Democratic challenger files for District 53
Every year for approximately 45 days, Cole Capener keeps a watchful eye on the Utah Legislature.
He said oftentimes after the session ends he is frustrated, angry and even embarrassed at what he calls an increasing "disconnect between what the surveys reveal most Utahns want and what the Legislature does."
"I do believe the government here has not been responsive to its constituents," Capener said. "We have a one-party system here and they seem to be captive to special interests and passing laws to facilitate those particular special interests and not those of the people."
For those reasons, Capener said he filed as a Democratic to run against District 53 Rep. Mel Brown (R-Coalville). Brown, a Coalville resident, was elected to the Legislature in 2007 and prior to that served a lengthy stint from 1987 until 2000.
"I think I will throw my hat in the ring and I will try," Capener said. "I don’t have the full standing to complain unless I try and do something about it."
Originally from Seattle, Capener’s family moved to Utah when he was in junior high and remained here until he graduated high school. From there he bounced around from New York to Washington D.C. before moving to Beijing in 1986 as an international business lawyer for multi-national companies.
After nearly 20 years, Capener left his practice and became involved with HIV/AIDS projects in Africa. He started a nonprofit organization, Saving African Families Enterprise (SAFE), in Zimbabwe, to provide medicinal assistance to families living with the disease and continues to operate the organization today from his home in the Basin. He moved back to Utah in 2001.
Capener, 60 years old and a Sun Peak resident, said after his first unsuccessful bid for office in 2002 he realized the "harsh reality" of launching a Democratic campaign. However, he said after he found out no other Democrats had filed he felt obliged to run. Capener said he is cautiously optimistic.
"There is a different type of electorate now," he said. "I think the election could be a little more even. I think some people might come to appreciate the fact that it is time for someone else to represent the district because it is more urban than it used to be. Voters’ attitudes are changing.
"People believe that it’s not good to have a one-party system and the fact that we don’t have a responsive government is unsettling," Capener said. "A lot of people begin to check out of the democratic process when that happens."
Some of the areas where Capener said the Legislature is failing the residents is in education and health care. Capener said he if Utahns are going to compete with other students across the globe then they need to be offered a world-class education.
"What seems to be happening is the Legislature is willing to settle," Capener said. "We have the largest classes in the country and each year any additional amount that is allocated only keeps us at the status quo. The Legislature is failing and in this district we have a lot of kids aged 5-18 so this should be important to a large swath of District 53."
Making sure the state has an accessible health care system for everyone that needs it and a healthy environment for its residents should also be a priority for the Legislature, Capener said.
"We are lucky to live up here," he said. "When I drive down to Salt Lake, and my wife is Chinese, we say this is just like Beijing. When you have that kind of pollution it scares away businesses. And because of outdoor recreation and it more importantly hurts our health."
Capener said he is not oblivious to the difficulties that lie ahead of him in running against an incumbent such as Brown. However, he said he is not going to give "Mel one single vote."
"We just have one view and I think sooner or later that message will resonate with voters," Capener said. "I’m going after every single Republican vote and every single independent vote. I hope I have every democrat vote, but it’s going to be an uphill battle and I’m realistic about that. I’m also hopeful. I’m a serious candidate and I am committed to change and I am committed to those issues that I am passionate about."
Utah’s District 53 includes precincts in the Snyderville Basin, North and South Summit, Daggett, Duchesne, Morgan and Rich counties. In Summit County District 53 includes: Park West, Kimball Junction, Promontory, Snyders Mill, Moose Hollow, Silver Springs, Jeremy Ranch, all of North and South Summit, and parts of Pinebrook. Representatives are elected for a two-year term. The primary election is June 28.
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The Coalville native doesn’t see any major roadblocks for this year’s fair, though presenting in front of the County Council is a little nerve wracking.