This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
As Democrats work to rebuild after a devastating defeat in the 2016 election, national and state races for party leadership will likely set the tone for whether the political left sticks to established platforms or forges ahead with a new identity.
It's the same divide that played out in the party's presidential primaries, says Peter Corroon, chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.
"There is still a tension between the Hillary Clinton supporters and the Bernie Sanders supporters," he said.
In the presidential race, Utah Democrats were lopsided in favor of Sanders. But nationally, the party ultimately chose Clinton, the traditional candidate, who went on to lose the Electoral College vote to the unorthodoxy of Republican Donald Trump, whose calls to "drain the swamp" appealed to many voters tired of business as usual in Washington.
To pick up the pieces, says Tom Perez a contender to lead the Democratic National Committee (DNC) who visited Utah this week the party must redefine its culture but not its principles.
"We need to be far more transparent than we were in the past," he said in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. "The absence of transparency resulted in the loss of trust from a number of people."
In the past year, Democrats on the national stage took heat after an email hack which U.S. intelligence agencies now believe to be perpetrated by Russia to thwart the election revealed DNC staffers favoring Clinton over Sanders. Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as party leader over the leak and was replaced in the interim by Donna Brazile, whose emails showed advancing a question to Clinton ahead of a debate.
In the running to fill that rocky position, Perez believes it's time for the party to go "back to basics" with grass-roots campaigns and protests, focus on local races (rather than just the presidency) and more attention to areas that fall outside of the typical Democratic strongholds in major cities.
"We can't cede rural America to the Republicans," he said. "That's what we're all too frequently doing in too many states. That's why we lost Ohio, that's why we lost Wisconsin, that's why we lost Pennsylvania."
Perez is often considered the establishment candidate, having supported Clinton, served as labor secretary under former President Barack Obama and built a career on "principles of opportunity for everyone." His top challenger, Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, plots an approach that is more shake-up than status quo for the party.
The difference between these two front-running candidates is highlighted by their backers: former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Perez while Sanders endorsed Ellison, from Minnesota.
There are five others running for party chairman. DNC members including a few from Utah will vote this weekend.
The state will also hold its own election for Utah Democratic Party chairman later this year. Corroon, a former Salt Lake County mayor voted into the position in 2014, will not seek another term, saying "it's time to pass the torch."
With a filing deadline of March 24, five people have already indicated interest in running, Corroon said. At least three have publicly announced their intentions: Charlene Albarran, Nadia Bowman and Julianne Waters and each promise to diverge from the party's status quo.
Albarran, a Park City businesswoman who lost her race challenging Republican Rep. Chris Stewart last year, wants to use her experience from the campaign to give "tips and guidelines" to other Democrats running for local office.
She also worries about the "political turmoil" that's emerged since the election, saying her bid will focus on being "united not divided." Albarran disavows the anti-Trump protests that have rocked Utah and the nation in recent weeks, suggesting that both parties come together and "all live in harmony."
"The people who are protesting and getting arrested and causing chaos, I don't want to be the leader of all of that," she said, later adding: "If they choose to protest, that's on them, but I'm not going to be out there like Joan of Arc."
Bowman plans a different tack. The 30-year-old staffer from Democratic Mike Weinholtz's gubernatorial campaign looks to engage millennials, restructure party fundraising and recruit more Democratic candidates to start first with nonpartisan offices, such as city council and school board races.
"What the Democrats have been doing just isn't working," she said. "We should've gotten more seats picked up in 2016 and we didn't."
Bowman, a graduate student studying politics at the University of Utah, has also worked as a board member for the local Stonewall Democrats and the Women's Democratic Club.
Waters, who was a national delegate for Bernie Sanders, has worked on several peace-building and environmental projects, including Peaceful Uprising with climate activist Tim DeChristopher. Her focus for the state party is to empower candidates to run for office.
"I was asked to run for state chair by a group of progressive Democrats who believe that it's time for the party to come back to its roots," she said in an emailed statement.
Waters also seeks to unify the party and make it "relevant in Utah."
The election will be decided by delegates at the state party's organizing convention June 17. For his part, Perez, the DNC candidate, says there's a "real opportunity for Democrats in Utah" to succeed in more elections, despite being in a Republican state.
"The DNC has not been a good partner for the Utah Democratic Party," he said. "We have to do more. They have great assets in the party but they haven't gotten enough help and we need to provide that help."