Upstanding legislator forced out by right-wing zealots
There has been plenty of talk these days about the destructive tenor of our political system at the national level. This week, however, one of those salvos hit too close to home.
Faced with a sophisticated attack campaign launched by a national conservative Political Action Committee, four-term state Rep. Kraig Powell, a Republican, whose district includes Park City and Heber, withdrew his bid for a fifth term.
Citing the stress placed on his family and a reluctance to divide the community, Powell bowed out as gracefully as he has conducted every one of his campaigns.
Powell was the first to preside over the newly redistricted legislative slice that combined portions of Wasatch County and Summit County. And, despite the district’s wide spectrum of cultural and economic components, he worked to accommodate all of his constituents’ needs. At the same time, he was particularly proud of the fact that he did not accept campaign contributions from lobbyists, corporations or special interests.
Contrast that with the PAC that came after him with a vengeance last week – Americans for Prosperity. The Arlington, Va.-based group, which established a Utah chapter last year, is funded by Charles and David Koch — instigators of the controversial Citizens United lawsuit that unleashed a torrent of corporate spending on election campaigns.
With just a week left before state delegates are to convene in Salt Lake City, Wasatch County mailboxes and homes were flooded with fliers and door hangers attacking Powell for his support of home-based business regulations – you know, like the one that says your neighbor can’t run a truck refueling station in the middle of a neighborhood.
Powell, whose two-year stints as a state legislator forced him to campaign every other year, looked at those slick, glossy mailers and did some quick math – without big-money backers he didn’t stand a chance.
Rather than compromise his principles, he pulled out – much to the disappointment of many voters and fellow elected officials.
When a diligent, hard-working legislator is forced to give up on his commitment to public service, it is proof that our political system has run off the rails. It is a warning, too, to any who would dare to tread a bipartisan path, that being labeled a moderate in Utah is a death knell.
While often painted as a Democratic stronghold, Park City voters do not, as a rule, vote a straight ticket. In the voting booth, they have supported many moderate Republicans (who shall not be named here lest their names be added to the Americans For Prosperity hit list.) This election cycle, many of them will be mourning Powell’s absence from the GOP ticket.
Powell is the collateral damage in a bigger battle being played out between moderate and extreme conservatives across the country. The question is this: once Americans For Prosperity, the Eagle Forum and other right wing groups excommunicate all of the party’s independent thinkers, who will voters choose? Will they settle for the corporate-funded right-wing shills or will they look to another party for a fresh perspective.
There may be some answers to those questions at this weekend’s state conventions.
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