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Meet the Democrat running against Rep. Jason Chaffetz — and raising loads of money

Published March 13, 2017 5:48 pm

Allen flooded with donations in the wake of the Republican's iPhone vs. health care remark.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

She plays the accordion, has practiced medicine for 30 years and is fluent in French. Now she's looking to unseat Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Kathryn Allen, a Democrat, announced her 2018 bid this week to run for Utah's 3rd Congressional District — a race often overlooked due to its overwhelmingly Republican voter base that virtually guarantees a win for the conservative candidate.

This time, a new dynamic seems to be in play. In just a few days, Allen has raised more than $410,000, mostly from small, out-of-state donations. Money poured in Tuesday after Chaffetz appeared on national television and remarked that "rather than getting that new iPhone," low-income Americans may have to prioritize spending on health care.



He later clarified the remark about the new Republican plan to slim down Obamacare, noting "I didn't say it as smoothly as I possibly could." But the congressman faced an immediate uproar on social media accusing him of being insensitive. At the same time, Allen's donations skyrocketed from the $20,000 that sat in her accounts beforehand while she explored a potential run.

So she decided to officially file as a candidate.

"Now when Jason gives me a golden opportunity for fundraising, I'm going to take it," Allen said with a laugh.

Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, declined to comment about the race to The Salt Lake Tribune on Friday. He has about $408,000 in cash on hand, according to his most recent filings — slightly less than what Allen has raised, but still leagues beyond what his previous opponents have spent.

None of the five Democrats he has faced and demolished since his first win in 2008 spent more than $60,000. Brian Wonnacott, Chaffetz's 2014 opponent, spent the least, just $10,000. Chaffetz never captured less than 65 percent of the vote.

Damian Kidd, who announced in January that he's considering a 2018 run against Chaffetz as a Republican, declined to say how much he's raised until the required filing date in April. He did, though, say it's not in the ballpark of what Allen amassed in the past week — which includes $2,700 from comedian Rosie O'Donnell.

Chaffetz's campaign seized on that donation in a fundraising email of its own sent Friday. "With liberals like Rosie O'Donnell already getting involved, this campaign is going to be unlike any other I've ever seen," the message reads, in part. "I know it may seem early to start thinking about this campaign, but the Democrats are already working around the clock to see us lose."

Allen's experience in politics is limited to a three-year stint as a congressional aide in California, where she grew up, and two years spent working on a county housing program in the 1970s.

"I have no campaign organization," she told The Tribune on Friday. "I don't even have a personal assistant or anything."

Instead, she plans to use her 30 years as a family physician to guide her platform, billing herself a "woman of science." Allen, 63, graduated from Loma Linda University School of Medicine in 1984. She then completed a three-year residency at the University of Utah and has since worked in various practices in Kearns and West Valley City.

In 2015, she started at her current position as a doctor at a clinic serving Utah Transit Authority staff.

That experience drives one of the main tenets of her platform: health-care reform. Allen disapproves of the GOP-led plan to ditch portions of Obamacare, including the requirement to buy insurance, and prefers to restructure a few provisions of the law.

"Starting over and having huge numbers of our population going back to being uninsured, that's just horrifying. It's just so backward," she said, later adding: "I've been in the trenches for 30 years. I know what my patients feel."

Allen purchased a plan through Obamacare and pays $600 a month. At that rate, she says, there's no money left over to siphon off for her retirement account. Reforming the policy, she believes, could fix the high prices without throwing away the parts that work.

She also aligns with other popular left-leaning ideologies, including support for public lands (including Bears Ears National Monument) and increased funding for climate change research and public education. Like many activists rallying in recent months, she says President Donald Trump's election motivated her to be more involved in politics.

And so Allen attended Chaffetz's raucous town hall in February. As the congressman tried to address roughly 1,000 people in Cottonwood Heights, the crowd shouted over many of his responses with calls to "do your job." The interaction cemented Allen's decision to run for office.

"I went to the town hall and saw how he failed to answer people's questions and, I thought, failed to be sensitive," she said. "He deflected."

After that showing and his refusals to investigate Trump, Allen believes Chaffetz has become "a despised figure" in politics, though she acknowledges her bid against him "is going to be a heavy lift."

Allen lives in Cottonwood Heights with her husband, Craig Fineshriber, who retired after 40 years as a percussionist with the Utah Symphony. Her husband's three children split time between the couple's house and their mother's home as they grew up. Allen and Fineshriber also have a home in Washington, Utah.

ctanner@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner

 

 

 

 

 

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