Democrats must choose a Senate candidate
Two Wasatch Back women who are vying for the Democratic party’s nomination for Utah’s Senate District 26 seat will face off against each other in this month’s primary election.
Eileen Gallagher and Pat Vaughn are hoping their diverse backgrounds and experience will carry them on to succeed incumbent Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, who is not seeking reelection to a fourth term. Senate District 26 covers swaths of Daggett, Duchesne, Uintah, Wasatch and Summit counties. It stretches from the Colorado and Wyoming borders to Pinebrook.
The primary contest between Gallagher and Vaughn has remained cordial, with both women commending the other for stepping up and contending for a seat that has been held by Republicans for decades.
Gallagher, a Parkite and pediatric physician, has only lived in Utah for about eight years. But, she feels that gives her a unique perspective on issues such as transportation.
Transportation and traffic congestion has been a critical talking point for Summit County’s elected officials in recent years. Park City and Summit County’s governments have worked hand-in-hand to offer alternative modes of transportation and get people out of their cars. Gallagher said the state Legislature can play an important role in moving those goals forward.
“We have a hodgepodge approach to transportation, and I think it is because we haven’t made an effort to have a unified approach,” she said. “In Summit County, we have world-class transportation, but in Wasatch County we have basically nothing. … Having someone who recognizes that we have a lot of disparity, but wants to bring a unified transportation policy will be key.”
Gallagher also stressed the need for a better health care system. She said the quality of health care fueled her desire to join the race. She added, “I love being a pediatrician, but I cannot do my job well because of the current state of our health care system.”
“I have patients who can’t afford medication and we can’t provide for their health care,” she said. “I strongly believe in accepting federal funding and the Affordable Care Act.”
Gallagher used her professional background to draw a stark line between herself and Vaughn. She said they are similar in being new to the political sphere, but she was unclear what unique perspective Vaughn offers.
“I’m doing this not because I necessarily want to do this, but because we need someone who can step up,” she said. “She seems lovely and bright, but also someone who is a good representative of businesses and business interests. There are already plenty of people representing those interests.”
Gallagher said she is not loyal to any industry. She said she wants to be someone to represent what is going to be best for the constituents.
Vaughn, a Midway resident who worked under former Gov. John Huntsman as part of his economic development team, agreed with Gallagher that they both have a great deal of “depth and breadth.” But, Vaughn said her professional background is significant because it is more relevant than Gallagher’s. Vaughn said she is running based on her experiences with education, economic development and job creation.
“I’m the only person running on either side of the fence that has state government experience,” she said. “That becomes important because what really leads the success in government is the ability to know and understand how you work across the party divide and build bridges.”
As a 20-year resident of Utah, Vaughn said she has an advantage over Gallagher because it takes time to get to the heart of issues and understand why they exist in a community. She compared it to peeling back an onion, adding “if you are fairly new to the area and not as invested, you have not necessarily contributed yet.”
“Having lived some of these issues I know them on a deeper basis,” she said.
Vaughn also highlighted transportation as one of the pressing matters along the Wasatch Back. But, she said the topic falls under economic development and deserves a close look.
“Some of these issues aren’t able to be resolved by the state, but certainly in collaboration,” she said. “We can begin to look at creative funding and other ways to combat congestion, such as widening the roads or staggering work force hours and having work force parking outside of the city limits with the free bus service into town.”
Vaughn described herself as someone with a “strong business acumen.” She considers herself compassionate but able to make tough decisions that affect communities firsthand. She said voters have a tough choice when considering herself or Gallagher.
“The reason this election becomes so critical and pivotal is, do the voters want to maintain the status quo or do they want something new and different?” she said. “Our current state of governance all looks alike and thinks alike. You need some diversity in there to be able to have better and deeper conversations and dialogue. I think that is a very compelling reason why people need to look at Eileen or me.”
Republicans Jack Rubin, Brian K. Gorum and Ronald Winterton are hoping to secure a spot on their party’s ticket and will face either Gallagher or Vaughn in November.