Potential successors praise retiring Evans | ParkRecord.com

Potential successors praise retiring Evans

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Putting aside party loyalty, the three politicians competing for a local state Senate seat on Thursday night bestowed praise on Republican Beverly Evans, the retiring senator whose decision not to seek re-election set off a GOP battle for the party’s nomination.

At a candidate forum at Wasatch Mountain Junior High in Heber, the three people vying to replace Evans in District 26 of the Senate said Evans, who was not wildly popular in Park City even as City Hall officials worked closely with her at the Statehouse, is a model legislator.

Kevin VanTassell, the Republican candidate, said he would emulate Evans if he is elected, noting that Evans was available to constituents. Roland Uresk, the Democrat, said that he would represent the diverse parts of the district and said Evans listened well. Sonya Ray, the Constitution Party candidate, said Evans supports family values and is a hero.

The District 26 campaign has not been watched closely in Summit County since a June Republican primary, when VanTassell beat Rep. David Ure, a lawmaker from Kamas, for the party’s nomination. None of the District 26 candidates on the ballot on Tuesday are from Summit County.

The district stretches over a large swath of northeastern Utah, encompassing parts of five counties. In Summit County, people living in the West Side and a small swath of South Summit are in the district.

Evans has served in the Senate since 1999. She was a House member from 1987 until 1998.

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The Thursday forum, like others held in the area, was largely uneventful and the crowd appeared more interested in the candidates who are seeking positions in Wasatch County than those who are campaigning for the Legislature. The crowd was especially anxious to hear Wasatch County candidates talk about school construction and zoning rules.

Also appearing were Democrat Laura Bonham and Libertarian Gary Shumway, two of the three candidates who are running for District 53 in the Utah House of Representatives. Mel Brown, the Republican in that contest, did not attend.

The District 53 competition has garnered more interest in Summit County than the Senate campaign. The district stretches over parts of five counties. In Summit County, the district incorporates North Summit, South Summit and Park City.

Bonham and Shumway responded to a question regarding funding for the Wasatch County campus of Utah Valley State College, with both committing to the future of the campus.

Bonham said it is smart to charge taxes to some industries that she said receive a "free ride" on taxes now and said she would seek more funding for the campus. Shumway said officials should be smart in a funding solution so that taxes are not raised.

Meanwhile, speaking more generally about education funding, Bonham said she is campaigning "to adequately fund public education and get funding directed to our classrooms."

"In the family values state, I find this unacceptable," she said about the dearth of money earmarked for schools.

Shumway countered that he is well-educated, that he wants parents to have more choices in their kids’ education and that teachers in Utah deserve better salaries. He said, though, that he would not support tax increases if he is elected. He said teachers require more money for materials so they don’t pay for the classroom necessities by themselves.

"We’re losing teachers to Wyoming," he said.

The District 26 candidates also addressed the college. VanTassell indicated that funding for specific programs is important, Uresk said money should be earmarked for campus buildings and Ray said education is critical to ensure America remains free.

VanTassell spends big

Kevin VanTassell, the Republican seeking the seat in Senate District 26, proved a financial powerhouse, campaign-finance reports show, raising and spending huge amounts of money compared to his competitors.

According to reports filed with state elections officials, VanTassell has raised $83,141 and spent about $54,125. He had a little more than $29,000 in his campaign account as Election Day approaches.

He was successful in raising money from the private sector and business interests. His report indicates that corporate donations included those from Questar, Qwest, health insurers, banking interests and homebuilders.

Uresk funded much of his campaign himself. His largest donor other than himself was from a group supporting Democrats for the state Senate, which gave $1,000.

Ray entered the final days before the election $266.97 in campaign debt. She garnered $945.71 in contributions and spent $1,212.68. Her donations came from individuals.