Election Issue 2008 | Every Underdog Has His (or Her) Day | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

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Election Issue 2008 | Every Underdog Has His (or Her) Day

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BILL DEW (vs. incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson)
nRepublican running for 2nd Congressional District (rural southern and eastern Utah, east Salt Lake County, north Utah County and Wasatch County).
nAge: 56
nOccupation: Homebuilder
nVita: First official public office sought after raising children and 30 years in home construction
nBillDew.com
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nUtah’s GOP has found that if there’s a contender to oust 2nd District Democratic goliath Jim Matheson—this stain of blue on a fine red state—then it’s Bill Dew.

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Dew, while an underdog, has every quality of wholesome Utahness to make him own any other race in the state. With 30 years in the construction business, he’s a self-made millionaire (who’s pledged half a million of his own dough for the race). He’s a veteran Scout leader (recipient of the coveted Silver Beaver award), a returned LDS missionary (he and wife Jolene went on a humanitarian mission to Jordan, where they taught English and passed out wheelchairs) and an all around tax-lowering, oil drilling-friendly, conservative family man. If anyone can “Dew” it, it’s he. (Get it? Do/Dew … eh? Eh? Nothing … OK.)

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Dew exudes a squeaky clean Mormon image, from his DIY business background to his family of five children to the “Bill Dew for Congress” rectangular plastic campaign nametag he wears that bears a striking resemblance to an LDS missionary name badge. Dew is as homegrown as a piping-hot spatula scoop full of funeral potatoes on the 24th of July. With a reassuring father-knows-best demeanor, Dew can point out what he considers the intricate shortcomings of Democratic congressional energy policy: “Matheson and the Democratic leadership have shown consistently they are not serious about us being energy independent.”

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He says he’s targeting Matheson’s record. “I don’t know if Matheson kicks dogs and I don’t care. … Our campaign is focused on issues.”

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Dew rails against Matheson for failing to make George W. Bush’s tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent and for handcuffing our energy industry by opposing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

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Dew doesn’t buy Matheson’s image as a conservative Democrat. He challenges voters to find the differences between Matheson and the liberal speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi. His Website points out how Matheson, who champions his bipartisan nature, has followed Democratic leadership by comparing his and Pelosi’s voting records.

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Why he runs
nDew admits he has little political experience beyond being a precinct chairman and a state Republican delegate in the past but is excited to serve. “I have five kids, and I wanted to make sure I raised them before I started running,” he says. (And again, anyone who can go all in with $500,000 of his own money makes a strong case—especially against Matheson’s $1.6 million chest.)

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Pet peeve
nAs a homebuilder, Dew takes the troubled economy seriously, knowing jobs like his are tied to the bigger economic picture. “I’ve been in homebuilding for 30 years, and I’ve been through three recessions,” Dew says. “There have been times in the past when I woke up and didn’t know how I was going to earn money to provide for my family. That’s an awful feeling. In the last recession in 1999, the last house we framed, it was just me and my two sons.”

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Low blow
n“Who would vote on July 30, when you and I are paying $4 a gallon in gas, to go on a five-week vacation? [Matheson] follows Democratic leadership. It shows who he puts first: Democratic leadership over the families of Utah.”

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Other underdogs in the hunt: Libertarian Party’s Mathew Arndt, Constitution Party’s Dennis Ray Emery.

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—Eric S. Peterson

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BENNION SPENC ER (vs. Republican Jason Chaffetz)
nDemocrat running for 3rd Congressional District (central Utah and west Salt Lake county)
nAge: 55
nOccupation: Author and teacher
nVita: Lost senate races in 2000 to Chris Buttars and in 2002 to Howard Stephenson
nBennionSpencerForCongress.com

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For Utah County Democrats, the “D” next to their names is a political kiss of death. But if you’re Bennion Spencer running for the 3rd Congressional District, you have at least a few things on your side. For one, a name so LDS it couldn’t get any more Mo’ unless his middle name were Hinckley. Secondly, he’s got quite a conversion story—and not a religious one (Spencer has been an active Mormon his whole life) but political. During his 25 years as a TV journalist, Spencer had a unique encounter while working in Texas. At the time, Republican Spencer was interviewing George W. Bush during his second term as governor of Texas . They talked sports and politics. Bush, after hearing Spencer out, gave him a decree: Go back to Utah and run as a Democrat.

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“He said, ‘You’re a Republican in Texas which means you’re a Democrat in Utah.’” Spencer recalls Bush saying his friend “Mikey” (then-Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt) was always complaining about his Republican legislators who couldn’t get anything done, so Bush commissioned Spencer to go back to Utah and “get’r’done for Mikey,” as a Democrat. “We shook hands and said it was a deal,” Spencer says.

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Spencer came home to Utah, taught political-science classes at the University of Utah and took up the Democratic cause. He ran against state Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, in 2000 (“Yeah, everyone says now they owe me for that one,” he says) and also in 2002 against state Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. Still, Spencer has hit the same wall so many Utah Democrats have—that pesky little D. A September poll put the congressional race at 68-18 for Republican Jason Chaffetz, who, like Bennion, has never held elected office.

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Why he runs
nSpencer originally planned on debating the currently serving Rep. Chris Cannon on the oil-shale issue in Utah and was shocked when Chaffetz ousted Cannon at the state GOP convention. Spencer says he called Cannon to thank him for his service and to have their own informal debate on the issue. Spencer then believed oil-shale exploration would pollute the state’s groundwater. “He took me to school on the issue,” Spencer says of their conversations, which led Spencer to an about-face on the issue. Spencer now supports oil-shale development and exploration. “It was amazing—a Democrat and Republican focused totally on something beneficial for Utah.”

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Pet peeve
n“I always knock on people’s doors and they say ‘Well, I agree with everything you say but I was raised Republican …’

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“What does that mean ‘raised Republican?’” Spencer says. “You say your prayers, recite the Republican platform in the morning and then go to school? It makes no sense.” Spencer believes anyone who just votes party lines is not only failing as a citizen but actually dishonoring American troops by not engaging the leaders who may send them to war. “There’s only two people who will die for you unconditionally: Jesus Christ and an American G.I.,” Spencer says, “[the G.I.s] deserve better than a straight party ticket.”

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Low blow
n“The immigration issue digs at me personally because of [Chaffetz’s] position. I find it morally offensive. The problem with Chaffetz is that he had to appeal to the extreme right to beat Cannon. He had to have a red-meat issue to beat Cannon. Period. So he exploited an issue that could have explosive consequences personally and economically if not handled carefully.”

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Other underdogs in the hunt: Constitution Party’s Jim Noorlander.

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—Eric S. Peterson

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BOB SPRINGMEYER (vs. incumbent Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.)
nDemocrat running for Utah Governor
nAge: 65
nOccupation: Owner, Bonneville Research, economic development consulting
nVita: Lost 1976 Salt Lake County Commission race
nBobForGov.org

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“Bowtie Bob,” as he’s affectionately known in Democratic circles, has seemingly been around Utah Democratic politics forever, though aside from an oh-so-close run at the Salt Lake County Commission (now Salt Lake County Council) in 1976, Bob Springmeyer has never seen his name on the ballot. Former-Gov. Cal Rampton headed Springmeyer’s Boy Scout troop and Springmeyer still models himself a “Cal Rampton-Scott Matheson-pro-business-moderate Democrat.” His Utah boosting has ranged from heading Salt Lake City’s sister cities committee to serving as president of the Utah Skeleton and Bobsled Association. An avid outdoorsman, Springmeyer’s fly-fishing advice is eagerly sought after, and he currently holds the title of Utah Winter Games “masters champion” in the skeleton (sliding facedown and headfirst on a bobsled track). For 30 years, Springmeyer has run Bonneville Research, a firm that consults with city and county governments on economic redevelopment.

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While eating steak at a social event, Springmeyer was recruited to fill the vacant “D” spot in the governor’s race by state Democratic chairman Wayne Holland. “I laughed at him,” Springmeyer recalls. He eventually agreed to run only if someone who actually wanted the job (or wanted the publicity for a future run) failed to come forward. No one did. Springmeyer was initially publicly dismissive of his chances against the popular Huntsman but soon changed his tune. “When I first got into it, quite frankly, I thought, I’m going to get out there, and I’m going to do what I can, but my chances of winning this race are really pretty slim. But I was brought up short by several Senate candidates and others almost immediately who said, ‘Look pal, you’re at the top of the ticket; you set the tone for the whole Democratic Party in the state. … I heard that loudly and clearly.” Since being chastised, Springmeyer has come out swinging: pumping out press releases and ramping up rhetoric against the governor—he calls Huntsman’s flat tax a “tax cut for the wealthy.” Springmeyer calls out Utah Republicans in general, accusing them of selling out public education. “It is not a hopeless case—never has been,” he says of his race. Still, he predicts his chances at governor hinge on the number of Democrats driven to the polls by Barack Obama and popular Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

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Why he runs
n“Not many people get an opportunity to run for governor. Anytime you run against an incumbent, it’s a challenge. We felt strongly there were some things that needed to be said and issues that needed to be raised, and I’m proud to be carrying that banner.”

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Pet peeve
n“The gerrymandering [redrawing of legislative boundaries] we’ve seen in the past two censuses has created a problem for good government. You’ve got safe seats, both Democratic and Republican, and the great moderates we always had no longer occupy those positions. In the safe seats, you end up with the far-right and far-left getting elected.”

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Low blow
n“We’ve got a governor that is more interested in being well liked and getting appointed to higher office than he is in standing up to the Legislature. He says all the right things but doesn’t follow through. … This is a guy that doesn’t work very hard.”

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Other underdogs in the hunt: Libertarian Party’s “Superdell” Dell Schanze

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—Ted McDonough

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JEAN WELCH HILL (vs. incumbent Utah A.G. Mark Shurtleff)
nDemocrat running for Utah Attorney General
nAge: 38
nOccupation: State Board of Education attorney
nVita: Former history teacher and former Salt Lake Tribune columnist
nJeanWelchHill.com

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Jean Welch Hill never considered running for statewide office. At least until the state’s infamous school vouchers fight came along. The Democrat is now locked in a battle to unseat Mark Shurtleff, the two-term Republican attorney general.

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Taking on the attorney general isn’t new for Hill. During the voucher controversy in 2007, Shurtleff stripped Hill’s special assistant attorney general status. As legal counsel to the State Board of Education, she had advised against implementing the Legislature’s approved voucher law until after voters decided the merits of the issue by ballot referendum. Hill’s position flew in the face of Shurtleff’s pro-voucher stance. In the end, the Utah Supreme Court’s ruling on the voucher vote upheld the position advocated by Hill.

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This was the spark that ignited Hill’s political aspirations. Still, she turned down the first offer to run. She decided to challenge Shurtleff this year after witnessing what she calls similar “abuses of the public trust” during the 2008 legislative session.

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“I realized I had a choice—continue complaining about the state of Utah government or run for office and change it,” Hill says.

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Hill trails by double digits in the polls, and Shurtleff has a 13-to-1 campaign-cash advantage—his $629,000 to her $48,000. While the majority of Shurtleff’s campaign contributions come from corporations, the Hill campaign is funded primarily with small amounts from individuals.

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“My 300-plus donations from individuals also confirm that I am reaching the people I will represent as attorney general,” she says.

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Hill accuses Shurtleff of lax ethical standards. His campaign donations have helped fuel her complaints. Hill proposes a $10,000 limit on campaign contributions and a ban on donations used for personal gain. Campaign reports reveal that a number of Shurtleff’s donations were spent on personal items such as a Kindle reading device, dry cleaning and clothing.

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Hill cites Shurtleff’s steering of lucrative contracts to top contributors and the lack of enforcement of payday-lending regulations as other ethical failures.

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Why she runs
n“I decided to run after watching our current attorney general use his position to try and bully what he described as his client, the State Board of Education, into rushing a voucher program into place before the public had a chance to vote on the issue,” Hill says. “For an attorney general to misuse his power in such a manner is unacceptable to me, and I hope to end that practice by replacing the current AG.”

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Pet peeve
n“Voters can also expect that I will not have glaring conflicts of interest that prevent me from doing the job to the best of my ability, such as occurred in the (former state treasurer candidate) Mark Walker investigation.”

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Low blow
n“Shurtleff has not been in front of a jury for at least eight years. His experience as a prosecutor was in the military where the criminal court rules also do not apply. And let’s not forget that the last time I was in a courtroom was at the Utah Supreme Court when it ruled that my legal opinion was correct and Shurtleff’s was not.”

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Other underdogs in the hunt: Libertarian Party’s Andrew McCullough

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Joseph Bateman

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JAY SEEGMILLER (vs. incumbent House Speaker Greg Curtis)
nDemocrat running for Utah House District 49 (Sandy)
nAge: 49
nOccupation: Train conductor, activist United Transportation Union
nVita: Lost House 49 race to Curtis in 2004 and 2006
nJaySeegmiller.com

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It’s a Mr.-Smith-Almost-Gets-To-Capitol Hill story. Jay Seegmiller has been running for the same Sandy seat in Utah’s Legislature for four years. He keeps coming back because he keeps getting so close to beating one of the most powerful Republicans in Utah. This year’s House District 49 bid is a near carbon copy of the earlier races: an ethics and education challenge to Republican House Speaker Greg Curtis. Raised on Salt Lake City’s west side in the Glendale neighborhood, Seegmiller began working for the railroad the year he graduated high school to put himself through college. Today, he’s conductor of the California Zephyr from the West Coast to Chicago. His entry into politics started at his child’s school. Worried the federal No Child Left Behind Act would hurt students with learning disabilities, Seegmiller brought Democratic Congressman Jim Matheson to hear parents’ gripes, then decided to run for the state Legislature himself. Long a union man, Seegmiller has lobbied in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the United Transportation Union seeking money for Amtrak and a system to prevent train collisions.

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Seegmiller lucked out in his first attempt against Curtis in 2004. When polls closed, the no-name candidate had garnered 46 percent—thanks largely to Curtis being caught up in Salt Lake County’s “guzzlegate” ethics brouhaha that doomed then-county Mayor Nancy Workman. (A former lawyer to Workman, Curtis had charged both the county and state for filling his gas tank. He said he did so unknowingly.) In 2006, Seegmiler lost by just 20 votes after a recount. This time around, with new legislative ethics scandals making headlines, Democrats are hoping their party’s Salt Lake-area sphere of influence has grown just enough to knock the house speaker from his Sandy pedestal. “People believe now I can win,” says Seegmiller, whose campaign is being marshaled by the son of Utah’s Democratic Party chairman. “It’s felt like October this time since about May.” But Seegmiller is up against Curtis’ campaign war chest of more than $265,000.

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Why he runs
n“I knew I was running against one of the most powerful politicians in the state. I knew being an outsider and not that well known in political circles it would take time for people to get to know me. I made a commitment to myself I would give it three tries.”

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Pet peeve
n“The biggest thing I want to accomplish is to actually have some campaign finance laws. Now it’s just whatever your conscience lets you do is OK. … I would support, if not a complete ban on lobbyists’ gifts, greatly reducing that. At most, a lunch. Beyond that—[Utah] Jazz tickets, airline tickets that kind of stuff—that’s way out of line for a legislator.”

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Low Blow
n“I feel [Curtis] is too tied to special interests and not close enough to his district. … The thing that most frustrated me was when the voucher issue came up. … He could have been the champion of his district and voted against the voucher bill. He chose to vote against his district.”

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Other underdogs in the hunt: Libertarian Party’s Charles Bonsall and Constitution Party’s Wayne Crawford

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—Ted McDonough

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MICHAEL RENCKERT (vs. incumbent Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon)
nRepublican running for Salt Lake County Mayor
nAge: 47
nOccupation: Adult probation supervisor, adjunct community college professor
nVita: Salt Lake County Republican Party activist
nMikeRenckert.com

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Michael Renckert has been a Sandy activist in the Republican Party for years—serving as delegate, precinct chairman and on the Salt Lake County Republican Central Committee—but he’d never thought of running for Salt Lake County mayor. County Republicans nearly had a nightmare scenario on their hands. With three days to go before the March 17 candidate filing deadline in the race to unseat popular Democratic Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, the only Republican entered in the contest was one-time TV computer pitchman “Superdell” Schanze, known for his headline grabbing brushes with the law like buzzing Interstate 15 traffic with a powered hang glider. It was like handing Corroon a second term on a silver platter. Two days before the filing deadline, Renckert was at a county GOP Central Committee meeting discussing the mayoral dilemma when a friend leaned over and said, “‘You’ve been talking about running for office.’” Renckert filed around 3 p.m. on the last filing day. Superdell dropped out of the mayor’s race that same day, switching to run for governor (as a Libertarian). Schanze wasted no time determining that Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was an “antichrist socialist” conspiring to suppress technology that could make cars run on water.

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A tough-talking 18-year Department of Corrections employee—currently, he’s a staff supervisor for adult probations and parole—Renckert had been contemplating a run for sheriff in 2010. For years, he’d badgered the Sheriff’s Office about limited bed space at the county jail and didn’t like the answers he’d got.

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Proudly conservative (“I am dedicated to bring back the conservative and traditional values to Salt Lake County government” is his campaign tagline), the ham-radio enthusiast is holding the GOP banner high, charging the Democratic mayor’s office with ignoring Republican-voting parts of the county while letting county government get too big. “We don’t need an EPA person for the county. The state and federal governments have it already,” he says. “All we have to do is call and say, ‘Hey our air stinks.’”

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Renckert’s got financial backing from the county Republican Party, but his unabashed conservatism might not be tailored to win votes in Salt Lake City.

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Why he runs
n“I think I’m more in sync with what the community wants, the entire valley, not just Salt Lake City. … When we talk to constituents, including in Salt Lake City, a lot of them are talking about traditional families, talking about families as the core group of society. I think we need a mayor who is sensitive to varying definitions, but has an understanding of what the majority is looking at.”

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Pet peeve
n“It’s bad when I have to go to a victim and say, ‘I’m sorry, he’s out of jail. There’s no room in the inn,’ … They call it ‘overcrowding,’ but it’s a budgetary issue.”

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Low blow
n“The county is spending money on studies by outside consultants. The employees on the director’s level are using these people because they are not qualified for their jobs, other than being a Democrat.”

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Other underdogs in the hunt: Constitution Party’s Leonard Olds

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—Ted McDonough
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JOHN RENDELL (vs. incumbent Sen. Chris Buttars)
nDemocrat running for Utah Senate District 10 (southwest Salt Lake County)
nAge: 43
nOccupation: Physician staffing company vice president
nVita: First-time candidate, part-time rock star
nElectRendell.com

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John Rendell was one of many who thought West Jordan state Sen. Chris Buttars would be vulnerable after Buttars’ latest gaffe. Already notorious for pushing Utah’s same-sex marriage ban and his attempts to erase evolution from the classroom, Buttars this year used the phrase “this baby is black” to describe a bill he didn’t like. The West Jordan Republican had to fend off four challengers from his own party just to run again for his Senate seat.

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Democrat Rendell’s challenge to Buttars has at times felt bigger than the 10th District, which covers West Jordan, South Jordan and Herriman. Rendell has beat Buttars at fund-raising with events like a night at the play Saturday’s Voyeur (which prominently mocked Buttars) and a house party in Park City (a typical Democratic fund-raising stop, but one usually reserved for headliners like occasional visitor Barack Obama).

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“When you’re going against someone as well known as Buttars, you’ve got to build up credibility. Part of that is done through fund-raising,” Rendell says. “People want to know if you are a serious candidate or just somebody who’s putting their name on the ballot.”

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The one certain thing about political newcomer Rendell is that he’s brainy. A guitarist in a touring band that never hit it big, Rendell moved to Utah 20 years ago and taught himself how to program computers while working a temp job. Now he is vice president of two companies: physician staffing company Vista Staffing Solutions and a start-up company that hopes to offer a medical-records system patients can carry to their doctor’s office on a blast drive. He still can be occasionally seen playing in cover band Mean Phoenix, typically at Tracks in Tooele or Brewskies in Ogden.

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Rendell’s path to putting his name on a ballot began when he was stopped by TSA at a Pennsylvania airport. (“They didn’t like the laptop battery I had. I made the mistake of reaching into the bag, and they decided to make me have a bad night.”) The next morning at his executive MBA class, Rendell went on a “rant” about personal liberties, ending with a call for voters to get personally involved in politics. Relentless news stories about Buttars sealed the deal. Rendell officially became a Democrat just before signing up to run.

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Why he runs
n“As Sen. Buttars made the news every night, every time you heard, ‘And now Sen. Buttars from West Jordan …’ you just kind of put your hand on your head and hoped it wasn’t as bad as it was going to be. I called the Democratic Party and asked if anyone was going to run against him. They said no one had stepped forward, and I said, ‘Fine. I’ll do it.’”

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Pet peeve
n“What really pushed me over the edge was the school-district split (Rendell’s wife is a sixth-grade teacher). “It just spelled disaster to public schools in the area [western valley].”

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Low blow
n“I can’t live in a district that’s going to be embarrassed all the time.”

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Other underdogs in the hunt: Constitution Party’s Steve Maxfield

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—Ted McDonough tttt

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