LAYTON — Two familiar opponents face off for the second time on June 26 in the Republican primary in a showdown that highlights some of the philosophical differences between conservatives.
State Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, faces a primary challenge from Chris Crowder in a bid to be the GOP nominee for the 16th District seat in the state House of Representatives. The winner will face Democrat Douglas Sill in November.
Handy beat Crowder and three other candidates just over two years ago when Kevin Garn stepped down from his House seat. They face each other again after neither candidate managed to secure a 60 percent vote at the party’s county convention in April.
Crowder claims he is the ultimate underdog in trying to unseat the former Layton City Councilman and said philosophy and money are what separate the two. Handy suggests the big difference between the two comes down to contrasts, especially in regards to experience and a track record in community service.
Crowder, 37, a music and media pastor at the Christian Life Center and Layton Christian Academy, acknowledges he has an affiliation of sorts with the Tea Party, though he does not fit any one label. He has accused Handy of being a fence-sitting Republican and said he is not conservative enough.
“I don’t feel like he has a solid philosophy. …You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything,” Crowder said.
Handy sees himself as someone in touch with his constituency who carefully weighs his decisions on the Hill.
“I would characterize myself as a mainstream conservative. I’m cautious of extremism in any avenue of life. The last thing I heard from people when they elected me is we want to get something done. To go get something done, you work with people who are like-minded,” Handy said.
Some of the differences between the two are highlighted when education is brought up.
Crowder notes Handy voted last session against S.B. 223, which moved recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance from a once-a-week activity in schools to every day. Crowder said he believes the pledge and prayer should be part of every school day, even though he acknowledges it is unlikely prayer will be brought back to public schools. The pledge bill was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert.
Handy doesn’t believe state leaders should be dictating to local educators, any more than the federal government should be dictating to states.
“I think the Legislature has to be extremely careful in legislating policy from Capitol Hill without broad public input from educators and partners. I think we have a tendency to do that.
“That’s exactly the issue with the pledge. Mr. Crowder’s reaction has to do with Capitol Hill telling the district we know what’s best,” Handy said.
“I think there is a tendency in the Legislature to kind of get full of ourselves. We work for the people. Some ideas that come forward haven’t been thoroughly vetted. There are numerous examples. Sex education was one and another was the Pledge of Allegiance. There was no real vetting of that. It has nothing to do with whether or not I’m an Eagle Scout, which I am,” Handy said.
Crowder terms himself a stickler on some principles and details. He claims one of those is taxation and being more accountable for public funds. He says his opponent “reluctantly” supported a tax increase in a 2011 public hearing for the Davis County School District, citing the fact the Legislature didn’t properly fund education.
“He doesn’t stand for no taxes. I’m saying I will not tax people period, end of story. I believe government has to do a better job with what they have. When they stop fraudulently using my money, then come back to me and talk to me about taxes,” Crowder said.
Handy said one of his three objectives in seeking re-election is to strengthen the economy, as well as provide students a world-class education and achieve energy independence. He said he supports lower taxes and has not voted for a tax increase since going to Capitol Hill.
Crowder alleges money will play a role in the election, suggesting it is a David vs. Goliath struggle.
Campaign financial disclosure statements through the latest reporting period show Crowder has raised approximately $2,919.95 thus far while Handy has raised $16,524.
He also alleges Handy has become heavily connected with lobbyists and the political powers that be, including Herbert, who endorsed the Layton Republican.
Handy does not like the Biblical reference characterizing the race Because Goliath was an outlaw. He doesn’t see the election as a contest of good vs. evil, but he said his fundraising ability highlights the divide between the two.
Handy said his ability to work with fellow legislators and people in the community is highlighted by the diversity of his campaign donors, which include State Sens. Jerry Stevenson and Stuart Adams and the Conservative Caucus. He said even his 90-year-old father has donated to his campaign this year.
Handy said his endorsement from Herbert is one of the few the governor has given this campaign season. He said he donated $250 to Herbert’s campaign only after the governor extended his support and there was no swap of money for endorsement.
“I have paid my dues to earn the stature and experience to be in the legislature,” Handy said.
A graduate of Layton High School and Weber State University, Crowder earned a Masters of Public Administration degree from California State University, Domingus Hills. He is the single parent of an 11-year-old girl.
Handy, 61, served eight years on the Layton city council. He is the former chair of the of the Davis County Tourism Tax Advisory Board, is a board member of the American Red Cross of Northern Utah and is president of the United Way of Davis County Leadership Council. He graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English.
A former newspaper executive with the Standard-Examiner and the Deseret News, Handy now owns a small business that offers marketing and public relations services. He and his wife, Holly, are the parents of six children.