, but I think our next governor was in this building today," Holland said.
It was a clear reference to Rep. Jim Matheson and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, who spent much of their time at the Utah Democratic Convention at Murray High School tiptoeing around questions of whether they would run for governor in 2010. But neither ruled it out.
"It's a natural thing in politics," said Matheson. "Everyone looks at what the next step is."
Corroon, who received a standing ovation from the delegates, was given a stack of comments from some of the 934 supporters on a "Draft Peter Corroon for Governor in 2010" group set up through Facebook.
"When 900 people say they want you to run for governor, it's good for the ego," Corroon said, but added that it's too early to make decisions about running when Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. still hasn't been confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to China.
Dozens of "Corroon for Governor" buttons, put together by the campaign to draft the mayor, were snatched up.
"He's done such a great job in Salt Lake County," said Misty Fowler, co-founder of the effort to draft Corroon. "He has in Salt Lake County the same kind of numbers that Governor Huntsman has for the state of Utah."
Democrats are hopeful that Huntsman's departure, and his replacement by Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, presents an unexpected chance to claim the governor's office for the first time since Scott Matheson retired in 1985.
"I think Democrats and the voters I talk to who are independent and moderate Republicans still don't know enough" about Herbert, Holland said, "but they're disappointed that he seems to be catering to the far right."
But the Governor's Mansion is just one of the spots the party, which has been in the minority in the state for a quarter of a century, is hopeful of recapturing.
Holland pointed to the Democrats' success in the southeast end of the Salt Lake Valley -- where they gained five legislative seats in 2008, including knocking off House Speaker Greg Curtis -- as an example of the value of having candidates who run again and again, even if they lose. It's a learning and building process that he says they are putting into practice in Utah County and elsewhere.
"When we have these kind of candidates committed to running two or three times, that's where I think we'll win," he said.
And Holland said he thinks voters are concerned about issues important to Democrats -- the economy, health care and education -- more than conservative social issues.
Democrats were also crowing about gains the national party made in the 2008 election, including the victory of President Barack Obama and Democratic gains in both the U.S. House and Senate.
But Jeff Bell, who challenged Holland for party chairman, argued that the current leadership didn't do enough to capitalize on the wave of Democratic excitement in 2008, and as a result the party picked up only two seats. He made the case that they are stuck in the past in terms of spreading the party's message, although Bell suffered an embarrassment when his own video presentation didn't work.
In the end, the party delegates elected Holland with 87 percent of the vote.
The Democratic Convention followed the state Republican annual meeting last week in which longtime political consultant Dave Hansen was elected chairman, and former lawmaker Morgan Philpot vice chairman.
Democratic delegates on Saturday also endorsed a handful of resolutions, including measures supporting President Barack Obama's health care reform efforts and an initiative drive to create an independent panel to re-draw political boundaries after the 2010 Census.
Utah Democrats elected the following individuals as their party leaders for the next two years:
Chairman » Wayne Holland
Vice Chairman » Karen Hale
Secretary » Colt Smith
Treasurer » Kathy Snyder