Top 5 Utah stories of 2014
2014 may go down in Utah history as the year same-sex marriage became the law of the land, but there were plenty of other big stories that also had impacts in Summit County.
From state election reforms, to attorney general corruption, to Obamacare expansion, the state is undergoing significant changes. Election results also revealed that the county continues to be an island unto itself inside its own election districts.
Here’s a rundown of some of Utah’s biggest news stories of the past year:
5. Summit County, all alone
Utah voted Republican more so than any other state in the last presidential election. A Mormon on the ballot certainly didn’t hurt, but Utah’s current "redness" can’t be denied and was on display once again in this year’s elections.
Donna McAleer, a Democrat from Pinebrook, won 55.2 percent of votes in Summit County in the 1st Congressional District race where she faced incumbent Republican Rob Bishop. It didn’t matter, though, as McAleer won only 29 percent of the vote throughout the district, resulting in an easy win for Bishop. It was a similar result to the last time the pair faced off — for the same office in 2012, when Bishop won 71.5 percent of the vote.
The story was the same with other results.
Democrat Glenn Wright of Park City won 63 percent of votes in the county in the Utah House District 54 race against incumbent Republican Kraig Powell of Heber. Wright lost the district, however, 61 to 39 percent.
Incumbent Republican State Senator Kevin Van Tassell was beat by Democrat Wayne Stevens 57 to 43 percent in Summit County in the District 53 race. District-wide, though, Van Tassell won almost 70 percent of the vote.
4. Healthy Utah
Governor Gary Herbert made a long-awaited announcement as 2014 drew to a close: Utah had negotiated a plan (dubbed "Healthy Utah") with the federal government to expand access to health care to some of its neediest citizens, as Obamacare was designed.
It’s not exactly Medicaid — it’s "Medicaid-funded coverage" that uses the hundreds of millions of Medicaid dollars earmarked for low-income Utahns to help those people get insured through private insurance plans. Healthy Utah appears more expensive to the state than a straightforward Medicaid expansion would be, but many Republican-controlled states refuse to even entertain the idea of accepting federal money out of principle, so the plan is unquestionably a big step.
If approved by the Legislature in 2015, Healthy Utah is projected to insure 133,000 Utahns by 2017. It would bring "an infusion of over $400 million" into the state each year, according to the plan, which adds that economists have predicted "economic growth" if the plan is enacted.
3. Count My Vote (SB54)
The ballot initiative resulted in compromise legislation (SB54) which made some reforms to Utah’s election nominating laws that would go into effect next year.
Count My Vote sought to "replace the state’s antiquated caucus-convention system with a much more open system of primary elections," according to a recent Salt Lake Tribune editorial, which summed up SB54:
"The parties could keep their caucuses and conventions. But the state would allow an alternative means to winning a party’s nomination and a spot on the general election ballot. That alternative was for candidates to get enough signatures on a petition so they could bypass the conventions and get their names on the party primary ballot."
The Utah Republican Party filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging SB54, saying it violates the state’s constitution, so this story isn’t over by any means.
2. Attorneys General charged
The attorney general wields considerable power, making judgment calls about all manner of criminal and civil matters throughout the state. It’s what made it so appalling when both of Utah’s last two attorney generals — Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow — were arrested in July and charged with 23 different counts between the two of them.
Criminal charges against the two attorney generals were anticipated after Swallow resigned from office in late 2013 amid myriad investigations and accusations of corruption. In March, a House committee investigation report concluded that "Mr. Swallow hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign on the Office door that invited moneyed interests to seek special treatment and favors."
Both the Democratic and Republican nominees for attorney general in this fall’s elections vowed to change the culture of the office and to restore integrity and public trust in it. Both candidates, however, including winner Sean Reyes, had worked in that office for years.
1. Same-sex marriage
It was December 2013 when U.S. District Judge Richard Shelby started the ball rolling by striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriages. The governor and attorney general vowed to appeal the decision as long as possible — which turned out to be early October. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court decided it would not hear any of the appeals (including Utah’s) of same-sex marriage bans being recently overturned by courts across the country.
"While I continue to believe states should have the right to define marriage and create laws regarding marriage, ultimately we are a nation of laws and we will uphold the law," Herbert said at the time.
Parkite Heather Miller, who married her longtime partner Kelly Vickers during the brief December 2013 marriage window, summed up the end of the marriage fight in Utah.
"It makes it a lot better for the future," she said. "It’s huge. It’s just amazing for Utah."
A former Summit County victim advocate who was facing a felony count of misusing public money pleaded guilty Tuesday to a lesser charge in a deal with prosecutors.