While eyeing a top leadership post in the Utah Legislature, Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, is having to fend off a serious challenge to his incumbency.
Following a narrow loss of 82 votes to Bigelow in 2002, there was little doubt that Democrat Corey Rushton would again run for Bigelow's seat. Nor was there any question that the incumbent Republican, who is seeking a sixth term, would overlook his opponent, even though he is also campaigning for House majority leader.
"The surprise would have been if he didn't run," Bigelow, 55, said. "It's always fun to be in a good, close race."
For his part, Rushton, 29, expects a much more difficult campaign, primarily because people in both parties are aware of him.
"Last time, it was to our advantage that we were underestimated, although people in my inner circle knew it would be close," Rushton said. "This year, we don't have the element of surprise, so it will be harder."
Both candidates agree that education is a top priority, and both of them oppose tuition tax credits. They also agree that education decisions need to be made by state and local leaders, and not by federal officials through programs such as No Child Left Behind.
"It really handcuffs teachers," Rushton, a financial analyst for McGraw-Hill, said about NCLB. "It forces them to teach to test."
An accountant for the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Bigelow said that the legislation was too far-reaching, and that "schools need flexibility" to be successful.
"There's nothing wrong with some parts, but it's too big," he said. "But one size does not fit all . . . the closer you get to parents and teachers working together, the better."
Growth, transportation and water concerns are also important, especially for residents in the fast-growing western part of Salt Lake County, the candidates said. House District 32 runs approximately from 3500 South to 4700 South and from 400 West to 5600 West.
Bigelow said that more attention needs to be given to those people who do not live close to the I-15 corridor and have to travel east to get to a major artery.
"Not everyone works north-south out here, and the east-west routes are insufficient," he said.
Rushton said that the growth needs to be managed better, which would help improve some of the problems — whether clogged roads, water shortages or inadequate services — experienced by residents in the district.
"Our state needs smart growth," he said. "If we're going to grow our valley all of the way to the Oquirrh Mountains, we need to do it right."
Rushton also emphasized the need for "fresh blood" at the Legislature, and that an experienced legislator like Bigelow is not always the best legislator for the district. Additionally, the Legislature needs more political equity, something he said is very important to residents. Republicans hold a 56-19 majority in the 75-member House and have held the majority since the mid-1970s.
"If balance is going to start somewhere, it will start in this district," Rushton said. "The people here can have a strong influence on the future of the Legislature."
Bigelow, however, said he understands the process (he is currently the House budget chairman) and the issues, and that having their representative in House majority leadership could be very important to the district.
"Those who are in leadership and have been serving there know the issues and have a little more influence," he said. "West Valley has had some great Democrats in leadership," he said. "But they have not had a Republican in leadership. It would be a great benefit to the district."