Planning Commission member Wendel working to unseat Dunnigan for his District 39 Utah House seat
Feb 17, 2020 02:45PM
By Carl Fauver
The Utah State Legislative session is underway now, and an interesting race is already brewing for one of the House seats representing Taylorsville residents. (Google)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
A woman who quite literally travelled the world during her young adulthood — visiting 32 countries in two whirlwind years — decided a quarter century ago to put down roots in Taylorsville. Over the past 15 of those years, she has donated, by her estimate, 18,000 volunteer hours to the community.
Now, Lynette Wendel is focusing her attention on trying to upset one of the longest-seated and most-respected members of the Utah State Legislature at the ballot box this fall.
Wendel is now gathering the 1,000 petition signatures required to get her name on the Democratic primary ballot in the race for Utah House Seat 39, held for the past 18 years by another community stalwart, Republican Jim Dunnigan.
Assuming Wendel becomes the official Democratic candidate to challenge Dunnigan (at press time there were no other declared candidates), the race promises to be a difficult one for Taylorsville City elected officials to choose a side. Likely, most of the non-partisan Taylorsville City Council members will not endorse either candidate, because both Dunnigan and Wendel have donated much of their time and effort to improving the community.
“Lynette has been a champion volunteer and an amazing member of our Taylorsville Planning Commission,” said Mayor Kristie Overson, a former member of that same group. “She is very enthusiastic. I applaud her. She is bold and brave.”
But on the other hand …
“Jim Dunnigan is a former city council member and is very supportive of our city,” Overson said. “He has done an incredible job organizing Taylorsville Dayzz. He’s very kind and helpful. He keeps Taylorsville’s interests at heart.”
And don’t expect any more advice from City Administrator John Taylor.
“Jim Dunnigan has been incredible as our state legislator; he’s extremely accessible,” Taylor said. “He has done an incredible job coordinating Taylorsville Dayzz. He helps the city in many ways.”
“My hat goes off to anyone who provides the city service by volunteering their time, and Lynette has done that for years,” Taylor continued. “Politics is a personal challenge, and I congratulate her on entering the race. It should be an interesting one.”
Despite her years of volunteer service to Taylorsville City and many other organizations, Wendel said she has never been particularly “politically active.”
“I have not run for an elected position before and have always been registered as an independent,” Wendell said. “I will now have to register as a Democrat. But I hope no one will make the decision whether or not to vote for me based on my party. My decision to run is an extension of my public service. I appreciate the vast majority of voters in my district are unaffiliated. I think it shows the nature of our area.”
By her own admission, Lynette’s adventurous nature and willingness to accept new challenges are attributes she took time to grow into.
“In high school, I was so shy I would not even call to order a pizza delivery,” she said. “I was born in the suburbs south of Chicago and had not touched more than possibly four midwestern states until I was well into college at Eastern Illinois University.”
Her notion of Utah back in those days?
“Well, I watched Donnie and Marie (Osmond) on Friday nights,” she said. “We loved them, and we tried to put on our own show for our parents after theirs.”
Accompanying her mother on a business trip to Florida provided Wendel with her first plane trip. Her second flight was much longer.
“In the summer of 1988, while attending college, I flew to Australia for a three-week tour of the Outback,” she said. “I was in a photography program, capturing ‘a day in the life of Australia.’ My parents supported me going, and it was a wonderful experience.”
Upon returning, Wendel finished her degree in psychology, with minors in sociology and Spanish. And, after working two years to pull together seed money, Lynette departed the country in January 1992 for an excursion that made her Australian “walkabout” look like a stroll around the block.
“I booked a one-way flight to London in January 1992, with about $9,000 I had saved,” she recalled. “I ended up being gone two years — until December 1993, after visiting 32 countries, including Egypt, Israel, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. My budget was $10 per day, eating stale bread and bruised fruit. I worked odd jobs like picking strawberries and painting a barn. I slept on park benches and sometimes on a beach.”
By then, presumably, Wendel would have had the nerve to phone order a pizza.
After finally returning to the states, she spent a year working at the Grand Canyon where she met her husband of now 23 years, Mark Wendel. He was piloting canyon tour flights at the time. After already seeing much of the civilized world, her first time to touch Utah was while the two were dating when they flew to visit Bryce Canyon and Zions national parks.
Not long after that, they decided to make Utah home.
“Mark got hired by SkyWest, and we could have lived in a lot of different places,” she said. “By then we had gotten to know the Salt Lake Valley and knew we wanted to live on the west side. We rented our first apartment in Taylorsville, we have lived here ever since.”
The couple bought their first Taylorsville home in 1997 and lived in it nine years. Living in their current home since 2006, the couple has no children but a pair of dogs. Wendel also makes frequent trips to the Midwest to care for aging relatives.
“I’ve always said we were born to take care of parents and grandparents, not children,” she said.
On her campaign website (votelynette.com), Wendel mentions as her key campaign issues: education, air quality, housing, health care, transportation and animal services.
“I have found myself on [Utah’s] Capitol Hill more and more in recent years, for a variety of issues,” she said. “That’s when I began to make the decision to run. There just seems to be a disconnect too often between what the public wants and what lawmakers are doing. I have a lot of respect for (incumbent Representative) Jim Dunnigan. But he has served the past 18 years, and I think it might be time for new ideas.”
Dunnigan promises to run a serious campaign and said he does support his constituents’ positions.
“I consistently opposed the recent tax overhaul legislation, supported by most of my fellow Republicans,” he said. “Voters in my district opposed the change and that is how I voted.”
As for Wendel’s candidacy, Dunnigan isn’t too familiar with his opponent.
“People have told me she is running; I don’t know her really well,” Dunnigan said. “We always have to campaign hard in every election no matter who we run against. We will run a vigorous campaign.”
If Wendel wins her election, she will join District 34 Representative Karen Kwan (if Kwan is also reelected), as two female Democrats representing Taylorsville voters.
“I really like Lynette as a person,” Kwan said. “We are seeing a shift in our districts, with much more diversity. I enjoy working with Jim [Dunnigan]. He’s been around a long time and is an expert politician. There’s a lot of time left in that race. I’m waiting to see if any other Democratic candidates announce. But if I had to choose now, between Lynette and Jim, I would endorse Lynette.”
That’s a bit more of an endorsement than Taylorsville City officials are prepared to offer. But it’s also another sign, the Dunnigan–Wendel race — if those, indeed, turn out to be the opponents this fall — should be interesting.