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Utah's Next Senator



The election to replace Sen. Scott McCoy is yet another standoff between the two Democratic Party factions.---

Four candidates filed to replace McCoy, although in reality the election on Saturday will come down to Ben McAdams and Arlyn Bradshaw. Even the other two candidates, Brian Moss and Mark Towner, acknowledged as much during interviews this week.

McAdams was running from almost the moment McCoy announced his resignation earlier this month, with his boss, Mayor Ralph Becker, endorsing him for the seat within hours of McCoy's resignation. Although McAdams had not technically declared at that point, it seems illogical that Becker would have sent out a prepared press release about one his senior administrative officials if McAdams was actually not running.

Bradshaw jumped in about a week later, despite McAdams' strong support from many notable Democrats, such as Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones and Paula Julander, who was the District 2 senator before McCoy. But Bradshaw had his own backing, beginning with Salt Lake County Councilman Joe Hatch, who Bradshaw works for as an administrative assistant.

In essence, McAdams is being backed by the Democratic stalwarts who prefer a kinder, gentler Democratic Party. That's not really a knock against them, because they are more realistic about what kind of Democrat can actually get elected and have some influence, especially in a very conservative Legislature. Bradshaw, on the other hand, is representing the upstart new Democrats that are closer in their political beliefs to the national Democratic Party and get frustrated with the way Utah Democrats tip-toe around the dominant Republicans.

This isn't a new conflict in the party, and it's one that repeatedly plays out in Salt Lake City. Some recent examples are Ralph Becker vs. Jenny Wilson for mayor, Lisa Alcott vs. Stan Penfold for City Council, and now, Bradshaw vs. McAdams. It's also reflected in the ongoing tension within the party over U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, who is about the only type of Democrat that could win in Utah but, for many party loyalists, is as much a Republican as he is a Democrat.

Every race has its wrinkles, and this is no exception. The most surprising thing is that while Bradshaw is openly gay, that is not winning him support from people like Bruce Bastian or McCoy, who is also gay. McCoy has actually not endorsed any of the candidates, but the word is being spread among delegates that he is supporting McAdams.

The other two candidates, while not expecting to win, are taking decidedly different approaches to wooing delegates. Moss is the son of Frank Moss, former U.S. senator. Although he ran for U.S. Senate in 1988 and has remained active in the party, his political experience is primarily as a lobbyist. He has also only recently returned from an LDS mission in Mexico. Both of those things would make him more capable of working behind-the-scenes with Republicans for compromises.

Towner, however, says the first two things he would do is file legislation to impose term limits on elected state officials and remove the second line of Amendment 3, which bans all forms of marriages except between a man and a woman. At the very least, those things "would make it uncomfortable for the knuckleheads on the other side," he says.

The irony of Towner's aggressiveness is that he only recently shifted to the Democratic fold. Prior to 2008, he was very active in the Republican Party, but he left the party because of school vouchers, which he opposes. He is in his second year as a junior high science teacher, and does not think that vouchers would help public education.

Speaking as a legislative spectator, Towner would probably be the most entertaining legislator. I've long wanted the Democrats to have at least one "goon" in their midst, who throws bombs at Republicans simply for the sake of throwing bombs. Towner is just the sort of loose cannon (a term I use affectionately, in this case) that would irritate the majority party.

However, Towner will not win, and he may conceivably only get one vote: his own. Moss is also an extreme long-shot, as there doesn't seem to be any energy behind him.

My prediction: McAdams will win, but it will be a lot closer than people expect. I could even see Bradshaw winning the first round of voting -- there are two rounds, unless one of the candidates receives 60 percent the first time -- as some of the moderate/conservative delegates swing to Moss for old-time sake. But they will then jump to McAdams in the second round, when only the top two candidates are on the ballot.

One caveat, though. There are about 160 delegates, which means almost anything can happen. After all, when McCoy was elected, it shocked everyone because it was expected that Paula Julander's husband, Rod, was the de facto replacement.

The election will be held Saturday at the Salt Lake County Council chambers, 2001 S. State, at 2 p.m.

Disclosure: My wife is a voting delegate in District 2. She has not endorsed or campaigned for any of the candidates. She did not have any input on my opinions, projections, or observations in this post.