Upstart Logan Wilde forces GOP stalwart Mel Brown into a primary
Two years ago, when Mel Brown ran for his fifth consecutive term in the Utah House of Representatives, he barely mounted a campaign. As an unopposed Republican in a predominantly conservative district, which includes large swaths of Daggett, Rich, Morgan, Duchesne and Summit Counties, his reelection was a slam dunk.
But this year he will have to work to retain his seat as House District 53’s veteran representative.
Saturday, at the state GOP convention, Brown failed to gain enough delegate support to avoid facing his Republican challenger Logan Wilde in a June primary. While he beat Wilde by 18 points, Brown missed the required 60-percent benchmark to lock down the GOP spot on November’s ballot.
"I would have liked to have had one more vote, but that’s the way it goes," Brown said.
In an interview Monday, Wilde said he was still figuring out his campaign strategy. Prior to the convention he said he was concentrating on rounding up delegate support, mainly in Morgan, Duchesne and Daggett Counties.
"Yes, I was surprised. Mel is an institution. I was happy to make it to 40 percent," he said
Wilde is a first-term Morgan County council member and currently serves as the board’s chairman. He is a sheep and cattle rancher whose operation covers 17,000 acres in Morgan and Weber counties and says that his main issues pertain to land use and agriculture.
"What I see happening in agriculture is that a majority of the producers are getting older so we are in a bind on producers in the future," Wilde said.
Brown is also a rancher whose family operates a dairy farm near Coalville. But according to Wilde, Brown has not done enough to support his Republican constituents at the state level.
"I feel he is not supporting the Republicans there in Summit County," he said. "I think the state ought to get out of land use issues."
Wilde said he is particularly concerned about the Democratic majority on the Summit County Council where four of the five county council seats are held by Democrats.
"It is not healthy that they have a supermajority of one party. What I see in the Summit County political arena seems to be one-sided," Wilde added.
Brown said his campaign will focus on his extensive experience in the legislature. Prior to his current 10-year stint representing District 53, Brown served for 13 years as a representative in Salt Lake County. Those terms included two as Speaker of the House. During the most recent legislative session, Brown served on the House Appropriations Committees for Health and Human Services and for Natural Resources, Agriculture and the Environment.
While he believes there are stark differences between himself and Wilde, he said, "I don’t ever say anything negative about an opponent. If I can’t succeed on my own record I am not going to put someone down to elevate myself."
Brown added, however, that he was surprised and concerned that Utah Governor Gary Herbert will also have to compete in a primary. Herbert ‘s Republican challenger, Jonathan Johnson received 55 percent of the delegate vote last Saturday, 10 points ahead of Herbert.
"I don’t see how a governor can have a 70 percent approval rating and can’t win his own convention," he said, citing the bitter battle between the moderate and more conservative factions of the GOP as the cause.
The primary election is set for Tuesday, June 28.
Only registered Republicans will be able to cast ballots on the Republican ticket which, in addition to the District 53 race, will include a runoff election between Utah incumbent Governor Gary Herbert and his Republican challenger Jonathan Johnson.
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Utah’s legislative general session is set to end on Friday, and if history is any indicator, there will be a flurry of floor amendments and last-minute changes for county officials to monitor.