How’d it happen? Republican Mel Brown notches a decisive win in Summit County
November 26, 2010
Nobody but perhaps a few Democratic loyalists envisioned Glenn Wright, the party’s candidate in District 53 of the Utah House of Representatives, wrestling the seat away from the GOP on Election Day.
The district, after all, was drawn nearly a decade ago in a fashion that greatly favored the Republicans, one of the state’s most blatant examples of gerrymandering, the critics said at the time.
The Republican candidate in District 53, it seemed, would clean up in the outlying parts of the district — places like Daggett County and Morgan County — and then win enough votes in Summit County, one of the few Democratic bastions in the state, to seal a victory.
But on Election Day 2010, the results did not follow that pattern. Wright, expected to carry Summit County as past Democratic candidates did on their way to eventual defeat in District 53, could not hold onto the county, no less compete in the heavily Republican outlying places.
Wright, who is the chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party, was the choice of 45.2 percent of the voters in Summit County while Mel Brown, his Republican opponent and a standard-bearer for his party for decades, was picked on 51.6 percent of the ballots. The results were worse for Wright when the votes were counted throughout the district. He earned 35.7 percent to Brown’s 59.3 percent.
It was the first time since 2004 the Republican candidate in District 53 won Summit County. That year David Ure, then an entrenched legislator, easily outdistanced Laura Bonham.
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"It’s something I’ve looked forward to quite a while. I was glad I was able to win in my home county," Brown said.
The District 53 campaign was not a barnburner in 2010, and there really were not pivotal moments. Wright attempted to drum up support by stumping on issues like ethics, job creation, education funding and widening the use of cleaner-burning energies. The ethics plank of the platform was his most unique, but ethics have not seemed to be a crucial issue to voters in District 53 over the years.
Brown, meanwhile, stuck to his conservative platform while also painting himself as being an important backer of the Park City area’s tourism-heavy economy. Brown also trumpeted his opposition to a highly controversial education-funding idea — known as equalization — that would shift money from one area of the state to another. Park City schools were especially worried about the idea. He went against powerful figures in the state Republican Party in his opposition to equalization.
"I think Park City, more than anywhere else, is sensitive to that equalization debate, and they know he stepped up," Henry Glasheen, the chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, said, calling Brown one of the leaders in the opposition to the idea.
The portion of District 53 inside Summit County covers the Park City limits as well as the East Side of the county. Park City is reliably Democratic and has been for generations, while the East Side is seen as a place where Republicanism remains popular even as Park City people move there searching for reasonable housing prices and a rural setting.
Summit County voters split their ballots between the Republicans and the Democrats on Election Day, with nods being given to Democrats like San Granato, the loser in the Senate campaign, and Republicans like Congressman Rob Bishop, who won another term. In the state Senate campaign on the ballot this year, Summit County went with the Democrat, Paul Dowland, who finished well behind Republican Kevin VanTassell, the incumbent, once the ballots throughout the district were tallied.
"It certainly is disappointing. It means we have some more work to do," Wright said about District 53, admitting he had hoped for better turnout on Election Day.
Brown had made his two previous campaigns in District 53 competitive in Summit County, losing by 7.2 percentage points in 2008 to Democrat Katherine Lofft and by 2.9 percentage points in 2006 to Bonham. He won both campaigns on the strength of his showings elsewhere in the district.
Observers say Republicans were motivated in 2010 as they went to the polls to show their unhappiness with President Obama, a scenario that likely influenced the results up and down the Republican ticket. Brown acknowledged there being an "Obama factor" in his Summit County showing and Wright conceded it was a Republican year.
Bonham, the Democratic candidate in District 53 in 2004 and 2006, pinned Wright’s loss in Summit County on discontent with Democrats nationally. She said the president has not been able to change the country as he had hoped to when he campaigned in 2008. Independent voters in 2010 would have broken for the Republicans, she said.
"It’s just emblematic of what happened everywhere in the country," Bonham said, adding, "I think it’s a reflection of just that temperament."
Mel Brown, Republican
Glenn Wright, Democrat
Mel Brown, Republican
Katherine Lofft, Democrat
Mel Brown, Republican
Laura Bonham, Democrat