OGDEN — With Sen. Allen Christensen foregoing a reelection bid, the District 19 Utah Senate seat will be coming open and it’s set up a race between two hopefuls making their first bids for public office.
Democrat Katy Owens of Summit County is facing Republican John Johnson of North Ogden for the seat, which covers portions of northern Ogden, North Ogden, Harrisville and Pleasant View. District 19 also stretches into parts of Summit and Morgan counties.
Johnson, a Utah State University professor and entrepreneur, puts an emphasis on keeping government spending in check. Though he’s been involved in the Republican Party, his political involvement really ratcheted up to a new level earlier this year in connection with the petition drive to force a referendum on a controversial tax overhaul Utah lawmakers approved late last year.
“We need to find innovative ways really to decrease spending and reduce bloat in government,” he said. Johnson helped fund the petition effort, which, as it gained steam, ultimately spurred lawmakers to rescind the tax changes, which would have resulted in an increase on grocery taxes. That’s a particular sore point for the Republican because of the adverse impact it would have on lower-income Utahns.
Owens, a public policy consultant on election policy, is running on a message of increasing representation and responsiveness by lawmakers to constituents.
“I’d like to be a voice for the people. I’d like to see more representation, more responsiveness to the voice and will of Utahns,” she said. She pointed with dismay to legislative action to change or slow implementation of ballot measures approved by voters in 2018, including Proposition 3, to expand Medicaid, and Proposition 2, legalizing medical marijuana.
Like Johnson, she also pointed to the tax overhaul approved last year by Utah lawmakers. She also opposed it and gathered signatures on petitions against it. “They held public hearings but didn’t actually seem to be hearing what the people were saying,” Owens said.
‘MORE LEADERSHIP’ ON COVID-19In policy areas, Owens puts a big focus on education.
“It’s been chronically underfunded, unfortunately, in Utah,” she said. Moreover, she went on, she’d like teachers “valued for the work they do.”
Healthy people make for a health economy, she said, referencing the COVID-19 pandemic, and she calls for “more leadership” from state officials in dealing with it. Local communities, she maintains, need more leeway in dealing with the situation.
In dealing with COVID-19, Johnson calls for action that keeps people safe while keeping the economy open. Whether to mandate mask use should be a local decision and closing businesses goes too far, he thinks.
Johnson also calls for less vitriol in political discourse. “We need to quit finger-pointing and fighting. We need to sit down together and find points of parity,” he said.
He draws inspiration from President Ronald Reagan and touts a vision “of limited government.” Related to that, he worries about socialism gaining popularity among younger people. “I think we need to be better in showing them examples of how America became one of the strongest economies in the world, and that wasn’t by having more and more government,” he said.
Likewise, he touts lower taxes, lower regulation and a reduction in excessive government programs as a means to spur economic prosperity.
Johnson co-founded a real estate tech company “that helped revolutionize the mortgage process,” aiding in appraisals. It later sold for nearly $500 million.