Kael Weston: Utah Democrats need to stand together and reach across the divide

Utah Democrats and our supporters need to put the interests of voters first and appeal to a wider audience beyond Salt Lake County.

(Briana Scroggins | Special to The Tribune) Kael Weston and a Weston team volunteer, Gina Timmerman, talk with Democratic delegate Tom Lewis at Cottonwood High School in Murray, Utah on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

I recently announced my decision not to seek the Utah Democratic Party nomination for the upcoming special election in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District. Many voters are asking me, “Why?”

The biggest reason is that I would rather see Utah’s Democratic bench be built with a forward focus, so that candidates and district delegates are not pulled back into past controversy.

The unprecedented 2022 U.S. Senate race — in which, for the first time, a Democratic candidate (yours truly) was left off the ballot — resulted in serious and ongoing divisions among Utah Democrats. I still receive regular messages urging me to help “clean up” the party, which Democrat stalwarts consider to be a righteous purge of defeatists who had pronounced that “Democrats can’t win in Utah.”

In order for Democrats to be more competitive statewide, the party and our supporters need to put the interests of voters first and appeal to a wider audience well beyond blue-ish Salt Lake County.

Rural Democrats have told me that finding candidates to run in Utah’s least populated and overwhelmingly GOP-run counties has only become harder, just as a high-stakes and divisive Biden v. Trump 2024 rematch looks more and more likely.

Let’s not forget — or repeat – history here by keeping other Democrats from the ballot, which would be a self-defeating cycle that Utah’s omnipresent GOP would celebrate. The people’s business should come first, not fighting between factions. Democrats in Utah, after all, stand for a lot more than just being anti-all-things-Mike Lee.

We have a long tradition — Iron County Dems have been kickin’ since 1852 — and our fast-growing state today needs two healthy political parties, just as our nation does.

Here is a democratically damning statistic: In recent elections across Utah, about one-third of all races went uncontested. That means incumbents, dominated by Republicans, could get by without a single debate, be that in Kane County, Piute, Daggett or in the many places in between. No Election Day competition.

And yet there is a market for political policy debates and a place for Democratic candidates who reflect Utah’s growing diversity — if Democrats are willing to show up in places of real retail politicking, such as at Green River’s Melon Days Festival, Parowan’s 4th of July Parade, the Beaver County Fair, Rotary lunches, rodeos, and summertime neighborhood potluck gatherings.

When I ran as the Democratic nominee in 2020 in CD2, my hardworking team and I put out radio ads across the district’s rural counties in defense of post offices and affordable health care. Fans of Sean Hannity’s radio program in Sevier County did not expect to hear during airtime from a Utah Democrat, but they did.

One MAGA-sounding voter emailed me declaring, “You’re trying to fake us out.” I replied that I’m just a candidate — who happens to be a Democrat — trying to keep your small-town post office open and prevent Utah families from going bankrupt because of unforeseen medical costs. When this rural Utahn eventually replied, he came across less accusatory and agitated but probably did not vote for me. Still, progress.

I’ve spent a lot of time campaigning, and I know Utahns are open to Democrats who prioritize principles and policies that resonate with them.

The compressed special election provides an opportunity for candidates to focus on what matters most to many of our neighbors: housing and growth, infrastructure, women’s rights, health care, public education, good jobs, Social Security, Medicare, equality, public lands, Great Salt Lake, Colorado River, statewide water conservation — that means conceding the Lake Powell Pipeline was always a desert mirage — and more. Utah’s electorate can also handle tough but important topics, such as gun violence.

I look forward to helping the eventual CD2 Democratic nominee make their case to voters, particularly after the Utah Legislature’s extreme and, I believe, unconstitutional gerrymander of Utah’s congressional map that left hundreds of thousands of Utahns feeling further alienated from politics and that their votes don’t matter.

By late November, CD2 voters will have elected a new representative. Let’s make it a good choice. Though I am biased, having a Utah Democrat in Washington, D.C., would be smart politics.

It would show Utahns that Utah Democrats are back. As one former Democratic candidate in Washington County said to others considering a run for office in rural southern Utah, “I learned I could do this.”

We can, and we will, keep at it.

Besides, Utah Republicans need to sweat a lot more.

(Kael Weston)

Kael Weston was the Democratic nominee in Utah’s 2nd Congressional District in 2020.