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Taylorsville Journal

Utah House race: District boundaries change, but the opponents remain the same – Wendel vs. Dunnigan

Apr 03, 2022 07:45PM ● By Carl Fauver

After narrowly losing her Utah House race to incumbent District 39 Representative Jim Dunnigan two years ago, Lynette Wendel will challenge him again in the fall, this time in the reconfigured House District 36 race. (facebook.com/votelynette )

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

If Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed could stage a made-for-Hollywood rematch 40+ years ago, why not Lynette Wendell and Jim Dunnigan in 2022?

For those not old enough to remember, Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky was a huge underdog in the original film against the established heavyweight boxing champion, Creed. It was pretty much like nearly every Democrat in Utah who ever faces an incumbent Republican, in any race.

But with the Penguin in his corner (Burgess Meredith), Rocky barely lost. Kind of like Wendel, at the height of the pre-vaccine pandemic, in November 2020.

Seventeen months ago, Jim Dunnigan (R) was the 18-year established incumbent in House District 39. Yet his win over challenger Lynette Wendel (D) was another “barely,” 7,836 votes to 7,752. The Republican calls it the closest of the ten races he’s run since 2002.

But Dunnigan-Wendel II will be much different this November, because the shape of their political “boxing ring” has been significantly reconfigured. Thousands of mostly Kearns voters who saw those names on their ballot two years ago will see new names this time around. Likewise, thousands of mostly West Jordan voters will see Wendel and Dunnigan’s names for the first time.

They all have our founding fathers – and Utah redistricting map makers – to thank for the change.

Near the top of the United States Constitution – Article 1, Section 2, to be specific – the U.S. Census is legally mandated. The coast-to-coast head count occurs every 10 years in years ending in zero. Then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson conducted the first census – which was “coast-to-wilderness” rather than coast-to-coast – in 1790.

The 2020 census determined each of Utah’s 75 House districts would have to grow from about 36,000 residents to 43,000. To accomplish these once-a-decade changes, House district maps were redrawn.

That’s why, starting next year, Taylorsville residents will be represented by four different State House members (although two of them only have a very small percentage of city voters as their constituents).

And that new map is also why, this time around, thousands of Taylorsville, Kearns and West Jordan voters will see new names on their ballots.

The House District in question has also been rebranded, from District 39 to District 36. In broad strokes, the reconfigured district now lies between Bangerter Highway and Redwood Road, from 4700 South to 7800 South. Nearly two-thirds of the district remains Taylorsville voters. But a full 35% of the new District 36 constituents call West Jordan home.

“That part of West Jordan is a more Republican area and I look forward to getting to know the people there,” Dunnigan said. “I think the climate will be more favorable to Republicans this time, now that we have a Democratic president. I received no help from the top of the ticket two years ago.”

Challenger Wendel believes the shape of the new District 36 is no accident.

“There is evidence voter voices in our city were intentionally segregated and diluted as a result of my successful (2020) campaign,” she said. “Incredibly, we closed a 12-point gap on an 18-year incumbent by connecting and serving the people of Taylorsville and Kearns. But I am committed to no negativity or drama (in this campaign). I (will) stay focused on my merits and contributions to our community.”

The challenger Wendel, 53, is also looking forward to meeting those thousands of West Jordan voters who did not have her name on their 2020 ballot.

“COVID-19 really restricted our personal engagements (in 2020) so I think campaigning will be better this time,” she said. “We had volunteers call homes. My campaign was always about connecting the community. We hosted an event at Taylorsville City Hall in September 2020 to provide flu shots, and continued with community service events throughout that year.”

Dunnigan, 69, is also looking forward to meeting voters face-to-face, who he has never represented before.

“I have always worked for westside issues, not just Taylorsville or Kearns issues,” he said. “I have been getting to know West Jordan’s Mayor (Dirk Burton) and other leaders in the city.”

The Utah House member who represents the next largest number of Taylorsville residents, Karen Kwan (D), is also seeing her district reshaped and renumbered. Since 2017, she has served District 34. Now, with Murray voters out, mostly replaced by West Valley City residents, Kwan’s title will change to District 31 Representative, if reelected.

“We now have 17 Democrats (in the Utah House, out of 75 seats), which is the highest number we’ve had in my six years up there,” Kwan said. “During this (just ended) session, Democrats did well – with more Republican support for our bills than ever before.”

As to whether she supports Dunnigan or Wendel in their election rematch, Rep. Kwan… well… offers a political answer.

When asked ‘Has incumbent Republican Representative Dunnigan represented Taylorsville residents adequately?’ Kwan responded, “One-hundred percent…but a Democrat would be better.”

But Kwan also quickly adds, she’s not found endorsements to mean a whole lot to Taylorsville voters.

“Official endorsements do little; it’s about engaging with voters,” she said. “When I knock on doors, people talk about issues, rather than (political) parties.”

Rep. Kwan’s Republican opponent for her reconfigured Utah House District 31 seat is Andrew Nieto. Learn more about each of their campaigns at karenkwanforutah.com and nieto4house31.com.

Wendel and Dunnigan both have long track records of service to Taylorsville residents. In addition to serving in the Utah House for 20 years, Dunnigan also chairs the annual Taylorsville Dayzz celebration committee. And, a generation ago, he was one of the city’s original city council members.

Wendel, meantime, has served on the Taylorsville Planning Commission for years, and is now its vice chair. She’s also a member of the Taylorsville Public Safety Committee. And, just a couple of weeks ago, she was one of five people selected to review Taylorsville Police Department activities on the Community Advisory Board, starting July 1.

Dunnigan and Wendel both say they are excited to meet the new West Jordan voters in their reshaped Utah House district. Each are soliciting campaign donations now. Wendel held a public campaign kick-off event on March 19. At press time, incumbent Dunnigan was still planning a similar event.

To learn more about the Dunnigan-Wendel II combatants, visit votelynette.com or electdunnigan.com. At each of their campaign websites you can sign up to receive their respective email newsletters, or donate time or money to their election efforts.

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