Ogden’s Stacy Bernal launches bid to win District 3 Utah Senate seat
Photo supplied, Stacy Bernal/Brian Nicholson
OGDEN — A race is shaping up for the District 3 seat in the Utah Senate, now held by John Johnson, a North Ogden Republican.
The post isn’t up for grabs until 2024 elections, but Stacy Bernal, a member of the Ogden school board, has announced plans to run for the seat as a Democrat, citing, in part, concerns related to state funding of schools. She also said she wants to be a voice for those who have been “unheard” in the past, for average Utah families.
“I feel like we need a representative who brings a little bit of a different perspective,” said Bernal, who held a kickoff event with friends and supporters on Nov. 10. “I want to uplift our families and our residents.”
Johnson, for his part, said he’ll be running for a second term, though a formal announcement will come later. His reelection focus, he said, will be on his accomplishments during his time in office so far. “One of the messages I have is ‘promises kept,'” he said.
He pointed to efforts by lawmakers to bolster funding for education by some $3 billion, more particularly moves in the last two sessions to fund pay hikes for teachers. “When was the last time we had two historic raises for teachers?” Johnson said.
Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner
Notably, Johnson has targeted diversity, equity and inclusion programs at Utah universities while Bernal, a champion of such initiatives, serves as diversity, equity and inclusion manager for the Utah Jazz, the Salt Lake City basketball team. The diversity, equity and inclusion issue, though, isn’t a part of her platform as a Utah Senate candidate, Bernal said. Johnson said he’s “kind of backed away” from the issue, though it will still likely be a focus for him in the 2024 legislative session.
District 3 is expansive, covering the area north, roughly, of 21st Street in Ogden and extending into North Ogden, Pleasant View and Harrisville. It also covers eastern Weber County, including the Ogden Valley, and parts of Morgan and Summit counties, including Morgan and Coalville, though not Park City.
Johnson maintains that the residents of District 3 lean conservative, like him, while Bernal said she’s looking forward to “meeting them and getting to know them.”
TAX DEBATE SPURS SENATE INTEREST
Bernal said the idea of running for the District 3 seat started taking shape while crafting the Ogden School District budget for the 2023-2024 school year.
The board implemented a $2.42 million property tax hike last August as part of the deliberations to bolster funding for special education programs. Such funding questions, though, should be the domain of state lawmakers, in her view, and that realization led her to seek the Senate seat.
Image supplied, Utah Legislature
“It just pushed me to want to be in the place where I can impact those decisions,” said Bernal, elected to the Ogden school board in 2022. She has an autistic son and thinks special education “tends to be the most underfunded and underresourced of our departments.”
As a conservative lawmaker who has decried what he views as “woke” culture and critical race theory, Johnson, though lauded by some, has come under fire from others on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
Bernal, asked about his political leaning, said only that she wants to represent “the voices that have probably felt unheard for a long time.” Even so, she expressed concern over “the culture wars” that she sees being waged in state politics.
The debate over diversity, equity and inclusion programs, particularly in universities, has simmered — an element, perhaps, of broader cultural battles playing out at varied levels across the country.
Proponents say DEI programming in a university setting helps students of color and those belonging to other marginalized groups feel more comfortable. Foes, though, worry that by focusing on students of color, DEI programming shortchanges other students, serving as a form of reverse discrimination.
During the 2023 legislative session earlier this year, Johnson had proposed doing away with DEI programming at Utah’s public universities. He’s been fine-tuning his views on the issue, though, and said he sees merit in some DEI programs, though he is still uneasy about singling out certain groups for special treatment or attention.
“It’s about providing equal opportunity for all,” Johnson said.