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Rolly column: Democrats prove their worth in Salt Lake County

Published April 28, 2013 8:19 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah is such a Republican state that it is taken for granted that most major elections are decided in the GOP primary, with the general election just a formality.

The latest example was the 2012 race for attorney general. The Democrat had impeccable credentials and the Republican was already facing questions about whether he was more lobbyist and political fixer than an attorney or administrator.

But none of that mattered. The Republican won in a landslide because he was the GOP's candidate, and he has been mired in allegations of impropriety ever since.

While voting for Republicans is pretty much automatic in Utah, Salt Lake County might serve as a laboratory for the idea that a two-party system really isn't all that bad.

The county is the only place in the state where a Democrat has a plausible chance of winning, and when they have it's worked out rather well.

After the circus-like administration of Republican Mayor Nancy Workman, Democrat Peter Corroon took over, and, by all accounts, the county was run for eight years with little controversy.

Workman's administration was filled with allegations of a pay-to-play system where being a Workman team player was required to get anything out of the county. Her end came when it was revealed she had given a county grant to a Boys and Girls Club, which used the money to hire her daughter.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, a Democrat, was able, in his first term, to solve a number of issues that had divided the various law enforcement agencies for years. Most notable was establishment of the county-wide Unified Police Department.

His predecessor, Republican Aaron Kennard, seemed more interested in belonging to national organizations than the nuts and bolts of the office. Kennard's downfall came after it was revealed that he spent an inordinate amount of his business day golfing at a Utah County country club.

Democratic District Attorney Sim Gill has approached his office in such a professional way that he was praised recently on the right-wing Red Meat Radio program by Sen. Howard Stephenson and Rep. Greg Hughes, both ultra-conservative Republicans from Draper, for upholding constitutional principles.

Gill's predecessor, Republican Lohra Miller, spawned a number of unflattering headlines during her tenure, mostly over contention in her office caused by her leadership style. Her firing of veteran prosecutor Kent Morgan, who had run against her in the Republican primary, resulted in a settlement of his grievances that cost taxpayers $325,000.

The four years of Democrat Jeff Hatch's term in the county auditor's office seemed like a welcome break in the heavy weather that has rattled that office under Republicans elected before and after Hatch's time there.

For over 25 years there was constant tension between Republican County Auditor Craig Sorenson and the Salt Lake County Commission over authority issues, whether his hand-picked assistants were subject to county employment standards, as well as his time spent on the job.

Sorenson's reign ended after he was caught using his county gas card to buy fuel for is personal automobiles, amounting to about $10,000 in theft of services. He was eventually sentenced to 10 days in jail.

Since Hatch, the new Republican auditor, Gregory Hawkins, sued the county over some budgeting and accounting functions that were moved to the mayor's office.

Hawkins hired his former law partner to represent his office in the suit, and the lawyer ended up submitting a bill for several hundred thousand dollars. The auditor's suit was rejected by both the district court and the Utah Supreme Court and, after settlement negotiations, Hawkins' former colleague received just a fraction of his original bill.

So Democratic rule in Salt Lake County has worked out pretty well, though it remains a well-kept secret in the rest of the state.