Sunday, April 13, 2008

Incumbent North Ogden, Utah Representative Glenn Donnelson Forced Into Republican Primary Contest By Upstart Ryan Wilcox

District 7's Utah State Representative Glenn Donnelson (R-North Ogden), one of those whose name has become synonymous with immigration reform, may have paid a price for his perceived single-minded dedication to the principle. During the Weber County Republican convention held on Saturday April 12th, 2008, upstart Republican Ryan Wilcox outpointed Donnelson in delegates, 45 to 44, forcing a primary contest between the two on June 24th, the winner of which will face Democrat Rob Reynolds in November. Primary story published April 13th by the Salt Lake Tribune. A related story in the Deseret Morning News primarily enumerates the results of both the Weber County and Davis County conventions. There's also a story in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, but it's in the Digital Edition, requiring a paid subscription, rather than the free online edition. [Ed. Note: The awkward configuration of the Standard-Examiner's website is a persistent source of irritation and frustration to me as a blogger. It provides little incentive to consistently use it as a reliable source of information.]

The challenge was not unexpected. In another Tribune story published April 11th, Donnelson expressed awareness of the perception that he is a one-issue legislator, and attempted to debunk the notion. Donnelson points to legislation he sponsored during the recent session as proof that he carried water on several issues, as only six of his 15 bills dealt with immigration.

However, the 30-year-old Wilcox, who is a former legislative aide himself, has clearly benefited from that experience politically. And issue diversity is his hallmark. "There are a lot of issues that need to be addressed in our district" - education and property taxes among them, says challenger Ryan Wilcox. "Rep. Donnelson has focused on immigration - that's a concern". Wilcox doesn't disagree with Donnelson's stance on immigration, but disagrees with the preoccupation and wants a more balanced approach. He believes immigration reform needs to strike a balance between law enforcement, moral principles and economic vitality.

For Donnelson, facing an intra-party challenge is nothing new - he's faced one in every convention. But he concedes Wilcox could put up more of a fight. "This race is a little more difficult. [Wilcox] believes what I believe on most issues as far as I can tell," Donnelson says. "We differ a little on illegal immigration".

During the 2008 legislative session, Donnelson had hoped to repeal driving-privilege cards and the granting of in-state college tuition to undocumented students. Because Utah is one of four remaining states which issue the cards, Utah is becoming a magnet for illegal immigrants. However, his bill, HB241, along with his other immigration-related bills failed, in addition to his House resolution urging the United States to pull out of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). More moderate immigration legislation passed with broad-based support.

And those failures may become another campaign issue as well, as some believe that Donnelson's lack of success in getting his bills out of committee may be under-enfranchising the district. This issue is also cited by Chris Buttars' opponents in Senate District 10 as a limiting factor there as well, although, unlike Buttars, Donnelson has steered clear of any controversial "politically-incorrect" remarks.

However, as Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly opined on April 5th, there seems to be a general climate of insurgency within the Utah Republican Party this election cycle. Fifteen Republican incumbents in the state House of Representatives are facing stiff challenges from within their own party. Of the nine Republican incumbents who are up for re-election in the State Senate, five are being challenged by fellow Republicans. And, for the first time in memory, all 75 House seats are contested, while in the Senate, only Senate President John Valentine (R-Provo) escaped with no challenger at all. It should also be noted that this is assuming the guise of an inter-generational fight as well, as the challengers tend to be younger, more corporate-appearing types.

While Rolly cites the voucher fight of 2007, when GOP legislative leaders crammed tuition tax credits for private schools down the throats of a reluctant public, then vigorously fought the successful populist movement to repeal that legislation, as the major issue, he also believes it goes deeper. Rolly suggests the legislature in the grip of an ultraconservative clique that is intolerant of moderate points of view, especially within its own party, and excludes anyone who doesn't play along. The cast-iron resistance to ethics reform is also generating more GOP insurgency, as lawmakers continue to accept gifts from lobbyists.

Local sentiment about Donnelson is expressed on the Weber County Forum. While supportive of Donnelson, a number of locals are concerned about his close assocation with the Utah Realtors' Association. And in an earlier post, WC Forum highlighted Donnelson's efforts to opt Utah out of Real ID, the deficiencies of which are amply chronicled on the website.

The winner of the June 24th Republican primary will likely prevail over Rob Reynolds in November. The question is, who will be the winner? If Glenn Donnelson can throw a few bones towards the "candlelight vigilistas" on immigration and promote a strategy towards getting more of his bills passed, he can prevail over Ryan Wilcox. While Wilcox is undoubtedly an honorable man, he has yet to show a distinct personality.

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