Four candidates for House launched campaigns to represent Taylorsville residentsFeb 09, 2024 03:53PM ● By Carl Fauver
Father of three Democratic Taylorsville State Representative Brett Garner replaced Karen Kwan in the House 31 seat a year ago. He now faces one challenger from his party, and two GOP contenders, in his effort to remain in the post. (brettgarner.org)
In this Presidential election year, it will be next-to-impossible to get away from political news throughout 2024. National pundits will tell us about every twist and turn amongst Biden and Trump. Here in Utah, expect much of the same when it comes to the wide-open race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Mitt Romney.
The races you won’t hear much about will be further down on your ballot. On SOME of your ballots, to be more precise.
Every even-numbered year, Utah’s 75 State House seats are up for grabs. The incumbent nearly always wins when they seek reelection. That’s just the reality.
But this year, voters in northeast Taylorsville – along with many others in West Valley City and elsewhere – should have a little excitement in their District 31 House race. Yes, there is an incumbent; but he’s yet to receive the approval of “citizen voters.” Moreover, if he’s to retain the seat he earned a year ago in a special election, he’ll have to fend off one challenger within his own party – and then a GOP contender in November.
Here then are thumbnail sketches of the four people seeking the Utah District 31 House Seat:
Democrat Brett Garner – Incumbent:
A little more than a year ago, popular Utah lawmaker Karen Kwan (D) won her District 31 House race resoundingly. Technically, it was not a “reelection,” because redistricting had changed the composition of her District (and its number).
But very soon after Kwan was elected, veteran State Senator Karen Mayne resigned her post for health reasons. In a special election among Democratic Party delegates, Kwan was moved to the Utah Senate, where she has returned now for a second year.
Her departure forced another special vote among Salt Lake County Democrats to replace Kwan in House District 31. That is the race Brett Garner won. The election was literally decided by just a handful of delegate votes. But this time around, Garner will have to earn the approval of the general electorate.
On his website (brettgarner.org), Garner reports “I am a fifth-generation Utahn, descended from Utah pioneers. My wife Shannon teaches special education resource at Taylorsville High, her alma mater. I’ve worked to improve educational opportunities and fought against threats to our students’ success.”
With young children at home, Garner says he has been a stay-at-home dad since moving to West Valley City in 2018.
“I was born and raised in Utah; grew up in the Bountiful area; and graduated from Woods Cross High School in 2000,” Garner said. “As an elected official, I believe transparency and accountability is critical. I want people in my District to understand my positions. I spent several months posting online links to the hundreds of bills I voted on along with an explanation of why I voted the way I did. Too much of what happens at the State Legislature goes under the radar. That shouldn’t be the case.”
At press time, Garner planned to prefile several bills for consideration during the legislative session that just opened Jan. 16. One measure would create automated speed enforcement (“photo cop”) pilot programs in school and construction zones. Two other proposed measures would deal with raising the state’s minimum wage.
Before knowing if, or how many, challengers he might face for his House 31 seat, Garner said, “‘I am open to more people being involved in the election. I am more than happy to have a contest of great ideas.”
Democrat Verona Mauga – In-party challenger:
A Taylorsville resident since 2008, Mauga reports she came within three party delegate votes of defeating Garner in that special replace-Kwan vote a year ago.
“I find it interesting only 17 voters were allowed to decide who filled the seat,” Mauga said. “I lost 10-7; but there should have been more people from our District voting.”
Unlike the incumbent, Mauga does enjoy the endorsement of the lawmaker who previously won the general election for the House District 31 seat two years ago.
“I have officially endorsed Verona for my House seat,” Senator Karen Kwan said. “She has worked with me ever since I entered the legislature, helping me campaign and get to know our communities. Verona will be very good at responding to community needs. She has the right demeanor and intelligence to be a great member of the House.”
“I worked on all of Karen’s House races and was her campaign manager once,” Mauga said. “She called me last year to say she was going to run for the open Senate seat – and she encouraged me to run for her House seat. I had never run for elected office before but always knew it would eventually be in my path. I made the final decision to run again last summer.”
Mauga is an Alta High School graduate, while her husband graduated from Taylorsville High.
As the owner of two small businesses herself, Mauga considers Utah’s economic development to be one of her key issues.
“I own a women’s residential treatment center in Herriman, and I operate a Midvale bakery and café with my siblings,” she explained. “I understand the difficulty in opening and sustaining businesses in Utah.”
Mauga is spending the early part of this year trying to gather both financial donations and campaign volunteers.
“Karen (Kwan) is the first Democrat to hold this House seat and I think it’s because she genuinely cares about the community,” Mauga concluded. “She literally brings people to the table to address issues. That’s the kind of legislator I hope to be – someone who puts people first.”
The candidate’s son, Loimata Mauga, was a junior offensive guard on the Southern Utah University football team last fall.
On her website (voteverona.com), the candidate says, “(I am) a dedicated advocate and first-generation immigrant committed to positively impacting through compassionate public service and determined action.”
Republican Andrew Nieto – GOP Challenger:
Unlike the other three candidates, including the incumbent, this is Nieto’s second attempt to earn House District 31 general voter support. Two years ago, he fell to Kwan in the race, 62 to 38 percent.
“I’ve been thinking about running again, ever since Karen vacated the seat,” he explained. “I am also surprised and pleased to have a Republican opponent. It is good for democracy to have competition.”
Nieto grew up in Los Angeles County, California before moving to Utah in 2013 to attend Weber State University. He married in 2016 and moved to Taylorsville in 2018. The couple has no children. Nieto has been a public school substitute teacher for the past three years.
On his website (nieto4house31.com), the candidate describes himself as a “devoted conservative, passionate bipartisan bridge-builder, moored to core values. I am ready to earn your trust as the legislative voice of Taylorsville/WVC. House District 31 is among the most diverse in the state. I have learned, through conscientious practice since childhood, to listen and seek understanding of everyone I meet.”
Nieto plans to concentrate his early campaigning efforts on reaching out to Salt Lake County GOP delegates who represent his District 31. Salt Lake County Republican Party Chair Chris Null thinks that’s a wise move.
“If either candidate earns 60% of the delegate vote, they can avoid a primary,” Null said. “There will be a maximum of 1,560 delegates at our April 13 County Convention. But only those from District 31 will vote in this race. That’s probably 40 to 80 people.”
Nieto says two of his top priorities if elected will be criminal justice reform and Utah land management.
Additionally, on his website, the candidate mentions homelessness, education funding, infrastructure and crime reduction as some of his key concerns.
Republican Russell Moore – GOP Challenger:
West Valley City resident Russell Moore is a lifelong Utah resident who’s been married 45 years and has seven children and 29 grandkids.
“I was raised in Lehi by a mom who was a Democrat and a dad who was registered Democrat – to keep peace in the house – but who always voted Republican,” Moore said. “My parents hosted a voting precinct in our home and my mom was an election judge for as long as I can remember. We were very active politically.”
A ceramic tile contractor by trade, Moore plans to retire in about two years.
“I have been a tile contractor 33 years and in construction since 1974,” he said. “But I am stepping back from that now and can be available full time during the legislative session, if elected.”
Unlike his three opponents, Moore has not yet established a campaign website – but plans to. Until then, he can be reached at [email protected] or 801-301-1765.
“We are facing critical issues in our state,” Moore said. “One of my top issues is, we can’t afford to lose the Great Salt Lake. We need to protect it – and we also need to be looking 50 years down the road at how to better preserve and protect our Utah water resources. We need more water storage and better water management and conservation.”
Speaking just a couple of days after officially entering the race, Moore admitted he has homework to do.
“I haven’t thought yet about the issues in my particular District,” he said. “Now that I am running, I plan to get into the community and talk to people – see what they are thinking. I know inflation is a widespread issue. And with less money to spend, I also know local businesses are not being frequented as much as they once were. I want to address that issue, also.”
Interestingly, in 2020 and 2022 voters toward the south and west of Taylorsville made the Utah House race very close between veteran GOP lawmaker Jim Dunnigan and 2-time challenger Democrat Lynette Wendel. This time around, Dunnigan is completely unopposed; so there will be no House election drama for those voters this time around.
Meantime, it’s northern and eastern Taylorsville residents who now have this field of four candidates. Summer primary elections are a possibility in both parties. At a minimum, House District 31 voters will get their final say on Nov. 5, on their ballot below the races for President, Utah senator and others.λ