President Barack Obama’s verbal support of gay marriage is trickling down, reaching as far as Northern Utah. Both Democratic candidates Ryan Combe and Donna McAleer, who will face off in the primary election this June, are verbal and outspoken supporters of gay marriage. The winner of the intraparty race will face Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, a member of the Tea Party caucus and five-term congressman.
Primary elections for Democrats and Republicans is June 26. Congressional District 1 is the only congressional Democratic primary election; the boundaries of the district extend to the northern end of the state and encompass Park City through Kaysville. For more information about your district or to find a polling location, go to vote.utah.gov.
Although he has always been interested in politics, this is Ryan Combe’s first attempt at an elected position, which is entirely the point, he said. While the approval rating for Congress usually hovers in the single digits, the reelection rate is usually more than 80 percent, and career politicians are one of the biggest issues the country is facing, he said.
“By the time they’ve been elected to city councils, then county councils and the state legislature, then to Congress, they’ve made so many deals, it’s nearly impossible to stay impartial and connected to your average, everyday American,” Combe said. “We need people who have a variety of skills and diverse backgrounds.”
The descendent of Italian immigrants, Combe has hard-work and an entrepreneurial attitudes instilled in his DNA. After attending Snow College and Weber State University, he founded Zenyo LLC, the parent company of Spoon Me and Spoon Me Franchising. As the head of the company, he helped Spoon Me grow from one location to more than 70 around the world. After selling his stake in the company, he founded Counter Culture Consulting, and later became the director of marketing for the Weber State Alumni Association.
“I don’t believe we have a money problem in this country. I think we have a priority problem,” he said.
Instead of focusing on investments that do not have returns, the budget should be used more wisely on issues such as education and health care, he said.
Bishop first entered politics in 1979 when he was elected to the Utah House of Representatives. After serving as Speaker of the House for two years, he ran for Congress in 2003 and has crushed all Democratic opposition on the ballots. In 2010, he was reelected with nearly 70 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent, Morgan Bowen, received less than 30 percent of the vote.
The challenge doesn’t shake Combe, who said he’s excited for a challenge.
“We need someone that looks different than Bishop. We need someone who has a vested interest in making the right decisions because I am going to have to live with the consequences for decades,” he said.
While not making it a campaign issue, Combe voiced his support of gay marriage after Obama’s earlier declaration.
“I support gay marriage,” Combe said. “I’m not going to beat around the bush about rights. I am not going to try and hide or disguise my opinion. I support gay marriage. It’s that simple.”
Acknowledging the view may be somewhat unpopular in a conservative area of Utah, Combe said that focusing on more relevant issues for voters worried about the economy is the only way to win.
“We need someone who isn’t afraid to stand up and say, ‘I’m different.’ We need someone who doesn’t look and act like Rob Bishop,” he said.
Combe has thrown his support behind the Ogden OUTReach Center, a center for queer people, said Marian Edmonds, the Center’s director.
“He has been fantastic with the youth at the Center. I appreciate so much the support he’s given our youth,” she said.
For more information about his campaign and how to volunteer, go to combeforcongress.com.
After graduating West Point, McAleer served in Germany as a platoon leader, company executive officer and deputy public-affairs officer. She left the service to pursue a career in the private sector where she served as the vice president of global logistics for a global electronics test equipment company. She works with orphanages in Cambodia and a local clinic to provide health services to those that can’t afford insurance. In 2002, she nearly qualified for the Olympic Games as a pioneer female bobsled team driver.
Making no qualms about her complete and thorough backing of gay marriage, McAleer said, “I support marriage equality. Period.”
McAleer isn’t just coming out now as a supporter of equal rights after the president’s controversial remarks. She’s been fighting for decades, and saw the military’s anti-gay policy as discriminatory and unacceptable. She is a member of Knights Out, an organization of West Point alumni who support the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender soldiers to openly serve their country.
In a series of articles written for foreignpolicy.com, she iterated her stance against the discriminatory policy which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly. She is also an outspoken advocate for equal treatment of women in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“The military should make decisions based on performance and ability to complete a job, not based on who they go home to or which gender they might be,” she said.
She said she’s seen firsthand the damaging effects of the lack of rights in Utah as she watched a lesbian couple try to adopt a child, and the difficult parting they later had because only one partner was considered the legal guardian by the Utah government.
McAleer has been involved in various charity efforts and plans on using those experiences in Congress.
“I will absolutely be able to beat Rob Bishop,” she said. “We need a candidate and representative that is going to represent and fight for working Utah families.”
Her district extends through Northern Utah and snakes around to Park City, where she lives. Her liberal policies could be a tough sell to voters who have selected conservative Republicans since 1979, when K. Gunn McKay, cousin of the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was elected.
McAleer promises to focus on investments in the future and working for equality for women, gays and all other minorities. While not a Utah native, she’s come to love the outdoors and is a frequent visitor to many of Utah’s stunning natural attractions and preserving access to public lands is one of her top priorities.
For more information about her campaign or how to volunteer, go to dmcaleer.com.