While national media outlets portrayed the 2018 mid-term elections as a referendum on the first two years of President Donald J. Trump’s administration, Grand County voters appeared to focus mainly on two key local and state propositions on the Nov. 6 ballot.
By wide margins — and on both ends of the political spectrum — they supported a ballot measure to establish a study committee that will consider and possibly recommend a change in the county’s form of government.
County voters also parted ways with many of their rural counterparts — but joined a majority of voters statewide — in supporting a ballot measure that legalizes the use of medical marijuana for people with qualifying conditions.
Most races for county office were uncontested this year, so without any challengers on the ballot, voters’ attention turned to three key local contests.
In the race for an at-large seat on the Grand County Council, incumbent chair Mary McGann won with 2,102 votes — or 52.15 percent — compared with 1,929 votes — or 47.85 percent — for challenger Norm Knapp, according to preliminary results from the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office.
Christina Sloan, meanwhile, handily won the race for Grand County Attorney, with 2,220 votes — or 55.93 percent — compared with 1,749 votes — or 44.07 percent — for challenger Stephen J. Stocks.
Last but not least, Kathy Williams will join the Grand County Board of Education this coming January. She won 607 votes — or 57.70 percent, compared to 445 votes — or 42.30 percent for challenger Ryan Anderson — to fill the open District 4 seat on the board.
BROAD SUPPORT FOR PROPS. 2, 9
Proposition 9 — the study committee measure — passed by a tally of 2,834 votes to 1,237 votes, or 69.61 percent to 30.39 percent, according to preliminary election results.
The vote kicks off a study period of up to one year for the committee to review one of four state-mandated forms of government: a three-member commission; a five- to seven-member commission; a council with a county executive who has veto powers; or a council with an appointed county manager.
In the event that Grand County’s voters had rejected the measure, Utah House Bill 224 would have mandated a change to a three-member county commission by 2020. The county’s official argument in support of the proposition made the case that the study committee process would at least give local residents a say in the move to change the county’s current seven-member council form of government. (No one submitted any formal arguments against the proposition.)
In Grand County, Proposition 2 — the medical cannabis measure — passed by a vote of nearly three to one, with 3,113 voters supporting the measure, and 1,043 voters opposing it.
Statewide, it passed by a preliminary vote of 404,138 to 356,086, or 53.16 percent to 46.84 percent, with strong levels of support also coming from Salt Lake, Summit, Tooele, Weber and Wasatch counties. Apart from Grand County, Carbon and Daggett counties were the only rural counties in the state where a majority of voters supported it.
Local voter Micah Martineau said the proposition caught his attention.
“Most of the other stuff is pretty basic,” he said. “None of it stood out to much to me.”
Martineau said he “kind of” blew off the mid-term election at first. But he ultimately realized that every vote counts, so he rushed in to the Grand County Clerk’s Office to cast his ballot in person during the final hours of Election Day.
Martineau said he doesn’t want Utah to “go full bore” like Colorado and immediately legalize recreational marijuana without further reviews. But he believes that medical cannabis — which is now legal in a majority of states — is effective in treating seizures among epileptic children, among many other ailments.
“There are a lot of good benefits to it, in my opinion,” he said.
The measure was also a draw for Moab residents Kelland Brewer and Amanda Ballard.
“To me, Proposition 2 was the main motivation (in voting),” Brewer said.
Medical cannabis, he said, is a preferable alternative to harmful prescription drugs like Oxycodone.
“It’s really effective, especially in place of some more addictive opioids and things like that,” he said.
As she cast her ballot, Ballard was thinking of her father-in-law, who currently lives in another state and uses medical marijuana to treat his ailments.
“I want to be able to take care of him,” she said.
Apart from Proposition 2, Martineau joined an overwhelming two-thirds majority of voters statewide in rejecting a nonbinding ballot question that would have advised state lawmakers to pass a 10-cent gas tax increase.
“I wasn’t too thrilled about raising gas taxes,” he said.
For county voter Robert Irish, the mid-term election was largely about local issues — mainly ones that revolve around education.
“That’s the key to anybody’s future: a good education,” Irish said.
MORE THAN EIGHT IN 10 COUNTY VOTERS CAST BALLOTS
Grand County Chief Deputy Clerk Jana Smith said that unofficial election results show that 83 percent of active registered county voters participated in this year’s election.
“It is absolutely very good (for a midterm election year),” she said.
The Election Day tally went smoothly at the county clerk’s office, Smith said, and only a handful of voters lost their mail-in ballots this year, or mistakenly threw them away.
In one unusual instance, a woman’s 4-year-old daughter filled in the ovals that she had deliberately left blank on her ballot, so the woman dutifully showed up at the clerk’s office to fill out a second — and valid — ballot.
“It was busy, but it was good,” Smith said.
SOME SEE PROP. 9 AS A BOON TO LOCAL TURNOUT
McGann and Grand County Republican Party chair Jeramy Day both agreed that Proposition 9 played a role in getting county voters to cast their ballots during a lower-profile, midterm election year.
“I think that in Moab, the main issue was Proposition 9,” McGann said.
“That was huge for voter turnout,” Day said.
But they parted ways on the two-pronged question of how the process to form a study committee will play out, and who will serve on that committee.
“Now, it’s really going to come down to what the rest of the process is going to look like,” Day said.
McGann said that after she got over the initial shock she felt about House Bill 224’s passage, she reached the conclusion that local residents have to move forward as a community on the issue of changing Grand County’s form of government.
“I think it’s imperative — I think it’s way past important — that we work together,” she said.
Day, however, said he is concerned that a majority of county council members will try to circumvent a Republican-led citizens’ petition regarding the study committee issue. If his concerns come to pass, he said the local GOP is prepared to file litigation against the council, to ensure that the petitioners have a voice in the process.
“It’s not something we want to do; it’s something we feel we have to do, because we don’t want to be marginalized and cast aside,” Day said.
While many local Republicans coalesced around Proposition 9, the party had a harder time this year finding recruits to run for nominally nonpartisan county seats.
Some residents signaled their intentions to seek office and then dropped out for personal reasons, leaving others without enough time to file their own declarations of candidacy.
“We had some folks that just flat-out had reality creep into their lives,” Day said. “I will never fault anybody for (that).”
The pool of GOP recruits is “pretty thin” under the current form of government, Day said, and it’s been hard to find people without “huge agendas” who are willing to sacrifice their time.
“It’s unfortunate, but this is the reality we have right now,” he said. “If we go to a five-member council or commission, it’s going to make it easier to find qualified candidates.”
Grand County Democratic Party chair Kevin Walker said he understands the local GOP’s predicament.
“There’s a lot of work that goes in to fielding good candidates, so I sympathize with Jeramy Day,” he said. “I’m very grateful that we do have qualified people to serve on the county council.”
On another key issue, however, Walker said he’s not convinced that Proposition 9 drew local voters to the polls in big numbers.
Walker believes that the major issues this year center around efforts to preserve local residents’ quality of life in the face of growing impacts related to tourism. In that respect, he said, McGann — as well as unopposed candidates Jaylyn Hawks and Terry Morse — are the right people to address them.
“I think that we face challenges in Grand County,” Walker said. “But I think that our current council is doing a good job in facing them, and there’s more to be done.”
The Grand County Council is scheduled to canvass the local election results on Tuesday, Nov. 20. To see the preliminary results from the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office, go to: electionresults.utah.gov/elections/county/grand.
McGann retains council seat; Sloan to become next county attorney
“(The local mid-term election turnout rate) is absolutely very good.”