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SALT LAKE CITY — After months of legal uncertainty and controversy about whether United Utah Party’s Jim Bennett and the party itself would be able to register, both have officially earned a spot on the ballot. But what exactly is the United Utah Party?
Party Chairman Richard Davis has been toying with the idea of forming an alternate party to the republican and democratic options for years. In fact, a group of individuals came together about six years ago, Davis noted, to discuss the prospect of creating a third party, but the timing was still off.
“Around the 2016 campaign, as I began to talk to people about alternatives, they were more open to it than I previously had thought," Davis explained. "Over the last several years, the two parties have become increasingly out of touch with the people.”
Reinvigorating the Utah political system is the first item on United Utah’s agenda. Davis said that he wants to make politics more “user friendly” again.
“The United Utah Party, I think is representative of the need to find away through these uncharted waters — to find a way to break through the ineffectiveness and the political gridlock as we know,” Jim Bennett, United Utah candidate explained.
Davis noted that there are several roadblocks preventing Utah voters from having their voices heard in the electoral process. From starting an independent redistricting convention and favoring term limits to changing how school board elections are conducted, United Utah wants to hit the restart button.
“In Utah, school board, county offices, and the state attorney general elections are very partisan, in that individuals have to go through a specific party in order to run for office,” Davis commented. “A school board candidate has to show more interest in serving the party rather than in serving public education.”
In fact, Utah’s nomination process differs significantly from the majority of other states.
“Utah is distinctive in the power of party conventions over the nomination process. Until Senate Bill 54, partisans were required to go through a convention, which is dominated by extremists. With Senate Bill 54, there is still a significant cost for candidates to get on the primary ballot through petition signature gathering," Davis explained.
For these reasons, United Utah’s platform has been intentionally set up in a way to allow for members of all creeds to participate. Bennett emphasized that the party platform doesn't require any kind of a loyalty oath.
“Individuals are welcome to disagree with the party platform, and that makes for a much healthier discussion,” Bennett explained.
However, the platform does take a stance on some social issues, such as on abortion and on gun rights. The party supports Utahns possessing firearms, however, wants regulations that limit firearm possession for those who “would use them irresponsibly.” Regarding abortion, the party opposes abortion overall, except in those cases where there is a serious threat to the mother, fatal fetal deformities, or in cases of rape or incest.
But for the most part, United Utah aims to establish a party based off of law and principles, rather than being rooted in specific social positions, Davis explained.
“We do believe that things ought to be done, but they should be done through finding common ground. We don’t want to dictate to office holders or candidates or voters — ‘you have to think this particular way’ — we are not going to do that. We are setting broad parameters in the party,” Davis said.
United Utah supporters share Davis’ and Bennett’s views on the need for reform in the Utah political system and believe that United Utah is the best route to achieve this.
"I've been waiting a long time for a centrist political party that wouldn't be afraid to bridge the ever-widening gap between the Republican and Democratic parties," Caroline Kingsley, United Utah supporter stated.
“The United Utah Party breaks the impasse by providing a strong voice for the forgotten middle," said Jared Oates, a volunteer with United Utah said. "We have two dominant parties that are so tribal and so polarized, they can’t even talk to each other. On every major topic of the day, health care, gay marriage, immigration, abortion … the rhetoric is self-righteous and combative.”
Oates and Kingsley are not alone in their advocacy of the “forgotten middle.” In recent months, Utahns have proved to be more open to a centrist-like party. A June UtahPolicy.com poll seems to show as much, with 63 percent of voters stating they would consider voting for a United Utah candidate.
Ultimately though, it's the November 2017 election results that will reveal what Utah voters actually want.
- United Utah will hold open primary elections. An individual does not have to be a member of the party in order to participate in their primaries.
- Public lands: United Utah believes that there is a way to be able to preserve public lands, while also enabling and providing for economic development.