Park City Democrat, Duchesne Republican vie for Utah Senate seat
September 16, 2018
Eileen Gallagher, the Park City Democrat vying for the 26th Senate District seat, knows she has a tough road ahead of her in a traditionally conservative region.
Gallagher, a physician, says her priority is turning out voters outside of liberal-leaning Summit County and the Democratic base. The rest of the district, composed of Republican-dominated Wasatch, Duchesne, Daggett and Uintah counties, poses a big obstacle to any Democrat's hopes of election.
"I'm really trying to focus on independent and reasonable Republican voters, because it has become clear to me and many other people. … I'm clearly the better choice for representing all the different folks in the district," Gallagher said in a phone interview.
The Park Record was unable to interview her Republican opponent, Duchesne County Commissioner Ronald Winterton despite multiple attempts. The Republican candidate from Duchesne County in his campaign has touted his conservative credentials and experience both in public office as well as owning a trucking company. Winterton has also garnered endorsements from a host of conservative figures, including retiring Sen. Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal).
The job of representing the district, which Van Tassell is leaving after 12 years in office, is a difficult one. Park City, Heber City, Duchesne and Vernal each have starkly different economic priorities and cultures. Gallagher said she'd likely maintain two offices if elected, one in the eastern side of the district and one in the west.
While the Wasatch Back and Uintah Basin have their differences, the regions' voters share concerns about a few of the building blocks that every community needs, from roads to operating rooms.
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Both candidates endorse plans to improve traffic on U.S. 40, the district's main artery. The highway that hosts commuters to Park City and is critical for the Uintah Basin's energy industry is restricted to two lanes in many places. That, combined with the lack of a rail connection in the Uintah Basin and the east side of the district's reliance on fossil fuel extraction, leads to a congested roadway dominated by large tanker trucks.
Winterton endorses a plan to expand the Heber-Vernal stretch of U.S. 40 to five lanes by 2030, as well as looking into a rail connection and an oil pipeline to reduce the strain on the highway.
"I'm supportive of all of these issues and will be mindful of any effort going forward to help grow our economy here," Winterton states in his platform on his website.
Gallagher believes a road bypass around Heber to be a better choice to relieve congestion in the town of about 12,000 and agrees with a local plan to implement it.
"Every three to five seconds, there's an 18-wheeler coming through downtown (Heber), and first of all their small businesses can't expand their customer base if there's nowhere to park," she said. "Secondly, people can't slow down because there's a truck coming 50 miles per hour behind them. It's acting like an interstate as it goes through downtown."
Gallagher also characterizes Winterton's ownership of a transportation firm as a conflict of interest.
"Having someone who is there not to advocate for his personal trucking company and his friends' economic interests … we need someone who is willing to work with all players," she said.
Gallagher, a physician, supports Proposition 3, the ballot measure that would expand Medicaid beyond the plan already passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature.
"Our health care in Utah definitely needs to work," said Gallagher. "We waste a tremendous amount of money in this state with our current setup of private versus public versus other health care plans."
In the past, Winterton has voiced a staunch opposition to Medicaid expansion, saying it would cause a dependency on the state.
"I think that's a government handout that only enables people to stay on it longer," Winterton said at a May GOP primary event in Park City. "And it's not free, we pay for it on the other end."
The third party United Utah candidate, Cathy Callow-Heusser, said she is spending less time on the trail in order to focus on her business and to attend to personal matters.
The 2018 midterm elections take place on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Register to vote online at vote.utah.gov.
Editor's note: Eileen Gallagher for Utah State Senate is a sponsor of the Park City Women's Expo, an event put on by The Park Record.