Jim Dabakis’ next project? A media platform with ‘the stomach’ to dig into Utah government corruption

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Jim Dabakis thanks supporters as election results start to come in during an election night party in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, August 13, 2019. Dabakis finished third, failing to advance to November's general election for the next Salt Lake City mayor.

Jim Dabakis, an outspoken former state senator and Utah Democratic Party chairman, is known for his impassioned and unapologetically liberal politics and the occasional stunt on Capitol Hill.

But according to him, there’s another level that Utahns haven’t seen yet.

“Believe it or not,” he said in an interview with The Tribune, “I’ve always held back a bit during the eight years that I’ve been in public life.”

After falling short in the race to be the next mayor of Salt Lake City, Dabakis says he’s ready to take the next step.

His weekly newsletter, “The Dabakis Report,” has been soliciting donations for an as-yet-undefined expansion. And Dabakis says he hopes to soon launch a new media entity that will give voice to the state’s neglected progressives and confront Utah’s institutional power players.

“I don’t know whether it’s all illegal or just immoral, but the wood foundation of the state Capitol is termite-ridden throughout,” Dabakis said. “I just think there’s a million rocks to be overturned and our Utah mainstream media just doesn’t have the resources or the stomach to actually tell a lot of these stories.”

The “Dabakis Report" newsletters typically include a request for donations to Utah Progressives, a nonprofit advocacy organization for which Dabakis is a board member. But on Sept. 9, the weekly email began teasing a revamp and encouraging readers — Dabakis says 60,000 individuals, “most” of them from Utah, are signed up — to help fund the hiring of additional writers.

“Finally, I am ready to hire some staff writers and investigators! BUT I need your support,” Dabakis wrote. “Imagine what we will uncover in Utah! DONATE. Please.”

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection declined to offer an opinion on Dabakis’ fundraising structure, citing a need for formal documentation of the media entity.

Dabakis said Tuesday that he’s not sure yet what his passion project will be called, or the exact structure that it will take — terms like “newsletter” and “blog” are antiquated, he said — but that he anticipates it being a nonprofit organization and a new communications center in Utah politics that is beholden to no one and nothing but the truth.

“In order to rally the 35[% to] 40% of the people who feel voiceless [in Utah], they need to know what’s really going on,” Dabakis said.

And while Dabakis intends to target the state’s “unified Republican spin,” he said he expects to also annoy elected Democrats.

In describing the project, he offered some sharp criticism of his Democratic Party colleagues, saying they can be “enablers” and that, once elected to the Utah Legislature, they sometimes curl into a ball and exhibit signs of “Stockholm Syndrome.”

“They play along and they get in the Clean Air Caucus and they pretend like the air is getting cleaned up and they’re working with the Republicans,” Dabakis said, “when really, nothing is happening.”

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, and Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, are two of the co-chairpersons of the Clean Air Caucus, which was founded in 2013. In a joint statement to The Tribune, they said the caucus’ efforts coincide with the most successful air quality legislation in the history of the state.

“For former State Senator Dabakis to criticize Democrats who participate in the Clean Air Caucus is frustrating and counterproductive, particularly coming from someone who never passed a clean air bill,” they said. “Also, we cannot recall Sen. Dabakis even attending a Clean Air Caucus meeting. The reality is that Democratic legislators are working alongside our Republican colleagues to pass many important air quality bills and appropriations.”

Asked if the media platform would ever be used to launch a new political candidacy for Dabakis, he said it would not, adding that he is “having the time of my life” since leaving the state Senate and falling short in the mayoral election.

“This is not going to make me popular, believe me,” Dabakis said. “Especially with politicians and the political establishment.”