Steve and Gena Alder cheerfully waited in line at an outdoor barbecue station at Mountain West Cider on Salt Lake City’s west side on primary election night. They and dozens of others showed up in support of Jennifer Dailey-Provost, one of four Democrats running to replace retiring Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck in liberal House District 24.
The Alders heard about Dailey-Provost through their daughter, Izzi, a volunteer on the campaign who got to know the candidate by working with her on health policy issues at the University of Utah. “She is someone who is just passionate about doing what is best for our community,” Steve Alder said of the candidate. “And, I think, the sort of person we would love to see in the Legislature.”
Last week, the election canvass confirmed Dailey-Provost as the winner of June’s primary in which she edged out Igor Limansky by 55 votes, with Jacquelyn Orton and Darin Mann trailing further behind. Dailey-Provost now goes into Nov. 6 as the clear front-runner over Republican Scott Rosenbush.
Dailey-Provost, 42, first became politically active in 2009 by attending various committee meetings during the legislative session. A stay-at-home mom who wanted to know more about what was happening in state politics, Dailey-Provost says she became motivated to advocate after seeing Utah’s social services and health programs get “slashed pretty dramatically” after the Great Recession.
“I was really disappointed by what appeared to me to be the priorities of our Legislature,” she said. “So I started to just become active in paying attention to what was going on.”
The next year, Dailey-Provost began working with a nonprofit in a role that, in part, included advocacy on Capitol Hill. She eventually left to join the Utah Academy of Family Physicians, where, as executive director, she currently lobbies for family medicine and primary care.
Through the years, Dailey-Provost became close to Chavez-Houck, whom she considers a mentor and personal friend. She admires the representative for the ways she has “demonstrated a passion and commitment to service.”
It’s a mutual admiration. Chavez-Houck, who will have served 10 years when she leaves in January, acknowledges her friendship with the candidate, but she insists that she approached her endorsement “as a constituent" who believes Dailey-Provost would champion the concerns of those in her district.
“It is not a situation of appointing somebody to take my place,” Chavez-Houck said, “because she will make [the position] her own. … She just has that skill set and those characteristics that I think will represent the district well.”
Chavez-Houck said she likes Dailey-Provost’s expertise in health and human services and adds that she also favors the seat going to another woman. Currently, women make up 19.2 percent of the Utah Legislature and 25.4 percent of all state legislators nationwide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. “We have an opportunity to elect somebody that can address those concerns of gender parity on the Hill,” Chavez-Houck said, “which are very, very important to me — and I think to a lot of people in the state.”
Dailey-Provost hopes, if she wins, to carry on the legacy built by the outgoing incumbent. Her agenda?
It “will be very similar to my past advocacy work; everything that’s health care and public health policy-oriented.” She would also like to tackle immigration reform to “figure out how the state can be more influential in helping families who’ve been torn apart on the Mexican-American border.” And she would push to create a multijurisdictional community solar program to boost solar energy use.
Dailey-Provost said she wouldn’t be intimidated by being one of the few Democrats in Utah’s Republican-controlled Legislature and would work across party lines, as she always has. “I’ve always been a Democrat,” she said. “I’ve always worked on progressive policy, and I’ve always had to do it in a Democratic-minority Legislature.”
"Jen has been an activist for a number of years on issues around health care, and she knows her way around the Legislature," said Alex Cragun, executive director for the Utah Democratic Party. "She knows how to get bills passed."
Cragun added that while, in his opinion, there is “no way of replacing Rebecca Chavez-Houck,” whom he considers “one of the most effective legislators … in the last decade,” he believes Dailey-Provost will be a similarly effective and impactful lawmaker.
“We’re excited to have her as our nominee," Cragun said, “and we look forward to getting her elected in November.”
The district covering Salt Lake City’s west side is a Democratic stronghold, but Dailey-Provost isn’t taking a November victory for granted.
“I have every intention of working harder on this than I’ve worked on anything in my life,” she said, “so that I don’t let anybody down.”
When asked for comment by The Salt Lake Tribune, Republican candidate Scott Rosenbush congratulated Dailey-Provost on winning a "very crowded primary race," and added, "I have the greatest respect for Jen."
Rosenbush, a New Jersey native who served as the mayor of Morris Township for five years, said he is not worried about running in a liberal district. He considers himself a “moderate Republican” with experience reaching out and appealing to unaffiliated voters. “A Republican from New Jersey is unlike a traditional Republican from the state of Utah,” Rosenbush said. “And I think that puts me in a good position to represent the issues that are important to our district.”
More than anything, Dailey-Provost hopes to become a state representative to show her three daughters — ages 13, 11 and 19 months — “how effective women can be in changing the world and making it a better place.”
“She takes this poisiton very seriously,” Chavez-Houck said. “For her, it is not a steppingstone for higher office, in my estimation. She is going to stay focused on what she needs to do … if she is elected.”