Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Real Choice For A Change In St. George City Council Race
For the first time in a long time, the St. George city council race is just that—a real race.
In recent elections the powers of incumbency and name recognition ensured the nearly automatic reelection of long-serving council members or designated replacements. But this time around, not one current council member will appear on the ballot.
Though no incumbent is running, three candidates—Jon Pike, Gilbert Almquist and Gloria Shakespeare—are pressed from the same mold as nearly every council member elected in recent memory. All are involved in businesses that benefit financially from growth. Pike is an executive with mega-employer Intermountain Healthcare. Almquist owns a local landscaping business. Shakespeare’s maiden name is Hurst. Her extended family owns the Hurst Ace Hardware chain.
The three are also deeply entrenched in the good old boys and girls club that has enjoyed a long-time hold on local offices. The mayor and council have kept this stranglehold in place by appointing members of the club to visible and important city committees, endowing them with name recognition that helps tremendously when they later seek election to the council. Pike is the appointed chairman of the city’s Arts Commission and former chair of the Chamber of Commerce. Almquist is the current chairman and sixteen year member of the city’s pervasively influential Planning Commission. Shakespeare is the volunteer head of the neighborhood enhancement committee. Her brother and sister-in-law are appointed members of the Water and Power Board.
The other three candidates— Benjamin Nickle, Ed Baca and Steven Swann—are certainly not members of the club. None of the three are involved in businesses that benefit from growth. Nickle is a manager at a youth crisis center. Baca is a retired law enforcement officer. Swann is an information technology consultant whose clients are primarily far from St. George. None have received appointments to city committees.
Given these differences it’s not difficult to understand why the two trios are on opposite sides of the two primary issues of concern in St. George—growth and illegal immigration.
Pike, Almquist and Shakespeare give lip service to doing a better job of managing growth and illegal immigration. Business associates have filled their campaign coffers with contributions to ensure this arguably disingenuous message gets out via radio and print. The trio has collectively amassed a financial war chest more than 3.5 times that of their three opponents. At least 75% of the contributions are from businesses that profit from growth and business leaders who personally share in those profits.
Ironically, this growth-funded advertising blitz is the best evidence the three won’t do anything that upsets the status quo. Their own businesses and those of many of their contributors are accustomed to the fruits of rapid growth—and in too many instances that growth is fueled by illegal laborers. And true to their “development at all costs” roots, they predictably and conveniently hide behind the slogans that “growth is inevitable” and illegal immigration is a problem “only politicians in Washington D.C. can solve.”
On the other hand, Nickle, Baca and Swann have nothing to gain personally by growth, and aren’t beholden to the local business coalition. All three have taken a pledge to implement local immigration policies similar to those recently implemented in Arizona and Oklahoma that punish local employers who hire illegal laborers—which we all know is the root cause of the illegal immigration problem.
So will St. George voters choose to keep the good old boys and girls club in charge? I don’t know, but I’m glad they have a clear choice for a change.