Interviewing the candidates: Utah Senate District 14

by John Mulholland
by John Mulholland

We find ourselves in another election season with three great candidates to choose from to replace Senator Al Jackson in Senate District 14. This race will likely be determined by the delegates at convention even though two of the candidates have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the primary, regardless of the convention outcome.

In an attempt to help both the delegates learn more about the candidates and help candidates get their message out, I have interviewed all three and am doing this write-up. As there have been some whisper campaigns, my first priority is to be as accurate as possible. Rumors have a tendency to put doubt in people’s minds, which can cause a candidate to lose votes, even if they aren’t true.

Morgan Philpot – The Leader
Morgan Philpot
Morgan Philpot

I have known Morgan for many years. I first met him at a state convention when he was running for State Vice-Chair. He gave a wonderful inspirational speech about integrity. Morgan has always been a wonderful speaker that is able to inspire others with his principles.

Morgan previously served as a state legislator in the House. He resigned at the very end of his term to go to law school. Morgan came back to Utah and remained active in politics, running against Jim Matheson in 2010, almost beating him, and then for governor is 2012. While in the House, he said his biggest accomplishment was passing special needs voucher bill that is still being used. This provides more options for parents of kids with special needs.

I did hear some allegations about Morgan not paying back some money somebody who lent his campaign money. Through my own personal research and talking to many of other individuals involved I cannot find anybody to back up this claim, other than the person who claims he owes them money. I have also found some contradictions in the claim. It is my conclusion that there is no solid evidence of any wrongdoing on Morgan’s part.

I asked Morgan why he was in the race. He talked to me about the ability to socially interact with others and how freedoms like this are so important. He wants to make sure that this is preserved. He hopes to move things to the local level, especially to the family, especially things like the juvenile court. He also wants parents to have complete control of their child’s education.

Morgan also thinks that the government has gone so far dealing with struggling parents that it infringes upon everybody else. He sees the origins of compulsory school laws as an effort from the federal government to teach Mormon kids away from their parents.

When asked why people should get involved even if they won’t statistically make much of a difference, Morgan said “if you want to live a happy life, you are obligated to uphold the principles that get you happiness. And those principles are dedication of your life, your fortune, and your effort. And without those we won’t have liberty.”

Holly Richardson – The Collaborator
Holly Richardson has announced that she is running to replace Al Jackson in Senate District 14 when he resigns at the end of his term.
Holly Richardson

I have also known Holly for a long time. She has also been active in politics for many years and has served in the House. She did resign that seat early in order to head up the Dan Liljenquist campaign for Senate, pushing Senator Hatch into a primary, causing him to spend $13 million to win the election and to say this was his last term.

Holly has also served as an unpaid citizen lobbyist for years as well as well as a political blogger, Holly on the Hill. She prefers to build long-term relationships and be patient with people instead of trying to shame or force them into voting her way. I asked Holly why she needed to be an elected official to continue. She said she didn’t, but as an elected official you can drive that discussion more. She doesn’t have an interest in moving beyond this position though. I asked her why she wants to do it and she told me that she feels it is a way for her to serve and give back to the community. She also said that the more people who work on a piece of legislation, the better it usually is.

Often we get tunnel vision within our self-proclaimed righteous causes. When asked how she can avoid that mentality she told me that she always seeks to understand the different sides of an issue. Some legislators are surprised during a committee meeting or debate to hear concerns about a bill and don’t know how to respond. She told me that this makes for poor public policy.

She has also spent much of her life serving those in need. She has adopted many special needs children, along with having of her own children. She didn’t even use the foster care system, so she has taken no government money to do it. Her and her husband knew some would have short lives. Her kids have are all older now.

She told me that her biggest political accomplishment was to push a law that created a voluntary licensing for midwives. She has a nursing degree and has been a midwife. She thinks she offers a unique perspective from her background in nursing, as a midwife, and as a mother of so many. She also is very concerned about education and wants to continue to proactively reach out to schools and discuss the various concerns. She feels she can find solutions that are win/win.

Another issue she has worked on is removing regulation including a need for hair braiding licensing.

Holly did gather signatures. She did not use a private company but paid her kids and had volunteers help get them.

Dan Hemmert – The Analyst
Dan Hemmert
Dan Hemmert

Dan is a relative newcomer to state politics, although he served for many years in the caucus system in many positions including as an alternate national delegate during the last presidential election. Dan has a finance background with a law degree with a very specific specialization. But he can understand law.

Dan does have some controversy. After he gathered signatures through a private company, he decided to exercise part of his contract and prevented the company for working for Holly Richardson. Holly used volunteers and paid people to gather signatures. Dan said this was a “business decision.”

Dan also accepted some money from wealthy former employers, including the CEO of Zion’s Bank. He assured me that these are people he has known for a long time through his business dealings and that they would not have any undue influence. He reiterated to me that he would be very willing to speak to any of his constituents when in office and would get back to them if not available. Dan believes they donated to him as they know he will do a great job for the state. Some of his donors have also donated to Count My Vote but Dan assured me that he has proven his belief in the caucus system by serving in it for the last 18 years.

These relationships are a byproduct of his very qualified background in finance. Dan explained to me how he helped OrangeSoda, a software company, recover from huge losses and become more profitable by finding and focusing on its profitable products. He was also a partner in a private equity firm.

It is important for delegates to consider a qualified finance person in the senate. Because of financial expertise in the Senate with people like Senator Hillyard we weathered the financial crisis much better than other states.

When asked why he was running, he told me about how much time and money he had to spend with his company, Red Hanger Dry Cleaners, to comply with Obamacare. He explained how all of the time and money did not add any value to the company, the customers, or the employees, as they were already offering healthcare to their employees. He is at a point in his life where he can run and there is an opportunity available.

I asked Dan about how he makes his decisions. He tries to rely on data and tries not to make any preemptive conclusions. We went over a few issues and he told me some of his ideas and where he would like to start investigating on order to improve our government and reduce waste and inefficiency. He also told me what he needs to learn in order to do it. He said that he doesn’t have any solid conclusions until he makes sure he has looked at the data.  He explained to me that when you make large financial decisions you need to make sure you understand all of the sides of the issue and have multiple eyes on it. You cannot be emotionally attached or be ideologically rigid or you end up making very costly mistakes.

He already has a list of things he wants to look into, including why we are rebuilding the on/off ramps in Thanksgiving Point. He wants to also look into why money is tied to specific programs in schools but not really measured, instead of giving schools more local control.

I then asked why he can’t just do this as a citizen. He explained that being an elected official allows him to have dedicated time to work on the issues facing the state.

Dan loves the area and also told me that he doesn’t ever want to live anywhere that he can’t see Mt. Timpanogos, which he hikes several times a month during the summer.

Conclusion

Each candidate brings something different to the table. All are capable in their own way. I asked a friend who has served in the House with both Morgan and Holly. He told me that Morgan was a bit pushy and brash when he first served but then attended law school and is well thought of. He also told me that Holly is a very special person. She has strongly held beliefs but is also pragmatic. He enjoyed working with her. Dan is also very well thought of in the business community.

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