Congressman Rob Bishop, never popular in Park City, nears retirement with uncertain local legacy
He struggled to sway voters, but found 'common ground’ with City Hall
Congressman Rob Bishop toward the end of the ski season in 2012 scheduled a stop in Park City, likely understanding a crowd of detractors awaited him.
The Republican who represents the 1st Congressional District, covering a wide swath of Northern Utah that includes Park City and surrounding Summit County, at the time was co-sponsoring legislation that was needed for the ski industry to advance a long-imagined idea to connect the Park City side of the Wasatch Mountains with the Cottonwood Canyons. Known as SkiLink, the concept called for a gondola between what was then the Canyons resort — now the Canyons Village side of Park City Mountain Resort — and Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Bishop wanted Congress to authorize selling 30 acres of land to Canyons to move SkiLink forward. Influential environmental activists and outdoors lovers from both sides of the ridgeline were livid, arguing SkiLink would have disastrous consequences. The resort industry, though, saw SkiLink as something that would increase Utah’s attractiveness as a destination, modeled on the interconnected mountain resorts of Europe.
Bishop, who will retire from Congress in early 2021 after nine terms, in March of 2012 entered the Wasatch Bagel Cafe in Park City during what was a successful reelection bid that year. It was a rare public appearance in Park City by the congressman, and tensions were expected. Bishop attempted to calm the room, saying he would not rush the legislation. The crowd, largely there to discuss SkiLink, was displeased nonetheless. One of those in attendance told the congressman it appeared he was selling public lands to the highest bidder.
SkiLink did not materialize, but the event in Park City in 2012 nonetheless offers a telling illustration of the political difficulties Bishop encountered in the community. Park City has for decades been a political outlier in Utah, one of just a small number of reliably Democratic strongholds in the state, after years of arrivals from places like California and New York. Bishop, who is from Brigham City, never could sway the voters of Park City or Summit County. He carried Summit County just once — in 2010 — losing in the county to a string of Democrats in the other campaigns. The Park City area and the East Side of Summit County, though, represent a small portion of the 1st Congressional District electorate, and the larger population centers backed him by wide margins as he easily won reelection each time.
As he prepares to retire, Bishop’s legacy in Park City and Summit County is difficult to ascertain. The election results show he never connected locally. And many of his conservative positions, seen in the area as overly promoting business interests at the expense of the environment, seemed to strike at the core of the values of many Parkites. His stalwart support of Hill Air Force Base, a key employer in the district, is not an overriding issue in the Park City area like it is elsewhere.
Still, though, there are those who say Bishop at some level was able to set aside partisanship to work with the Park City area over the years even when the talks involved people of vastly different political stripes.
“I think what we realized was there was area we could find common ground,” said former Park City Mayor Dana Williams, whose administration overlapped with Bishop’s time in Washington for 11 years.
The mayor’s office in Park City is nonpartisan, but Williams adheres to Democratic principles. Williams noted City Hall and the congressman worked on issues like environmental cleanup, the Air Force’s attempts to locate a lodging property in Park City and open space. He recalled Bishop once spearheading City Hall’s efforts to testify about land conservation in a Senate hearing.
“Certainly during my tenure, we got along with him pretty darn well,” Williams said, acknowledging he did not once cast a vote for Bishop in the district elections.
The former mayor said he respected the working relationship he and the wider municipal government had with the congressman.
“Politically he was a very conservative guy in an area that’s pretty liberal,” Williams said. “There were a lot of people who were not able to find any issue or common ground.”
The leader of the Summit County Democratic Party criticized Bishop as a political figure who ignored concerns and did not provide leadership on issues important to the area like the environment, education and health care. Meredith Reed, who is the party chair, said Bishop’s stands “just exacerbated” what she considers to be a climate crisis and said the values of Summit County and Bishop are not aligned.
“We just regarded him as useless to us, not representing us in Congress,” Reed said. “Good riddance.”
The chair of the Summit County Republican Party for four years ending in 2017, Tal Adair, said Bishop performed well for the county. He described the congressman as having “fought for the rural part of Utah.” Bishop also holds the belief “we had a right as citizens to govern ourselves,” Adair said.
“I don’t think he did get a fair shake. That’s politics,” Adair said about Bishop in the Park City area. “People allowed politics to get involved.”
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