Republican Kraig Powell, delivering political bombshell, ends campaign
Kraig Powell, the Republican legislator from Heber City whose district includes Park City, ended his re-election bid on Wednesday, a bombshell that he based on a fear that the contest for the GOP nomination would be an especially brutal political spectacle.
Powell, 50 years old and from Heber City, had been seeking his fifth term in the state House of Representatives. Powell was locked in a difficult bid for the Republican nomination with another Wasatch County candidate, Tim Quinn. The challenger for the party’s nomination was aggressively campaigning to the political right of Powell, who has long been seen as a moderate member of the state Republican Party.
"The divisiveness of the upcoming campaign would really harm our community, small, close-knit community," Powell said.
He said the Republican contest between himself and Quinn would have involved the challenger labeling Powell a liberal and Powell painting Quinn as an "extremist" and a "radical."
"I don’t want to put our community through what was already becoming contentious and bitter," Powell said, mentioning that the group Americans for Prosperity, a national conservative organization tied to the Koch brothers, opposed him.
He said he did not have the campaign funds to match Quinn. He and his wife have been unable to sleep recently based on the tenor of the campaign, Powell said. He said his son’s marriage is soon and he does not want to be entrenched in a difficult campaign as that occurs.
Powell had been running an unorthodox campaign, opting to gather signatures in an effort to put his name on a Republican primary ballot. By choosing that route, Powell wanted to avoid the scenario of party faithful eliminating him as a candidate through the traditional caucus and convention process of choosing candidates. Powell was seen as vulnerable against the more conservative Quinn among the Republicans who typically participate in the caucuses and convention.
The moderate tendencies of Powell, an attorney, were appreciated by his constituents in Democratic-leaning Park City. Some Republican members of the Legislature saw him as moving too far to the political center, if not the left, though. He took well-publicized stands on state alcohol laws, medical marijuana and environmental issues.
Even still, Powell struggled on Election Day in the Park City-area parts of the district. Glenn Wright, the Democratic candidate in District 54 in 2014, beat Powell by a wide margin in Summit County. Powell won the seat with a strong showing in Wasatch County. The circumstances were similar in 2012, when Powell fended off Democrat Chris Robinson by routing him in Wasatch County even as he lost Summit County.
Powell over his Statehouse tenure courted constituents in the Park City area, crafting a legislative platform that frequently involved issues and stands supported by government and business leaders in the Park City area. He made regular appearances in Park City as well even though his political base was in Wasatch County.
"Kraig has been an invaluable asset for Park City at the Legislature, working on a broad range of complex and difficult policy issues. He has never been one to shy away from an unpopular issue when representing our community values and quality of life, and we will miss working with him dearly," Mayor Jack Thomas said in a prepared statement released by City Hall.
The campaign for the Republican nomination this year between Powell and Quinn was expected to be hotly contested. The GOP nomination is especially important in a legislative election like the one in District 54 since the Republican candidate long has had an advantage in general elections given the political makeup of the district.
"I was hoping for a campaign that was hard fought but yet relied on voting records and principles," Quinn said.
He said he did not intend to revert to "name calling" during the Republican contest even though he disagrees with Powell’s stands. Quinn said Powell’s decision will allow him to put campaign funds that he expected to spend in the Republican nominating contest toward the general election.
"I do believe Kraig voted his conscience and I think that’s important," Quinn said, commending Powell for "staying true to who he is."
Rudi Kohler, the Heber City Democratic candidate in District 54 who was awaiting the Powell-Quinn winner, said he agreed with Powell on issues like reforming campaign-finance laws, increasing education funding and expanding Medicaid. He said he plans to move to the political center and wants to seek the support of people who backed Powell. He will emphasize points of agreement, Kohler said.
"Kraig would have been a formidable opponent, primarily with our overlap in issues," Kohler said.
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Park City recently detailed the efforts to fill a range of vacant municipal posts in 2018 and 2019 as officials described the challenges City Hall has encountered in its hiring amid a hot economy.