Salt Lake Politics are “at the Forefront” this Year

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If you’ve been in Salt Lake for a while, you’ve witnessed the transformation of a once-small, quiet capital city into a bustling, growing metropolis taking on issues that play a role on the national stage.
Issues such as marriage equality, immigration reform, medicaid expansion and sustainability are among the topics political representatives and political science specialists have at the forefront of importance for the city.
Marriage Equality
Promoting the vision of a “fair and equal Utah,” the advocates at Equality Utah attempt to live out this vision by advocating for LGBTQ+ citizens in the state. Clifford Rosky, board chair for Equality Utah and professor in the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the U, said major milestones are in the future for marriage equality in Utah.
“I can foresee marriage equality passing in all 50 states by next June,” Rosky said.
Marriage equality has been in court in Utah, the region’s circuit court in Colorado and may appear in the U.S. Supreme Court after an appeal by Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Governor Gary Herbert.
Rosky said the decision for Utah will set a national precedent for marriage equality.
“If the Supreme Court overrules the appeal, all eyes will be on Salt Lake and the state of Utah,” he said. “As Utah grows, the nation grows on that issue.”
Medicaid Expansion
Jason Stevenson, the education and communication director for the Utah Health Public Policy Project, said Medicaid expansion is a rising political concern for many Salt Lake residents, especially college students.
“According to the Affordable Care Act, medical coverage was supposed to be extended to everyone,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is not the case.”
Stevenson said Herbert developed the Healthy Utah Plan to try to combat this issue and to insure all Utah residents. He hopes the final plan will be determined in September.
Immigration
Anna Thompson, communications director with the Utah Democratic Party, said Utah has one of the most under-insured Hispanic populations in the country, putting immigration at the top of her list of political issues facing Salt Lake.
For Thompson, the problem is manifested in the education system.
“Early childhood education needs to become a prime focus [for immigrants],” she said. “Currently Utah ranks last in the nation for funding of kindergarten through 12th grade. However, the issue with education extends to college as well.”
Demography
Matthew Burbank, a U professor in the political science department, said while marriage equality and immigration are big state issues, demography is the largest concern with Salt Lake City politics.
“It used to be hard to maintain the residential population of Salt Lake because everyone was moving to the suburbs,” he said. “However, with the steps being taken to revitalize the city, more people are beginning to want to live downtown.”
With improved transportation, he said, more people are now moving to the city. He said to further this work, Salt Lake City mayor Ralph Becker should work to improve walking access for pedestrians in Salt Lake City.
Sustainability
Art Raymond, deputy director of communication for Becker, said the over-arching political theme the mayor is promoting is a sustainability-based philosophy. He said Salt Lake is the home to the first LEED certified building in the nation, and Becker has worked to create a greener city.
Raymond said one initiative worked to increase the amount of bike routes, with an increased bike budget for the entire city, to decrease pollution from cars.
Raven James, a senior, said as an out-of-state student she is not familiar with many of the major issues going on in Salt Lake but is impressed with the sustainability talk in Salt Lake City.
Election Year
Morgan Cotti, program director for the Hinckley Institute of Politics, said this is going to be an interesting year for Salt Lake City politics because of the election year.
“One of the campaigns students should keep an eye on is Sim Gill’s campaign for district attorney of Salt Lake County,” she said. “Coming on the heels of the arrest of former Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff, Gill is at the forefront of the investigation.”
Cotti said students who are not registered to vote in the upcoming elections can sign up at the Hinckley Institute in OSH.
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