One of Utah’s longest-tenured and most colorful political careers will come to an end this year as Salt Lake County Council member Randy Horiuchi plans to announce next week he will not seek re-election.
Horiuchi told me part of his decision is related to health issues. He suffered a minor stroke two years ago, but has remained active on the council and in his business activities.
And staying true to his style throughout his public service for more than two decades, he won’t be going out without stirring the pot a little bit.
When he makes his announcement, the Democrat plans to endorse former council member Jenny Wilson as his successor.
He flirted with the idea of resigning before his term ends so Wilson could be appointed to his seat and run as an incumbent this fall. But he has decided to finish his term to finish several legislative goals.
"I want to get an open-space bond passed, and a flood-control bond," he said. "I want to strengthen emission inspection standards to get more pollution out of the air."
But his endorsement of Wilson could be controversial.
Salt Lake County is one of the few areas in Utah politics where Democrats actually have some clout. And Horiuchi’s nod to the daughter of former Salt Lake City Mayor Ted Wilson could cause a rift among the Democrats on the council during Horiuchi’s final year.
Fellow Democrat Sam Granato, who represents Council District 4, covering the east central part of the county, has indicated an interest in running for Horiuchi’s countywide at-large seat.
It would be an advantage for Granato to leave his seat and take Horiuchi’s spot because that carries a six-year term, while council members representing one of the six districts serve four-year terms.
Granato was elected in 2012 and would have to run again in 2016, compared to keeping the at-large seat until 2020 before defending it in re-election.
Granato and Horiuchi also are longtime personal friends as well as political allies. Granato has generously made his deli restaurants available to Horiuchi for private parties.
But Horiuchi, as he always has, is thinking in terms of Democratic Party viability. Wilson has already proven she can win a county-wide race. She was one of the three at-large council members with Horiuchi and Democrat Jim Bradley during her one term.
And, says Horiuchi, Granato already is on the council. So if he stays where he is and Wilson wins the open seat, the Democrats would have two veterans on the council.
Horiuchi’s four decades in the center of Utah’s political scene have been entertaining, to say the least.
He first ran for Granite School Board seat in 1972, the year he graduated from Cottonwood High School. As a fresh-faced teenager, he sailed through the primary and nearly unseated the long-time incumbent in the general election.
After several years as a lobbyist, he was elected the Democratic state party chairman in 1985. During his tenure as the party head, he became known for his over-the-top press conferences. He once showed up wearing waders, telling reporters he was protecting himself from all the muck being thrown by Republicans. Another time, he brought a kitchen sink to the press conference, explaining to the press that Republicans had thrown everything at Democratic candidates except the kitchen sink.
Another time, after his tenure as state chairman but still toiling as a party activist, he staged a press conference for Congressman Wayne Owens, who was running for the U.S. Senate against Bob Bennett, wearing a HazMat outfit. He explained he was protecting himself against all the pollution from the Bennett Paint Building, owned by the Republican candidate’s family.
After serving two four-year terms on the Salt Lake County Commission, he ran for the Salt Lake County Council following the voter-approved change in government. He will be finishing his 12th year on the council at the end of the year.
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