Candidates in House District 53 race say rural issues are crucial
With former state Rep. Logan Wilde having vacated his seat in the Legislature to lead a state agency, two fresh names will be on the November ballot in House District 53.
Republican Kera Birkeland, of Morgan, currently holds the office after being appointed in the spring when the governor selected Wilde to be the commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food. She also previously served as vice chair of the Utah Republican Party. Snyderville Basin resident Cheryl Butler, meanwhile, has been involved in local Democratic politics for a number of years and held a prominent position as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party between 2017 and 2019.
Their backgrounds give voters a choice between two candidates with experience in the political arena.
Birkeland said she’s seeking a full term in the House to make the state government function better for residents.
“So much of the calls I get are ‘Something’s not working,’” Birkeland said. “Whether they can’t get into the Driver’s License Division because of COVID or they got denied for unemployment. I love being able to say, ‘OK, here’s how we can help you, here’s how we can expedite this process.’”
Butler says she’s running, in part, because Summit County needs local representation on Capitol Hill. None of the five legislators whose districts stretch into Summit County live here, a reality she says puts county residents at a disadvantage.
“We’re an economic powerhouse and the heart and soul of art and culture in Utah and have the greatest snow on earth,” she said. “It seems like we should have someone there representing us who’s from the county.”
Birkeland’s priorities include education and criminal justice reform. She said bolstering laws to mandate more transparency and accountability when police officers use force is a critical issue and one that, for her, is personal. The mother of two biracial adopted sons, Birkeland said she wants them to grow up in a world that “has equality for them.”
“I want to make sure that there is the tools and training to the officers so that they can be as successful as possible so that our citizens can be as successful as possible,” she said, adding that she is a staunch supporter of law enforcement.
Butler said she would focus on increasing education funding, broadening access to health care and bolstering affordable housing initiatives. She also says her presence in the Statehouse would bring more diversity of perspective to the heavily Republican, largely male Legislature.
“I’m a woman, I’m from Summit County and I’m a Democrat,” she said. “Those three things are in fairly short supply in the Utah State Legislature right now. When you don’t have balance, you get lack of real debate, errors get made and it can lead to corruption as well. You want to make sure those checks and balances are there.”
One area where the candidates agree: prioritizing the district’s rural interests. The district includes Summit County’s East Side, as well as parts of rural counties like Rich, Morgan, Daggett and Duchesne. The person who represents the district in Salt Lake City must be a vocal proponent for rural Utah, both said.
Birkeland said growing up in Montana gave her an appreciation for rural life and a firm foundation in the issues that matter to the constituents of House District 53.
“What I want to try to do for the rural district is make sure that, when we’re at the hill, the other representatives in our government know how much we matter, how important we are to the rest of the state,” Birkeland said. “If we want to be successful, we have to make sure that our rural districts … are represented and their needs are being met.”
According to Butler, strong rural representation was too often absent under Wilde, who she characterized as being more focused on strictly agricultural issues.
“Rural Utah has the same issues as many other places,” Butler said. “Education is a big concern, and making sure that we have appropriate funding for education. Health care, housing affordability — all of those things impact rural Utah. But what I find is that people feel pretty strongly that their voice in rural Utah is not being heard and that resources tend to be focused and concentrated in the valley, in the larger urban areas.”
The November election will be conducted primarily through mail-in balloting. The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 23, with ballots slated to be mailed to registered voters three weeks before Election Day Nov. 3. For more information, visit the Summit County Clerk’s website at summitcounty.org/281/Voter-Registration-Elections.
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