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Another political party fight has flared up over supposedly "nonpartisan" city elections, where candidates do not run under a party banner.
This time the spat is about whether the state Democratic chairman helped a Republican survive a Salt Lake City Council race, using party resources. It follows an earlier controversy in which Democrats blasted Republicans for listing online which municipal candidates in Salt Lake County are faithful GOP members, a party-labeling effort that appeared to help Republicans in sweeping all they hoped for in 16 of 23 primary races last week.
The latest bickering began when Bob Henline head of the Salt Lake County Democratic Progressive Caucus and a legislative district chairman blogged that Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis gave James Rogers, a candidate in Salt Lake City District 1 on the west side, access to the party's Votebuilder database.
Henline said the tool tracks voters, helps manage volunteers, plans walking routes for campaigns and helps set up phone banks, among other things.
He said that happened while Rogers' Facebook page listed him as a Republican, and Democrats helped him beat "established and supportive Democrats like Brad Bartholomew" in District 1, creating a stir on Democratic social media networks.
Rogers said in an interview that he was once registered as a Republican, which he listed on Facebook when he created his account years ago and forgot about. He removed the partisan designation recently after Henline's complaints.
Rogers said he thought he had been registered in voting records as "unaffiliated" for about the past five years, but was surprised to discover a few months ago that he was still registered as Republican and formally changed it.
His website indicates he is endorsed by several prominent Democrats, including former state lawmaker and congressional candidate Jay Seegmiller and Salt Lake County Council members Jim Bradley and Randy Horiuchi. But his website also shows he is endorsed by Marco Diaz of the Utah Republican Hispanic Assembly.
Rogers, who faces registered Democrat Kevin S. Parke in November's election, praises help he received from Democrats. "They've really tried to stretch forth their hand and invite me into the party," he said. They also have helped him understand better how to be politically active, he said.
Dabakis said Democratic Party policy is clear and practical about who gets its voting data.
"One, no Republicans get it. Two, unaffiliated candidates and Democrats get the first level of Votebuilder. And the first level is basically what the county clerk gives that is public information," and is nothing that is very sensitive.
"Unlike the Republican Party," said Dabakis, "we don't have an ideology test where if people say they are not affiliated, we pull them in and waterboard them. We accept when people say that they are not affiliated, and their voter registration is unaffiliated."
Even in partisan elections for state and other offices in general election years, the Democratic Party allows unaffiliated voters to participate in its primary elections, unlike the Republican Party, which requires a person to register as a member of the GOP to participate.
But Henline said the Democratic Party should steer clear of nonpartisan races or, if it does step in, stick to helping Democrats.
"If the party believes that these races should be nonpartisan, then it should stay out of them. If they are going to provide any type of material assistance ... it should be to a Democratic candidate, not an unaffiliated or Republican or Libertarian or any other flavor candidate," Henline said in an interview. "My understanding of the mission of the Utah Democratic Party is to elect Democrats."
Dabakis defended the decision to help Rogers.
"There are some people in the Democratic Party who want to be the like the tea party and want to have some kind of ideological test. We're Democrats. We have an inclusive party," Dabakis said. "As long as they are not a Republican, we're happy to have them."