Thursday , March 31, 2016 - 5:09 PM
LAYTON — Several hundred people packed themselves into a Weber State University Davis campus ballroom Wednesday night to visit with, query and assess more than 70 candidates for public office.
The convention-like atmosphere, with voters strolling to and from tables with political hopefuls, “exceeded expectations,” said Carol McNamara, director of the the university’s Walker Institute of Politics and Public Service. About 125 persons RSVP’d to come, but McNamara provided more than 500 table charts as attendees entered the ballroom.
Political candidates welcomed the large crowd, answering questions, with occasional jokes about whether a fire marshal was needed. One area that moved very slowly due to crowd interest were the close-together tables of Republican gubernatorial hopefuls, incumbent Gary Herbert, who had representatives there, and challenger Jonathan Johnson. Others included U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, his likely Democratic challenger Peter Clemens, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, and both Democratic candidates for governor, Vaughn Cook and Mike Weinholtz.
“I’m amazed,” said Angela Urrea, Democratic candidate for Utah’s 29th House district, who said she had talked to five persons from the 29th District, which includes the northern section of Weber County.
“It’s good to see voters engaged,” Urrea said. She cited full Medicaid expansion and support for education as two issues of importance.
The incumbent of the seat Urrea is seeking, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, chatted with visitors, and cited his chairmanship of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee as a key reason he’s running. Agriculture, including water issues, are big issues in his district and he wants to maintain his legislative influence.
A 90-YEAR-OLD POLITICAL JUNKIE
James Johnston of Ogden is 90 years old, and said it’s never too late in life to converse with candidates. He talked with Johnson about using technology to personalize a student’s progress through grades. It’s needed, “so they can give some kind of guidance” to the individual, he said.
Clemens, of North Ogden, had buttons and other campaign memorabilia at his table. He touted a commitment he had reached with Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell to work together on issues relevant to Ogden.
Two candidates for Utah Senate District 19, incumbent Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, and likely Democratic challenger, Deana Froerer, of Huntsville, had tables close to each other. Christensen said that he heard a lot about education and social services from voters.
Froerer, a teacher, describes herself as “passionate about education,” and believes more emphasis on the environment will lead to economic growth in Utah. She says voters are telling her there’s a political imbalance in the Utah Legislature, one she can help correct. “They appreciate a different view,” she said.
Lisa McKenzie, of Layton, admitted this was her first visit to a “meet the candidates” event. She was there because her husband was elected as a Republican delegate. “It’s interesting” to stroll through the convention-like crowd and talk with the candidates, she said.
Sherm Bjerregaard, of Layton, says he’s precinct chairman of his local caucus group. “I’m kind of a moderate conservative,” he said, and enjoyed mixing with candidates, including Reyes and Herbert’s representatives.
THIRD-PARTY CANDIDATES ALSO ON HAND
Long-shot candidates, those representing third parties, or unaffiliated, also campaigned. North Ogden’s Craig Bowden wants to be the Libertarian Party’s nominee for Bishop’s congressional seat. “Try to limit government as much as possible,” is a key theme of his campaign. He cites wiretapping, the Patriot Act, and NSA surveillance as “everyday” examples of intrusions into our personal liberty.
Bowden’s excited about this year’s election, citing a recent poll that showed Gary Johnson, a Libertarian presidential candidate, as having 11 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Chadwick Fairbanks, of Layton, is another “unaffiliated” candidate for Bishop’s House seat. He wore a “Donald Trump for president“ baseball cap and offered pamphlets that warned of excessive government overreach. One of his key issues, he says, is raising awareness of a “shadow government,” which he described as “a government within a government.”
“That’s why I’m running,” he said, adding that Trump understands that issue and his concerns.
The crowds remained heavy through most of the two-hour event. Brad Asay, of Clinton, is one of six candidates running for State School Board District 4. He said he’s excited to help Utah implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, a new education that brings decisions closer to the schools. “We’re the ones who are going to make the (education) decisions,” he said.
Jackie Nielson traveled from Salt Lake City. “People really need to meet the candidates,” she said. But surveying the large crowd, small ballroom and “people jams,” she said a bigger venue is needed next time.
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