West Jordan ∙ Stone Fonua has run for at least four seats in Utah — once for governor, for the U.S. House of Representatives and as a write-in candidate for Salt Lake County Sheriff, and twice for U.S. Senate, most recently in 2018. He’s campaigned under the Constitution Party, as an independent and as a Republican.
He’s lost every time.
Now, Fonua is running in the Democratic Party for the vacant Salt Lake County mayor’s seat. It’s another bid he likely won’t win, as the county party’s central committee members weigh how best to keep the seat in 2020 and look to fill the position with someone who best reflects their values. But Fonua said he’s not too worried about another defeat.
“This is an opportunity for me to get in there and see how it works,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune in a recent interview. “If they pick me, yeah. If they don’t, I’m still good. Because that’s the way I do things. There’s another road. There’s something for me to do. It’s just not that.”
Fonua, 61, is a retired former police officer and has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He’ll face off against three other candidates in a debate at Jordan High School Thursday evening to replace Rep. Ben McAdams, who resigned as county mayor on Jan. 2 to serve in Congress.
His opponents are County Councilman Arlyn Bradshaw, County Councilwoman and former U.S. Senate candidate Jenny Wilson and Shireen Ghorbani, a communication professional at the University of Utah and a former U.S. House candidate.
After the debate, the party’s central committee will appoint one of the four candidates to fill the seat at a special election at Corner Canyon High School in Draper on Saturday.
While Fonua’s opponents have positioned themselves ahead of that election as progressive Democrats capable of taking on McAdams’ legacy, he’s still using a public Facebook page titled “Conservative Republican,” which he used to campaign for the Senate in 2018. Though he’s not actively using it for this race, the page contains his thoughts on politics and was updated as recently as Monday.
Fonua’s political affiliation sparked some questions from the Young Democrats of Utah at a meet-the-candidate forum on Sunday, he said. But he’s not too worried about how people view him.
“When I went there, they were going, ‘Didn’t you run as a Republican?’” he said, laughing. “I said, ‘This is the way I believe things. I think the best person for the position is the one we should choose. Not the status quo.’”
The Democrats lack any party requirement as a condition for running as a candidate, said Q. Dang, the party’s executive committee chair.
“We don’t make people declare [they are a Democrat]," he said. "We don’t check anything. It’s not a requirement. I would hope that if someone is running in our election that they would consider themselves a Democrat. That’s my hope. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are. Hypothetically, a well-known Republican could say, ‘I want to run under the Democratic Party’s banner.’ OK, that would be weird and that would be something they’d have to explain.”
Ryan LaRe, an undecided member of the central committee, indicated support for an expansive definition of membership that allows people from diverse backgrounds to enter the party.
“However, I think the general interpretation of that practice is to grow the party to people who are — in good faith — still interested in building a working Democratic coalition in Utah,” LaRe said. “I’m not convinced [Fonua] is concerned with that.”
Fonua understands that some central committee members won’t take his candidacy seriously but says he’s running as a way to get his ideas out into the public discourse — primarily one about estate creation, an idea he came up with that he says would decrease poverty and provide opportunity to future generations.
“I believe in making a bigger middle class by bringing up Salt Lake County employees including County Peace Officers and Teachers and all Salt Lake County Agencies and individuals that are working two to three jobs or payday to payday within the Salt Lake County Major’s [sic] reach, and give them peace of mind and financial balance stability and benefits,” he wrote in a Jan. 19 email to central committee members.
He says the major issues facing the county, like homelessness and the affordable housing crisis, would be solved through his estate creation plan and indicated that he would seek to create a pilot program for the project through the county if elected.
As central committee member Ryan Williams weighs his decision ahead of the special election, he said he’s planning to support Ghorbani and is not taking Fonua’s candidacy very seriously. However, he said he did appreciate some elements of the outsider candidate’s pitch.
“I like that he cares about living wages for county workers, and I hope his views push the other candidates toward the ‘increased minimum wage’ position,” Williams said, “but unless he really impressed at the debate, I wouldn’t consider voting for him.”
If Fonua doesn’t win support from the central committee on Saturday, the candidate says he has plenty of other paths. He wants to patent some of his ideas (including one that involves eco-friendly, reusable toilet paper wipes) and wouldn’t rule out running for another office in the future.
“I like to pick the big stuff … just like the Senate and the running of the Senate and Congress and governor,” he said. “If I could do that, running for mayor is nothing, right? It should be easy for me.”