Republicans vying for state Senate seat emphasize transportation issues and local control
For Senate District 26’s Republican primary candidates, the road to Capitol Hill is called U.S. 40.
While Parkites weigh candidates’ priorities, local control and transportation have emerged as centerpiece issues in the race to represent the sprawling district, which contains much of the Wasatch Back and the Uintah Basin. Jack Rubin, of Park City, Brian Gorum, of Vernal, and Ronald Winterton, of Roosevelt, are battling it out to get the Republican Party’s nod in the district.
Even as Eileen Gallagher, of Park City, and Pat Vaughn, of Midway, seek the Democratic nomination, the winner of the GOP primary will be expected to have the best shot of replacing retiring Sen. Kevin Van Tassell (R-Vernal) in the Republican-leaning district.
While the trio of Republicans come to similar policy conclusions, they’ve tried to differentiate themselves to voters through their methods of reaching those goals. Gorum, who received the most votes at the state GOP convention on April 21, casts himself as a staunch conservative and a dealmaker. Rubin, running after collecting signatures to gain access to the primary, calls himself a “nerd” and has emphasized a concrete decision-making process and a focus on research. Winterton has secured Van Tassell’s endorsement and has experience in elected office as a Duchesne County Commissioner.
When it comes to local control, Gorum and Winterton, who aren’t from Park City, said they would support the city’s right to govern itself. The issue has been a focus of Parkites after a recent, unsuccessful legislative push to prohibit cities from imposing bans on plastic bags (Park City has the only such ban in the state). Similarly, the Legislature’s decision to lower the DUI limit to .05 percent, the strictest limit in the nation, was opposed by many groups representing Park City’s tourism sector.
Gorum, who moved to Vernal from Louisiana in 2000, called the new DUI law “unfortunate,” and proposed finding compromises between the Legislature’s priorities and those of areas like Park City.
“My campaign manager is the (Vernal) city prosecutor and he doesn’t know how he’s going to enforce that law,” Gorum said. “Maybe we can change some things in those tourism zones that will keep most Utahns happy but also make the tourism areas happy.”
In reference to the plastic bag bill, Winterton said he would have voted “no” had he been a senator when it appeared.
“A plastic bag issue is a local issue; my viewpoint shouldn’t dictate what the whole city’s going to do,” he said. “I’m not in favor of the state dictating everything.”
Rubin, who hails from Park City, has emphasized throughout his campaign that maintaining local control over local issues is a bedrock of his beliefs.
Lanes, trains and petroleum products
Rubin, Gorum and Winterton have all emphasized transportation as another central issue in the race. U.S. 40, a major commercial artery extending from Silver Summit to the Colorado border, is restricted to two lanes in many spots, hampering traffic which often includes large trucks carrying oil and natural gas products.
Rubin said that ongoing negotiations for a rail route through the Uintah Basin would be key to improving the district’s economy and road safety.
“There are accidents when people get stuck behind these tandem-tank trucks going uphill,” Rubin said. “What really needs to happen, in my humble opinion, is an alternative transportation route, and it’s most likely going to be a rail connection (to Colorado).”
Winterton, a former truck driver, said the addition of shoulders and of passing lanes, which are sparse in places, is key for U.S. 40’s function and that, as a legislator, he’d push for more transportation funding.
“We have traffic problems that Interstate 15 and Interstate 80 wouldn’t put up with,” he said. “Other than resurfacing (U.S. 40), it hasn’t changed in 40 years. … With this kind of traffic, whatever the leader is doing, that’s what you do.”
Much of the Uintah Basin also lacks a main artery connecting its communities to Interstates 70 and 80. Gorum said that, in addition to rail and pipeline options, he’d look into a route connecting the interstates along Seep Ridge Road, an incomplete north-south road in the Uintah Basin that would drastically reduce travel times for nearby residents and commercial traffic.
Primary election ballots have been sent out by the county clerk’s office and are due by Tuesday, June 26.
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