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Legislator could cast aside upstart opponent

In Summit County, incumbent state Rep. Mel Brown, a Coalville Republican, is the front-runner in the race for District 53 in the state House of Representatives, said the leader of the local GOP.

On Saturday, Brown could eliminate his Republican opponent if he receives votes from at least 60 percent of the delegates at his party’s state convention. More than 60 delegates from Summit, Wasatch, Morgan, Rich and Daggett counties are expected to vote in the race for District 53.

"I’m supporting Mel," Summit County Republican Party Chairman Henry Glasheen said. "Mel Brown has done fantastic things for this county. He has been a great legislator."

Brown faces a challenge from Wanship Republican Jon Hellander.

As a former speaker of the state House of Representatives, Brown’s legislative experience was critical in defeating a bill this year that threatened to siphon millions of dollars away from schools in Summit County to redistribute throughout the state, Glasheen said.

At issue was whether tax funding should be taken from districts in the county to help poorer schools in other parts of the state. Officials expect lawmakers to push school equalization legislation again next year.

"We are the target of every legislator in the House. If we don’t have somebody in there who has significant experience, we are going to get tattooed in the next legislative session," Glasheen said. "There is a pecking order."

Brown agrees.

"There are a lot of things that I have gotten done that a freshman legislator just would not be able to do. Because of my service, I’ve been able to position myself in some pretty important areas," Brown said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "When we face issues like we do with this capital equalization, a freshman legislator, as good as they may be, seniority is still a process that rules the Legislature. That’s the way the social process functions in the Legislature, and if you think you are going to go in and change that, you’re sadly mistaken."

Freshman lawmakers are not placed in committee positions where they can greatly influence debates on Capitol Hill.

"You won’t be the chairman of any committees, you won’t be the vice chairman of a committee, you won’t be in any circles that make important decisions when you’re a freshman legislator," Brown said.

According to Glasheen, the political contest in District 53 has been raucous.

"I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s Republican infighting," Glasheen said in a telephone interview Monday. "The one thing that I told both of these guys is we’re not going to fight with each other in the primary. And Mel has followed that."

Supporters of the Tea Party movement are backing Hellander, Glasheen said. Some members of the Tea Party, who are against Brown’s candidacy, believe a more conservative politician will win this year in District 53.

"We have a number of delegates I think, without question, who really believe the way to solve all the problems of our government is to change faces," Brown said. "Well, that was the theme two years ago during the presidential election too. What has the change yielded us?"

Brown not conservative enough?

Hellander said he is the underdog in the race. But he expects to defeat Brown at Saturday’s convention.

"I believe I’m going to have the majority of the votes," Hellander said. "It is a Goliath battle, but we’re on top."

According to Hellander, he is the most conservative candidate in the contest.

"Mel is a great guy. But in all general terms, I just believe that I stand to the right of where he is at," Hellander said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I am more conservative than [Brown] is."

Hellander said he entered the race because many elected officials are out of touch with average citizens.

"In my opinion, people are wanting to get involved because they are seeing the country head in a direction they feel is not healthy at all. The aristocracy of our government is such that [elected officials] put themselves on a level that is way above us," Hellander said. "All people in leadership positions need to be representative of the people, and it’s just the opposite. It funnels right on down to state government as far as I’m concerned. We have to be strong enough to stand up to the issues that are going on in our state."

The nominating conventions for Republicans and Democrats in Utah are both scheduled Saturday at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.

The Republican nominee in District 53 could face off against Park City Democrat Glenn Wright on Election Day.


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