- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Incumbent lawmakers are running for re-election without any challengers in one of every 11 races for the Utah Legislature this year.

The filing period to run for office closed March 20, guaranteeing six Republicans and two Democrats won’t have a fight to keep their office.

In addition to those eight races, two House races involve Republicans facing third-party challengers with long odds of winning.

The other legislative races only attracted Republican candidates this year.

The lack of competition is unhealthy for Utah politics, several political observers in the state said.

And this lack of competition is by design, said Isaac Holyoak, a spokesman for Alliance for a Better UTAH, a left-leaning organization. The redrawing of legislative districts in 2010 made statehouse races less competitive, allowing some Republicans and Democrats to run unopposed, Holyoak said.

“The more competitive you can make a district, the more likely you are to engage voters and citizens, and the more likely you are to get candidates from both parties and a really healthy and vibrant discussion,” he said.

A lack of interest in running for office does not mean Utah residents are apathetic, Holyoak said, noting that the state has high rates of volunteerism.

It’s also difficult for people to step away from their full-time jobs to serve in the Legislature’s intensive, annual 45-day sessions, he said.

Jim Dabakis, a state senator and former chair of the Utah Democratic Party, told The Salt Lake Tribune (https://bit.ly/1dB1Lhp ) that his party turned out fewer candidates in 2014 than in previous years.

This year, all 75 Utah House seats and 29 of the state Senate seats are up for election. Of those, 12 races attracted no Democratic candidates.

“We really would like a candidate to run in every race because it is unseemly for democracy to have candidates with no opposition, no exchange of ideas,” Dabakis said. “It’s unhealthy.”

But Dabakis added that Democrats must be selective about where they spend their limited money and time, bypassing lopsided legislative districts for competitive ones.

“Those (uncompetitive) districts are created by legislators who will run in them,” he said. “You have legislators who are picking their districts rather than people who are picking their representatives.”

The redistricting process that takes place every 10 years should be handled by an independent commission, Dabakis said.

One of the candidates running unopposed, North Logan Republican Rep. Jack Draxler, defended the redistricting process.

“I really don’t buy the idea that there was a huge nefarious scheme to make a tremendous advantage for Republicans,” he said. “It would be naïve to say that politics had nothing to do with it . But I saw their work. I saw the process. I saw their deliberation, and they did the very best they could.”

The state is heavily Republican to begin with, Draxler said, which makes it hard to make competitive seats.

In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the state with 73 percent of the vote, and in 2008, Republican John McCain swept the state with 63 percent of the vote.

Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Brian King, another incumbent running without a challenger this year, said legislative districts were drawn to be a little safer for parties in 2010, but he agrees with Draxler’s point.

“I think there are some seats that would be safe no matter what you did with redistricting in both Salt Lake County for Democrats and in Utah County, for example, for Republicans,” King said.

Several candidates running without challengers said they’ll still travel their districts and campaign this year in order to stay in touch with constituents.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, https://www.sltrib.com


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