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House District 44 is in party-line 'trench'

Demos north; GOP south; foes want to claim it

In the battle for party control of Salt Lake County, Rep. Chad Bennion, R-Murray, sees his legislative district as a primary front.

"Everyone who is elected north of me is a Democrat, and everyone south of me is a Republican," Bennion said. "I'm kind of in the trench, and it's important for me to hold that line."

Recognizing the importance of the district and another significant challenge from Democrat Tim Cosgrove — who lost to Bennion by only 89 votes in 2002 — the incumbent has decided against campaigning for any leadership positions in the Legislature in order to focus on the race at hand.

Besides, with a full-time job as an administrative assistant to Salt Lake County Councilman Marv Hendrickson, part-time work as a cross country coach at Murray High School and a "local sightseeing" guide business to run, vying for leadership seemed like too much.

Cosgrove said that he decided to run again many months ago, primarily because he felt that Bennion was not representing the priorities of the district.

"It was a lot of frustration with a lack of addressing the people's priorities," Cosgrove said. "I wanted to see that, and I wasn't."

One source of that frustration was actually an issue between election years in which the two candidates butted heads: seat belts. In that 2003 fight, Bennion hijacked a bill that would have allowed police officers to ticket all adults not wearing a seat belt in a car stopped for other violations and amended it to eliminate all requirements for adults to wear seat belts.

Although the bill did not address laws about restraining children, Bennion came under intense fire from traffic safety groups — including Cosgrove, who is a child safety advocate for Primary Children's Medical Center — and the bill eventually died on the House floor. Cosgrove said that even if the bill had not changed laws for children, it would have set a bad example.

"If I could wave a magic wand and do one thing to save children's lives, it would be to require seat belts" for all passengers, he said. "Our kids learn from the adults, from their parents."

Bennion, who survived a serious car accident a few years ago because of his decision to wear a seat belt, said that his bill was simply trying to put the decision into the hands of adults, and he was not endangering children with looser laws. He also said that he has only heard about it during this campaign when Cosgrove brings it up.

"The reason it remains an issue is because my opponent mischaracterizes what I did," he said. "I never tried to change it from a primary offense for people under 19."

Both candidates agree that the biggest issues for the district are education and economic growth — issues that are intertwined. Bennion said that if elected to serve a fourth term, he plans to introduce a bill which would give a tax credit for higher education and applied technology school tuition, which he looks at as an "investment" which will pay off in the future.

Cosgrove would push for a reduction in tax exemptions given to new businesses once they have reached a "level of profitability" to increase education funding, and would look to expand the applied technology educational options for high school graduates. That professional training can be an "economic engine" and is an ideal way to improve to job qualifications for people who do not have the time or money to go to college.