New state Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis has shaken up Utah's minority party to a greater degree, and been in the news more often, than any of his predecessors in recent memory. He regularly calls out Republicans on issues, jumping into the middle of the legislative and congressional redistricting process, and accepting every opportunity to give a speech or participate in a debate.
As the first openly gay chairman, Dabakis has reached out to the LDS community in unprecedented fashion, welcoming Mormons into the sometimes hostile Democratic fold and launching the first LDS Democratic Caucus.
All that might come to an end sooner than anyone expected.
Sources confirm Dabakis is on the short list to replace Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, who is leaving the Washington, D.C.-based post when his term expires in March.
HRC is the largest gay and lesbian rights organization in the country, with more than 1 million members. A search committee has been reviewing potential successors since October, shortly after Solmonese announced he was leaving, and hopes to announce a new president soon.
When asked about Dabakis, HRC Communications Director Fred Sainz said in a statement: "Out of respect for the search process and the many qualified applicants who are being considered, HRC will not have comment on specific candidates for the position."
Dabakis, too, had no comment. Sources close to him say he loves his job as chairman of Utah's Democratic Party.
But the HRC job pays more than $400,000 a year. Dabakis, a successful business entrepreneur, earns $1 a year as Democratic chairman.
Utah's special opportunities • If Jim Dabakis does take the helm of the national Human Rights Campaign, he will be stepping into the shoes of a man who was in the middle of the fight to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," helped pass the marriage equality act in New York, oversaw expansion of public education and outreach, and enhanced school anti-discrimination and anti-bullying programs.
But he'll miss Utah.
Dabakis has admitted having fun launching political missiles at the Republican establishment.
He has been fighting the Legislature for months for public records involving the redistricting process with the idea of using those records to sue the Legislature for the way it drew political maps.
He has loudly brought up that the Legislature quickly granted the Republicans' public records request, which the Republicans used to point out how the Democratic Party and its alleged surrogates worked behind the scenes with Democratic legislators. And he has been vocal about the $2,000 the Republicans were charged, compared with the $5,000 the Democrats are being charged and the claim it will take 60 days after the payment to fulfill the request. And, he admits unapologetically that the Democrats' request was more broad than the Republicans' query.
Now, in classic Dabakis style, he says he'll probably cave in and pay the $5,000 but with the caveat that the money be spent on one of the programs for the poor and disadvantaged that the Republican Legislature has cut in recent years.
Equal time? • Jim Dabakis also has been rattling the chains of Salt Lake Community College for its recently devised campus television and live-feed program featuring lawmakers talking about the forthcoming legislative session because the first two segments have featured Republican leaders Michael Waddoups of the Senate and Becky Lockhart of the House.
Dabakis says they haven't just talked issues. They have taken partisan swipes at Democrats, with no Democratic response, at a state funded college, no less.
SLCC Vice President Tim Sheehan says the program is a new endeavor with the goal being an enhanced educational experience for students. They are learning as they go, he says, and the next program will feature Democratic as well as Republican leaders. Eventually, program designers want to focus more on specific issues than the legislative session in general, he said.
But, it appears that Dabakis, the roaring mouse, was heard.