June 22’s primary was a quiet event. Only a few thousand voters turned out to pick the contenders who will appear on the ballot in this November’s midterm election. Regardless, the day contained several victories — and one crushing defeat — for gay, lesbian and straight ally candidates.
The hotly contested race for Salt Lake County’s Democratic District 1 Council seat, Council Advisor Arlyn Bradshaw defeated community activist Cal Noyce. The race has gone down in Utah history as the first in which all three initial candidates were openly gay (hopeful Mike Fife lost out at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention in April and subsequently endorsed Noyce). Bradshaw, also the former executive director of the Utah Democratic Party, scored nearly 66 percent of the vote.
“We had worked really hard and felt good going into Election Day,” said Bradshaw. “I’ve got to give credit to Cal. I think he’s a great guy and I appreciate the work he’s done for our community as well. To that end, the overall campaign, I think, spoke more to the hard work we put in talking to the issues that voters cared about. I want to express my sincere thanks to the voters of the district who supported me and the volunteers we had” including members of the county’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community who supported or endorsed his bid.
Although the District 1 seat has been traditionally held by a Democrat — so much so that Republican challenger Steve Harmsen has said he probably won’t win — Bradshaw said he isn’t taking anything for granted.
“We are definitely going to work, especially in a year such as this where Democrats might be less motivated to go out because of successes in recent elections,” he said, noting that he hopes to also help other Democrats win seats in the county that are “very critical and up for election this year.”
“The focus of my campaign is going to be not only sharing the message of my own candidacy, but reminding Democrats of how far we’ve come and how much we need their votes to bring balance to the State Legislature and to ensure that Democrats retain the majority in Salt Lake County,” he said.
Perhaps the most contested race in the Salt Lake Valley was that for House District 25’s seat. The position had been vacated earlier this year by openly lesbian Rep. Christine Johnson, who announced that she would not seek reelection this year. Four candidates ran for the party’s nomination this spring, including Johnson’s favorite, activist John Netto. Netto, however, lost out to Joel Briscoe and Anthony Kaye. When the ballots had been cast, Briscoe took home 55 percent of the vote after early poll numbers put attorney Kaye in the lead.
“I don’t like running against other Democrats,” said Briscoe, a retired teacher who helped found a gay-straight alliance at Bountiful High School. Nonetheless, Briscoe said he is looking forward to the final push to November’s election — after he takes some much-needed time off from the campaign trail.
“It will be a lot of face to face time with the voters,” he said of the upcoming months. “[Before the primary] I knocked on a lot of doors, I went to a lot of neighborhoods, but there are some I didn’t quite make it to, and I want to make sure I want get to those.”
But not all gay-friendly candidates were so lucky.
Despite forcing the first primary for Congressional District 2’s seat in incumbent Jim Matheson’s career, challenger Claudia Wright did not send Utah’s only Democratic national Representative packing, as those in the party who had become disenchanted with Matheson’s votes on health care reform and the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act had hoped.
Wright, a retired high school civics teacher who is openly lesbian, received roughly 33 percent of the votes in the blue district, which encompasses Salt Lake County an the Southern Utah counties of Grand and San Juan.
“Considering the money we were up against I definitely think we did quite well,” said Wright, who answered a 2009 Craigslist ad seeking a new Democratic Representative for the district.
While she won’t be moving to Washington, D.C. this fall, Wright said that her involvement in local politics — and with the progressive Democrats who supported her candidacy — is far from over.
“As a group we all decided we want to work within the party and try to influence the direction of the party on the issues,” she said, noting that the coalition she has created includes representatives interested in such issues as labor rights, health care reform, environmental protection, immigration reform, campaign finance reform and gay and transgender rights. “On all of these things we’d like to have more influence with the party.”
In the coming year she hopes to work on a number of hot button issues. First, Wright said that she wants to avoid the passage of controversial law like the one in Arizona, which allow police to ask suspects for citizenship documents. Critics have said that the bill encourages racial profiling. Utah Republicans have discussed the possibility of introducing a similar bill in the 2011 general legislative session.
“It’s going to break down relationships that have taken law enforcement decades to build within the Hispanic community if they have to be immigration officers. It’s going to make their jobs infinitely more difficult, and it’s an inhumane law,” said Wright.
“We want to work with the Hispanic community and try to resolve [immigration reform] in some other way than this Arizona law which is a really bad idea I think. And I think we’re going to take a look at the redistricting issue, as they try to redraw those boundaries [of Utah’s political districts],” she continued. “I think we’ll be putting pressure on those Legislators and trying to get people to realize how unfairly they’re drawn. [We also] want to try and get the party to be more representative of all the Democrats in the state.”
Briscoe is similarly hoping to stand against an Arizona-style immigration law if he is elected.
“When you look at stats in cold light of day they still haven’t explained why we need to give police immigration power,” he said. “I understand these are very unsettling and challenging, times but I’m thinking maybe we should count to 100 or 1,000 before we start making some very ill-thought laws.”
“I think we’re at a crossroads, a tipping point,” he continued. “I think the state and country are in a position to put ourselves off to a very bright, vibrant future or a difficult one depending on the decisions we make right now.”