This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah Senate Democrats chose their leadership team for the next two years Monday night, but one senator says his refusal to beg for corporate money cost him a leadership post.
Democrats re-elected Sen. Gene Davis to be the caucus' minority leader, Sen. Karen Mayne as the minority whip, and Sen. Luz Escamilla as assistant whip.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, who had been the caucus manager, lost his spot to Sen. Jani Iwamoto, leaving him as the only member of the five-person Democratic caucus without a leadership post. In a statement Dabakis posted on social media, he blamed his refusal to kowtow to corporate donors for the loss.
"Unfortunately, in 2017, taking influence-tainted money is what is expected of both Democratic and Republican politicians in Utah," Dabakis wrote. "I understand that IS the system. But, as I made clear to my Senate Democratic colleagues, I will not take this money myself. I will not ask for money from the influence peddlers."
Dabakis said the money from the "$400 an hour charmers" can supplant the public good with the interests of the well-connected, and vowed not to take any corporate or lobbyist money.
"This gives me the freedom to say the truth as I see it, without fear or repercussions by the power brokers," said Dabakis, former Utah Democratic Party chairman.
Davis pointed out that, even if Dabakis eschews corporate money, he is still soliciting donations and raising money for his campaign. Without public financing in the state, the caucus and the party have to raise money to help try to build its numbers in the Legislature, where Republicans control 63-12 in the House and 23-5 in the Senate.
"I'm not going to say that it was because he wouldn't raise money that he lost his election. That was not it," Davis said. He noted that three of the five senators are women but said that wasn't the deciding factor either.
"It's too bad that corporate money is in the game, but it is in the game. It's part of politics, and to be able to run, unless you're a millionaire, you have to rely on other money to be able to win," Davis said.
Dabakis is a multimillionaire. However, Davis said, he has never had a lobbyist demand he vote a certain way because of a donation and, if that happened, he would return the money.
With a handful of House races still hinging on about 100,000 uncounted ballots, House Democrats are scheduled to choose their leaders Nov. 29.