OGDEN — The winner in the race for the District 7 Utah House seat won’t be a stranger to the post.
The two hopefuls, Republican Ryan Wilcox and Democrat Grant Protzman, have each held the post previously. That said, whoever wins will be a relative newcomer — Rep. Kyle Andersen, the Republican incumbent, is foregoing a reelection bid after just one term.
Wilcox, who held the District 7 seat from 2009-2014, got in the race after being approached by constituents about running again after news emerged that Andersen wouldn’t seek reelection. Also figuring, other GOPers Wilcox thought might seek the post ultimately bowed out.
One of his big messages is about the import of listening and getting ideas from the public. The most important legislation he helped craft while in the Utah House, he said, came from constituents.
“The theme of my campaign has always been representation that listens,” said Wilcox, who lives in Ogden and stepped down as chairperson of the Weber County Republican Party to vie for the post. Representatives should have “an ongoing conversation” with the people they represent.
Protzman, who served five terms in the post, from 1987 through 1996, is full of passion on a range of subjects — education, traffic control, prison recidivism and more. He’s been serving on community boards and in appointed posts and now he’s ready to jump back into electoral politics. “After 20 years, the pump is primed and I want to take on some fundamental issues that need to be taken on in the state,” said Protzman, who lives in North Ogden.
As a Democratic lawmaker in a Republican-majority state, Protzman said he knows how to work across the aisle, and that underscores his approach. He sees himself “as a problem-solver, bringing people together to address these issues in an objective, rational, nonpartisan manner,” he said.
Andersen, who’s from North Ogden, decided against seeking reelection to deal with the aftermath of a scam, unrelated to his duties as lawmaker, that resulted in the loss of a sizable portion of his family’s savings. District 7 encompasses much of North Ogden and Pleasant View and northern Ogden.
EDUCATION, TAX POLICY, ECONOMYAmong his key accomplishments in his earlier stint in the Utah House, said Protzman, was guiding legislation creating the Utah Department of Workforce Services, approved in 1996. The new department was tasked with handling oversight of 29 programs that had been scattered in seven other departments.
“It was better service at a lower cost,” saving, at least preliminarily, $28 million a year, he said. “To me, that’s the sort of thing I like to do.”
Now, Protzman points to what he says is the 90% prison recidivism rate in the state, one of the worst figures in the country. “The whole corrections system needs to be looked at — 90% recidivism is ridiculous,” he said.
The focus on standardized testing in schools, too, is a big concern. Focusing on test results, he maintains, doesn’t necessarily prepare students for the real world. “Why is the measure of success in our K-12 education system something that’s irrelevant in the real world? To me that is such a huge disconnect,” Protzman said.
Instead, he proposes working with educators and the business sector to get a gauge of the skills needed in the real world and “reverse engineering” a scholastic plan that produces students with those characteristics.
Protzman long worked for Weber State University, as an assistant vice president for student affairs in his final years. Now, he calls himself quasi-retired, doing periodic consulting work.
Apart from his state-level experience, Wilcox worked at the federal level, which gives him an added perspective that he says would be useful as a state lawmaker. He stepped down from his Utah House post in 2014 to work as policy advisor for U.S. Sen. Mike Lee and director of his Northern Utah office and now works for Intermountain Healthcare in community relations.
“There’s a lot that you learn while on the federal side,” said Wilcox, who was seriously injured in a car crash last December, though he’s doing better now. He knows how to operate within the federal system, and that know-how could help Utah in securing resources, he said.
Aside from seeking input from constituents in pursuing legislation, Wilcox also thinks of his own five kids and children in general. “I am far more concerned with the world we leave for them than any other issue,” Wilcox said, putting a focus on education, public safety and civility in public discourse.
He also touts a “predictable, consistent tax policy” and keeping the Utah budget balanced.
More specifically, Wilcox says one of the short-term issues Utah lawmakers will have to address is safeguarding the Utah economy amid the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting as a lawmaker in 2009, as the Great Recession took hold, he said he has experience with that sort of thing.