District 8 Utah House hopefuls spar over GOP dominance, private sector ties

This article originally appeared in the Standard Examiner. Read it in its entirety here

OGDEN — If elected, Steve Waldrip, the Republican hopeful for the District 8 seat in the Utah House, says his GOP affiliation would serve constituents well.

Being part of Utah’s dominant party would give him a place at the table in Republican caucus meetings each year, gatherings that are key in setting legislative goals, identifying high-priority bills and more.

“All of that happens in the Republican caucus and that’s the value of it,” he said. “Effective leadership,” he said and further noted at an Oct. 3 debate with his Democratic opponent, Deana Froerer, “means being part of the process.”

Froerer, for her part, bristles at such talk, has made the benefits of being in the dominant party a campaign issue. To her, gatherings like GOP caucus meetings are indicative of a “behind-closed-doors” approach to governing.

“People want to be part of the process. They want an open-door policy,” she said. “People don’t necessarily agree that that’s representative.”

Though they both voice strong support for education and consider it a central issue, their contrasting views on the implications of party affiliation and their differing backgrounds have created sparks at times. Rep. Gage Froerer, a Republican and Deana Froerer’s brother-in-law, now holds the seat, but he’s not seeking re-election, running for a seat on the Weber County Commissioninstead. District 8 covers part of Ogden’s East Bench, part of Harrisville and the Upper Ogden Valley.

Deana Froerer, a high school business and finance teacher at DaVinci Academy, an Ogden charter school, painted GOP dominance in the state as a hindrance to fully representative government. She pointed to the three propositions to be decided on Election Day, Nov. 6, placed on the ballot not by lawmakers, but via petition by Utah residents who feel strongly on the issues.

“I feel the legislature should take on those issues,” she said. Utah residents shouldn’t have been forced to go through the petition process to get their initiatives before voters on a proposition.

Beyond that, she took aim at campaign contributions Waldrip has received from the Utah Association of Realtors and other real estate interests, his ties to developers. Waldrip, of Eden, previously served as project manager for Business Depot Ogden, negotiating lease transactions and promoting investment, and now works independently in real estate consulting and development.

The topic of affordable housing came up at the Oct. 3 debate in Harrisville, and Froerer used the occasion to disparage Waldrip’s connections to developers and real estate, to question his ability to fight for housing for the poorest.

“He’s got the heart for (promoting affordable housing),” said Froerer, who’s from Huntsville. “Unfortunately he’s involved in the money and the machine, and what’s the other piece? The monarchy, right, the real estate world … and I know Steve would like to do a good job, and I’d like to help him when I get elected, but the reality is, he’s not in a very good position.”

Waldrip, in response, defended his connections to the business world and said he’d work for the interests of everyone. He’s served charitable groups, like United Way of Northern Utah, and helped launch an entity to promote home ownership among working-class Ogden families, the Rocky Mountain Homes Fund.

Reps from the business world “support me because they know I understand the critical nature of private enterprise in our economy. They know that I understand how things get done,” Waldrip said.

He went on, saying he wouldn’t be solely representing the private sector if elected. “I get the common folk. I’m one of you. These are our issues,” he said. “And I am the guy that will go down there, have a seat at the table and work on our issues, fight for our community and represent all of us.”

He elaborated in a subsequent interview, defending contributions as a form of free speech of those donating money. Money wouldn’t sway his actions. “Nobody can buy my vote,” he said.

Instead of the contrasts with his Democratic opponents, Waldrip has focused his message largely on the importance of properly funding public education in Utah. More specifically, he emphasized the need to bolster funding for teachers as a show of respect, fairness and support. More money will also keep them from leaving the state’s schools.

Generating the money may not be just about additional appropriations, though. Reprioritizing how education funds are distributed, too, plays a part.

“It shouldn’t be a major financial sacrifice to teach our kids,” Waldrip said.

He also touts a closer look at the state’s tax code with an eye to reforming it. The current array of incentives and tax breaks, among other things, needs a look to determine if all the varied provisions should remain in place.

Froerer, too, puts a big focus on bolstering education and says working in the sector gives her a leg up. Aside from her work at DaVinci, she’s an economics instructor at Weber State University.

“I happen to have the boots on the ground in education that most legislators do not have,” she said.

Part of the focus needs to be on tailoring post-secondary educational offerings to the needs of Utah businesses so grads have jobs when they finish college. Giving teachers the respect they deserve, too, is important, as well as assuring a semblance of local control, not overburdening school districts with state testing mandates.

She backs moves to find more funding for education, but isn’t so sure about the notion of using a hike in the state gas tax, as proposed in a non-binding question on the Nov. 6 ballot. Income taxes, she thinks, are the best source for education funding and she lamented moves in the state that have flattened the state’s tax brackets, tempering funding.

Assuring air quality is another priority and she touted the importance of heightening awareness among the public of the issue to that end.

Froerer had generated $27,325 in contributions through Sept. 26, the end of the last reporting period, according to figures filed with the state. She had $5,113 left.

The largest contribution in the latest reporting period, $2,500, came from Utah Women and Politics and she had two other donations of $1,000 each, the next largest.

Waldrip had generated $36,506 in contributions, including $10,000 of his own money from the prior reporting period, and had $15,221 left as of Sept. 26. The Utah Association of Realtors was the biggest donor in the latest cycle, giving $3,000, followed by the Utah House Republican Election Committee, $2,500. Waldrip also gave another $2,454 to his campaign, the Weber County Republican Party gave him $2,000 and one donor gave him $1,000.

This article originally appeared in the Standard Examiner. Read it in its entirety here

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