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Will Utah be able to handle such rapid growth? Local elections will be the key

Mayoral races across the state are already heating up.

SHARE Will Utah be able to handle such rapid growth? Local elections will be the key

Voters walk into Vivint Smart Home Arena during Election Day voting in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Frank Pignanelli and LaVarr Webb outline some of the more interesting mayoral races in Utah this year.

Yukai Peng, Deseret News

Pignanelli & Webb: “Winning the election is a good-news, bad-news kind of thing. OK, now you’re the mayor. The bad news is, now you’re the mayor.” — Clint Eastwood  

Although Utah will not have any federal or state elections this year, there will be plenty of politics at the local level in mayoral and city council races. These can sometimes be rather sleepy contests but, often, local elections are heated and even nasty. Citizens really care about local, neighborhood issues. Some of them are highly emotional.

Many of the hottest local issues are centered on the challenges of rapid growth. Utah’s population is expected to grow by another 2 million people over the next three decades.

Massive new housing developments, high-density housing, affordable housing, lot sizes, infrastructure needs and costs, and a desire to maintain a rural or suburban flavor — “like it was when I grew up” — often spark local battles.

And change is also occurring in rural Utah, causing some discomfort and political ferment. With more people working from home and able to live anywhere, some parts of rural Utah are becoming more desirable, with an influx of people, new ideas, and different values and cultures.

Utah experienced a dramatic increase in voter turnout last year. Vote by mail will likely also boost voter participation in the municipal races. Candidates will have to campaign more broadly, to all citizens instead of just those with a history of active voting in low-key municipal elections.

Further, more mayoral campaigns will be utilizing sophisticated technology and research activities that were once the domain of partisan federal and state contests. Utahns can expect aggressive social media, polling and demographic targeting in some of these contests.

The statewide municipal filing deadline is June 7, with primaries to be held Aug. 10. Most cities (with the exception of a few of the largest ones) feature mayoral contests this year.

Here’s a sampling of some of the more interesting mayoral races:

Sandy: Four years ago, Kurt Bradburn shocked the Utah political world by defeating permanent fixture Tom Dolan in the mayoral race. Bradburn is not running for reelection, and at least two council members are considering the race (Marci Housman and Kristin Coleman-Nichols). Interesting gossip indicates that the City Council Executive Director Mike Applegarth may also toss his hat into the ring.

Orem: Mayor Richard Brunst is not seeking reelection. Rumor is former mayor Jim Evans will run in what is a usually competitive race.

St. George: Mayor Jon Pike resigned in January upon his appointment by Gov. Spencer Cox to serve as Utah Insurance Department commissioner. Michele Randall was appointed by the City Council to replace Pike and will be seeking a full term. Council members Jimmie Hughes and Gregg McArthur may also run. Politicos are watching this race with interest because the controversy over changing the name of Dixie State University could be a major issue.

Provo: Mayor Michelle Kaufusi collected statewide recognition as the running mate for Jon Huntsman Jr. in the 2020 gubernatorial primary contest. She is gearing up for reelection, but there are whispers of heated opposition.

West Valley City: Beloved former lawmaker and state budget officer Ron Bigelow is not running for reelection as mayor. This is likely to produce a number of ambitious mayoral candidates from the City Council and community organizations.

Cedar CityMaile Wilson captured national attention as a young lawyer elected to lead her hometown. She is running for a third term with likely opposition from well-known businessman Garth Green.

Murray: Mayor Blair Camp, a former fire chief, is a well-respected institution among residents. Should he not seek a second full term, the race for the open seat will be interesting as the community has witnessed major political shifts in city and legislative offices.

South Salt Lake: Mayor Cherie Wood has survived several close races and could face another strong challenge should she seek a fourth term.

Park City: Mayor Andy Beerman is popular, but plenty of controversies arise in this ski resort community, possibly prompting competition.

Heber City: Mayor Kelleen Potter has deftly increased economic opportunities in this once-sleepy hamlet. But she has garnered controversy for strong positions on LGBTQ issues and affordable housing. These issues may promote opposition.

Bluffdale: Apparently, Mayor Derk Timothy may not seek reelection. This is fostering interest from council members and local business owners.

Davis and Weber County cities: Many of the municipalities in these two counties have mayors with two or three terms of experience. Longevity sometimes produces increasing opposition and a desire for new approaches. This suggests the possibility of potential competitive races by challengers wishing to oust the incumbents. One exception is Roy, where popular Mayor Robert Dandoy may not seek reelection.