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Ex-Utah Democratic Party boss Todd Taylor dies at 46

Published March 7, 2012 7:35 am

Politics • Party says "icon" died comfortably in his sleep at age 46.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Todd Taylor died in his sleep of unknown causes in Senate District 23 and House District 20.

For most people, that would be in Bountiful. But for the former executive director of the Utah State Democratic Party, the Wasatch Front was a collection of districts, voter demographics and campaign fights to be studied, analyzed and deconstructed.

"He was like Rain Man," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said. "He knew everything."

But by early Tuesday morning, everything was gone — leaving the entire Democratic party shocked, depressed and quite lost.

Taylor was 46.

The burly man who had a penchant for suspenders, smoked a little too much and studied to be a chiropractor before becoming the longest-serving Democratic state party executive director in the country was cherished and remembered Tuesday by family, politicos and friends — an overlap of people that largely defined his life.

To read what people are saying about Taylor on Twitter, play through this Storify story:

Joe Taylor, his father and retired lineman and manager at Utah Light and Power, said his son was more pragmatic than he ever could be — but he was having to practice a bit of self-discipline after finding his son in his room at the house they shared.

"I have not allowed myself to face it yet because when I do, I will cry like a baby," he said. "Right now, I just don't accept it."

There were plenty of tears being shed by others, however. Dabakis broke down when he said he instinctively went to Taylor's office with some data before remembering he wasn't there. Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, cried. And House Minority Assistant Rhoda Struhs choked up talking about him.

Meg Holbrook, former Utah State Democratic Party chairwoman, said there wasn't a single Democrat elected to office in the past 20 years for whom some credit didn't belong to Taylor.

"Todd loved challenges and he loved to make a difference," Holbrook said. "He was the best executive director the Democratic Party had in all 50 states and territories."

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said he was also an optimist.

In 2002, after her House seat had been redrawn under a Republican-friendly redistricting effort, she said her only choice was to run for Senate against the incumbent majority leader. She said Taylor laid out the game plan for her to win — including helping her with messaging and targeting voters.

"He just said, 'This is what we can do.'" Arent said. "Then he did it. And he knew how to say it in a way that you believed it, too."

Taylor was known nationally for his political prowess — having been offered jobs in several states to lead Democratic efforts or work for consulting firms. But his father said he loved the challenge in Utah and staying close to his family.

His dad said Taylor was a culinary whiz who loved to grill up steaks ("He taught me if it's not an inch thick, it's not worth doing") and cooked so much, his mother Florence, rarely had to prepare a meal.

Holbrook called him a "renaissance man" who kept up with modern music, could talk about movies (David Lean was a favorite director) and read voraciously.

He also commanded respect among Republicans.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, headed the state GOP for two terms and said he recalled inviting Taylor to speak to Bishop's government class at Box Elder High School.

Taylor made the trip several times and always offered helpful lessons for the students.

"His institutional knowledge, his organizational abilities will be missed by Democrats," Bishop said. "He was one of the really nice people in politics. He's one of those [people] you just liked to talk to and be around."

He didn't start out in politics, however.

Taylor — after seeing two relatives work successfully in the chiropractor business — decided to give it a try himself. He moved to St. Louis to study it and then moved back to Utah and opened his own business.

His father said it wasn't very successful.

But then he hooked up with J. Dell Hollbrook and helped him win the seat as Davis County Commissioner in 1990.

"He was hooked after that," his father said.

Taylor's career rolled on after that, with stints as president of the Association of State Democratic Executive Directors, political director for the state party and arrangements chairman for the Utah delegation to four national party conventions.

In his latest job, Dabakis asked him to work on "a grand vision" for Utah's Democratic Party by focusing less on the "daily grind of being executive director."

Dabakis said he learned a lot from Taylor — though he said nobody could absorb Taylor's almanac of knowledge.

"Todd was very genteel," Dabakis said. "He didn't see politics as a war. He saw it as a battle between different points of view, but always with respect."

Taylor is survived by his father Joe, mother Florence and 42-year-old brother Lamarr. Funeral services will be Monday, but a time and location haven't been determined yet.

Thomas Burr contributed to this report

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero