EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect results of the Utah Republican Party convention in the 1st District race and the failure of a GOP signature-petition hopeful to get enough signatures to get on the primary ballot. It’s also been updated to correct the title of the Davis County Democratic Party chairman.

Things are getting testy among the Democrats in the race for the 1st District U.S. House seat.

Most notably, a heated exchange between the two contenders, Lee Castillo and Kurt Weiland, at the Davis County Democratic Party convention on April 14 at Layton High School drew the attention of Layton police. Castillo placed one of his political signs near a table Weiland had set up at the event — too close, Weiland thought, hindering access to those interested in learning about his campaign — and the two traded sharp words.

Weiland put his hand on Castillo’s arm during the exchange, prompting Castillo to call Layton police.

That’s not the only drama.

Castillo has sparred with Weber County Democratic Party leaders, suspecting they’re biased against him. And a coalition of Weber County high schoolers who organized against gun violence, the Northern Utah Student Coalition, issued a press release on April 17, charging Castillo with unfairly attacking their group, an allegation Castillo rebuffs.

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John Miles, chairman of the Weber County Democratic Party, himself a target of Castillo’s ire, said this year’s heated primary jockeying among Democrats isn’t typical.

“I would say it’s pretty unusual. It’s not what we usually go through,” Miles said.

The Utah Democratic Party meets April 28 in Salt Lake City to nominate its pick — Weiland or Castillo — to vie in November for the 1st District seat. GOP Rep. Rob Bishop is seeking election this year to his ninth term in the 1st District post, which covers Weber County, the northern part of Davis County and several other northern and northeastern Utah counties.

Aside from Bishop and the two Democrats, United Utah Party hopeful Eric Eliason and Adam Davis of the Green Party are also seeking the seat. Bishop defeated Chadwick Fairbanks III at the Utah Republican Party convention on Saturday to get the formal GOP nomination while Kevin Probasco, who had tried to petition for place on the GOP ballot, didn’t get enough signatures to qualify.

VIDEO FOOTAGE OF THE INCIDENT

According to footage of the exchange from a security camera, which has no sound, Castillo places three political signs, fastened together, on the floor at the convention between a Davis County Democratic Party table and Weiland’s table. Candidates had set up tables at the event to provide campaign information and make themselves available to convention goers.

 Weiland, standing near Castillo and watching, bends down and picks it up the signs, takes a few steps and, in the process, puts his left hand on Castillo’s upper right arm. A woman steps in between the two men, they exchange words and Castillo walks off, according to the video, which Castillo posted to his campaign Facebook page and supplied to the Standard-Examiner.

Story continues below video. 

Explaining his version of things, Weiland later said those wanting to approach him “couldn’t get to the table stepping over or around (Castillo’s) sign. It was directly in front of my table.” He asked Castillo to move the sign “and he started arguing and I said, ‘Please move your sign,’ and he continued to argue.”

In placing his sign where he did, Castillo, for his part, said with Weiland’s table so close to the Davis County Democratic Party table, it appeared that the party backed Weiland’s candidacy.

“He chose his spot. I chose my spot. He doesn’t get to control that space. All that space is for everybody,” Castillo said.

Castillo had been under the impression that he and Weiland were friends, and Weiland’s response to his sign placement, he said, came as a surprise. 

“I don’t know what was going on. I did not provoke him,” Castillo said.

When Weiland “grabbed my arm,” Castillo said, he reacted strongly, telling Weiland not to touch him.

“I think (Weiland’s) a guy who lost his cool in a moment and did something stupid. You should never lay a hand on someone,” Castillo said.

Layton police did not respond to Standard-Examiner queries seeking comment on the April 14 encounter between Castillo and Weiland. Weiland lives in Bountiful and runs an employee training and consulting company while Castillo, who lives in Layton, is a social worker.

And though Weiland said he’s been told by police reps that no charges will be filed, because no intent to do harm was detected, the incident has left a sour taste among some Democrats. They already face the challenge of battling GOP dominance here.

Stroh DeCaire, chairman of the Davis County party, had no desire to discuss the altercation.

“If you wish to discuss the positive things that happened at our convention, which there were many, I would be more than happy to discuss them with you,” DeCaire said in an email. “However, focusing and reporting on this incident is not congruent with our party business.”

CASTILLO’S INCIDENT WITH THE NUSC

On April 17, three days after the Davis County Democratic Party convention, the Northern Utah Student Coalition issued a statement critical of Castillo, stemming chiefly from the group’s dealings with the candidate connected to a March 31 march it organized in Ogden. 

“Mr. Castillo made allegations based on no facts that tried to bring down the (group’s) credibility and diminish the hard work that the organization had done,” the statement read.

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The tiff resulted, at least in part, from the group’s decision to invite Weiland to speak at the March 31 march. The NUSC favored Weiland’s position on guns over Castillo’s, said Jaden Priest, a Bonneville High School senior and NUSC leader. Weiland’s stance seemed more palatable and realistic to group members given the dominance of conservatives in Utah.

Castillo criticized the group as being “political” by favoring Weiland and being “pawns” of the Democratic Party, said Priest, who’s active in the Weber County Democratic Party. The controversy grew, most notably in Facebook posts and exchanges, some now deleted, according to Priest.

In light of the flap, Weiland asked to be removed from the list of speakers, Priest said, and in the end, neither Democratic contender publicly addressed the march, though both attended.

Castillo, while suspecting that the April 17 statement was “politically motivated,” said he backs students. 

“I’ve been supporting them this whole time,” he said.

Miles defended the students in light of the turn of events with Castillo.

“I personally don’t think they deserve to be discouraged from being fully active in the political process,” Miles said. The sort of criticism NUSC faced in its dealings with Castillo “has some kind of chilling effect when people accuse people of acting outside the rules when they’re doing their civic duty, in my opinion.”

CONFLICT OF INTEREST?

Miles said he faced suspicion from Castillo in a Facebook post that he’s biased against the Castillo campaign.

Among other things, Castillo points to the party’s periodic use of rented space within the Ogden offices of M3 Strategies, a political consulting firm that is assisting Weiland in his campaign. The relationship, Castillo said, is “a conflict, for sure.”

Oscar Mata, M3 operator, said state party officials looked into the matter and found nothing wrong. The county party’s executive committee uses the space for meetings, gathering there once or twice a month, he estimates. A state party rep declined comment.

FEELINGS OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Despite the controversy, Castillo, making his first bid for office, remains excited about the race, he said. Still, there’s a measure of disappointment, too. He had expected a spirit of camaraderie among the Democratic contenders.

“I think this is politics, and I think I’ve just gotten a dose of politics and I don’t think politics is necessarily fair,” he said. “It’s been weird.”

Weiland, too, expressed disappointment.

“I’m just sad,” Weiland said. “There are so many petty things.”

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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