Guest opinion: In House District 53, Butler can bridge partisan divide
Historically in Utah political races, the Republican candidate is the establishment choice: older, more experienced and endorsed by peers, community leaders and other politicians.
This year, the House District 53 race flips that script as Republican enthusiasm and public endorsements roll in for Democrat Cheryl Butler, 59, a retired businesswoman and Rotary Club officer running against Kera Birkeland, 37, of Morgan.
In a letter to the Uinta Basin Standard, Duchesne businessman and Republican Marc Eckels endorsed Butler, writing, “Cheryl would be a great asset to the Utah legislature due to her technical and professional background and her previous oil and gas engineering experience in the Uinta Basin.”
Bob Chamberlain, former vice chair of the Summit County Republican Party, also endorsed Butler, saying “Cheryl is the most qualified candidate.”
I called the candidates to discuss their campaigns, and also spoke with Republican Logan Wilde, who previously represented District 53. With 40,000 voters in the district, balancing constituent needs that vary and sometimes conflict with each other is no small task, Wilde said.
“As a candidate you need to be careful and well-rounded. You can’t let the needs of one district cannibalize the needs of another,” Wilde said. “You need to be well-versed before jumping in with solutions.”
Wilde said the district’s suburban concerns include managing growth, jobs and public safety, while rural issues include land use and a growing need for emergency and other services — very tough to fund in sparsely populated areas since property taxes primarily pay for those.
Regarding the contest for his former seat at the Capitol, Wilde said, “I have worked with both ladies, and Cheryl Butler is a great person.” He added, “I cannot endorse either one.”
Butler’s background includes 35 years, some of those in senior management, with a global energy company. She also serves on the board of Habitat for Humanity, and teaches English to recent immigrants. Her legislative priorities include managing growth, energy policy, expanding health care access and improving education.
Birkeland briefly attended BYU and has run two small businesses, now sold. She referees basketball and works part-time in a law office. She began representing District 53 in March after being appointed by the state Republican Party to fill Wilde’s vacancy. She cited reducing government red tape, managing spending and criminal justice reform among her areas of concern.
The ability to work with all colleagues in the Capitol and respect all constituents is crucial. So it was disheartening to read on Birkeland’s campaign web page that she believes “the greatest threat to our nation” is … people whose philosophies differ from the Republican Party’s.
Not a COVID-shuttered economy. Or Russian interference in our elections. Or North Korea’s missile capabilities (Birkeland cited Trump’s relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as one of his greatest presidential achievements.)
The “Leftists are demons” stance doesn’t bring people together or advance conversation. Political ideology is complex and won’t fit neatly into simple buckets. There are pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans, for example. (And I’ve lost count of how many pro-Biden Republicans I know in Utah.)
The disturbing issue is the characterization of “the other” as threat. That goes beyond divisive. It is dangerous, and feeds the hate and intolerance that we’ve seen increasing. Many voters — on both sides of the aisle — do not want to keep living that way.
Butler agreed emphatically.
“It pains me to see how frayed our social fabric has become in past few years with hyperpartisanship and polarization in our political life,” Butler said. “Throughout the district people tell me they’re exhausted.”
Butler, who is married to a conservative Republican (she has his vote too), said that voters throughout District 53 have expressed their desire for representatives who can “dial back the drama” and respectfully talk through issues.
I can’t think of anything we need more right now.
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F. Joseph Feely III writes in a guest editorial that he is concerned about the “likely impact of the extreme policy positions” Democrats will pursue if they win control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.