Crowd of Democrats jockeys for primary win to replace retiring state Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck

Four Democrats are going into the June 26 primary seeking to win the party nomination for a state House seat in a Salt Lake City Democratic stronghold. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck.

With their eyes on an open seat in House District 24, four Democratic primary candidates met to introduce themselves to Salt Lake City voters and to discuss the issues that they feel are most pressing to their constituents.

At a debate this week at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Darin Mann, Jacquelyn Orton, Igor Limansky and Jen Dailey-Provost each told the filled auditorium why voters should choose them come the June 26 Democratic primary.

Orton cited her experience with dozens of political campaigns and working with high-profile lawmakers on important issues, and said she played a role in getting President Barack Obama to designate the Bears Ears National Monument. “I do it in the Legislature every year,” the widow of former U.S. Rep. Bill Orton said at Tuesday’s debate.

While experience in politics was Orton’s selling point, Mann, a 29-year-old who has been involved with various nonprofit and activist groups, said he would serve as a voice for the underrepresented youth — and that a vote for him would be a break away from the political system. He said the volunteers on his campaign support him because they are “tired of the status quo” and want a candidate who will speak to their issues and “be unrelenting in that endeavor.”

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Igor Limansky speaks in the Environmental Caucus at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention where delegates pick their favorites for county/legislative races, Saturday, April 14, 2018.

When asked about what policies and reforms would give Utah the best educational outcomes, Limansky, who works full-time in Title I schools, said he sees kids come to school without shoes or with empty stomachs. “We need wraparound services in Title I schools to make sure the basic needs of these kids are met,” Limansky said, “so they can be ready to learn.”

Dailey-Provost noted that teaching is “exceptionally hard,” and paused to ask the audience to give a “shoutout” to “everybody in the room who works in the education system. We have to learn to value our teachers,” she said, including paying them more and providing them with comprehensive child care.

(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Dailey-Provost) Jennifer Dailey-Provost is a Democratic candidate for state House District 24

It is about “making doing the job more accessible for teachers,” Dailey-Provost said.

Transitioning to the economy, Mann made the case for a $15 minimum hourly wage in Utah, adding that people making $17 an hour can barely afford housing in Salt Lake City. Mann said workers would benefit from employee stock-ownership plans and cooperatives that would “begin to give employees access to owning the very companies they are working for.”

“That,” Mann said, “is how we are going to empower the working class.”

(Photo courtesy of Darin Mann) Darin Mann is a Democratic candidate for state House District 24.

Orton said she worries that “we are losing our identity as Americans in this country” as a result of a lack of worker rights and empowerment. “And it is not clearer anywhere than right here in Utah,” she said, adding that she would support raising the minimum wage.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jacquelyn Orton speaks in the Environmental Caucus at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention where delegates pick their favorites for county/legislative races, Saturday, April 14, 2018.

But fixing the economy also involves addressing systemic problems, Orton said, including affordable housing, accessible transportation and tax reform. “Even Idaho is passing more progressive tax reform than we are,” she said.

When asked which ballot initiatives she supported, Dailey-Provost said she felt they are all important, including an initiative to legalize medical marijuana, which she described as “critical for pain management” and “one answer of many to solving the opioid crisis in our state.”

Limansky called ballot initiatives a “perfect example of watching the Legislature react to people organizing” and taking issues into their own hands. He said he sees the Better Boundaries initiative that would implement a nonpartisan redistricting committee as the “fundamental, most important” of the ballot initiatives.

“It’s about feeling represented in communities you are a part of,” Limansky said, “and having someone you can look at who can carry your voice.”

House District 24 covers parts of Salt Lake City, including the Avenues and Capitol Hill. The seat opened when incumbent Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck announced in January that she will retire next January, after 10 years in the Legislature.

Dailey-Provost has the endorsement of the outgoing Democratic representative.

“She has always been amazing at mentoring other women to be leaders,” Dailey-Provost said of Chavez-Houck, adding that she personally has been “one of many beneficiaries of that.”

While Dailey-Provost considers the endorsement a “huge honor,” she said that, if nominated and elected, she would be her own leader. Her mentor reminded her: “I have a responsibility not to carry her legacy forward but to create my own,” Dailey-Provost told The Salt Lake Tribune after the debate.

She clarified that she would continue to work in the spirit of Rep. Chavez-Houck, using her influence and mentorship to continue to fight for constituents. “Carrying on her legacy, yes,” she said. “but using the skills that she’s taught me to create one of my own.”