Kael Weston: Utah needs a healthier political marketplace

The ‘Utah Way’ is not working out for too many Utahns

(Briana Scroggins | Special to The Tribune) U.S. Senate candidate Kael Weston speaks during the Utah Democratic Convention at Cottonwood High School in Murray on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Utah Democratic Party delegates made an important decision Saturday in a crowded, often loud, high school auditorium. In this year’s U.S. Senate race, there will be no Democratic nominee.

This was a weighty debate and unprecedented determination by the 782 delegates who chose this course for our Beehive State. Over 500,000 of our Utah neighbors voted for a Democratic candidate just two years ago — a lot more than could fit into any stadium, let alone room, in Utah.

This is a decision that I accept but do not support.

The convention outcome reflects a deep divide among Utah Democrats. We are a formidable block of voters when united and motivated, around one-third of the state. The Utah Legislature’s recent extreme gerrymander of political maps had already made Democratic voters feel as if their votes do not count. This is especially true in our state’s most diverse neighborhoods.

Campaigning against someone — I believe Mike Lee has the longest political rap sheet in Utah and worthy of a bipartisan posse — is not enough. This election year we should insist that candidates address the issues that matter to Utah families. Voters deserve to hear what candidates are for and how they intend to help improve our lives and futures.

Utah, after all, remains a tale of two states. The so-called “Utah Way” is not welcoming to all our residents. While high-priced skyscraping apartment buildings rise in downtown Salt Lake, many Utah children go hungry and working parents worry about rent. Our public lands are not as well protected as they should be.

There remains much more to be done with water conservation in our country’s second-driest state. It is well past time to admit the desert mirage of a massive water pipeline from a record-low Lake Powell to Washington County.

Until we get to universal health care, too many Utah families will be excluded from the peace of mind that good health and access enables. The rights of women are under attack, as are our teachers. Safeguarding voting and immigration reform remain urgent priorities. And this is only part of the list.

In January, I announced my U.S. Senate run and highlighted a critical bridging issue that no current Utah leader has taken on. The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) expires this summer. There is still time to get the extension passed in Congress, but not much. Utah’s many downwind families are watching and waiting.

Going forward, I urge Becky Edwards and Ally Isom, Lee’s two Republican challengers, to determine who is best positioned to provide a one-on-one referendum for voters in the June 28 GOP primary. I respect both candidates, but it appears Becky Edwards, a moderate, is the leading alternative based on consistent polling data. Each has put in many miles across our state talking about important issues – Edwards on her trademark yellow couch and Isom in her red running shoes.

There is a big difference between the two that has always stood out to me. Ally Isom has said she would vote the same way as Sen. Mike Lee “97% of the time.”

Among hardworking Utah Democrats, I am looking forward to helping many good candidates between now and Election Day – in Cache County, Ogden, Kearns, Cedar City, across southern Utah and elsewhere – and encourage others to do so as well.

A healthier political marketplace and more balance in our fast-growing and diversifying state is going to require action. Let’s organize and make calls. Donate. Knock on doors. Write letters to the editor. And, yes, run for office yourself.

As for this former U.S. Senate candidate with a great team and many committed supporters: I am not bitter. In the months and years ahead, I will continue to work to bridge divides in our Beehive State. There is simply too much still to do on behalf of our neighbors, particularly those who get up early, get home late, then do it all over again.

And there will be more elections.

Kael Weston

Kael Weston was the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for U.S. Senate and the party’s nominee in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in 2020.