The Times-Independent

County Democrats endorse trio; GOP says best candidate should win despite party

Langianese, Kovash, Wojciechowski receive nod

Luke Wochiehowski and Josie Kovash have been endorsed for Moab City Council. Grand County Democrats also endorsed Joette Kovash for mayor.

The Grand County Democratic Party this week announced its endorsements in the races for mayor of Moab and two open seats on the city council. The mayoral candidate receiving the endorsement was Joette Langianese; the city council candidates were Luke Wojciehowski and Josie Kovash.

The announcement came in the party’s newsletter, which thanked outgoing mayor Emily Niehaus and city council members Mike Duncan and Karen Guzman-Newton for their respective four years of service.

Officials for the party, led by Kevin Walker as chair and Kya Marienfeld as vice chair, said in the newsletter that it was “bad news” that Duncan and Guzman-Newton were leaving but “good news” that Wojciehowski and Kovash had “stepped up” to fill the roles.

“Moab is at a crossroads, and the decisions the City Council makes over the next two-to-four years will have a big impact on all residents of Moab and Spanish Valley,” the newsletter read. “We need council members who can enact effective policies to address the housing crisis facing our local workforce, the explosion of tourism and related impacts, and the ongoing pandemic.”

As for Langianese, the party said she would “work hard to make sure that city government puts the interests of residents first.”

The two races have 12 candidates in total, six in each. Of those candidates, none are registered Democrats while one is a registered Republican. The rest are unaffiliated, according to state voter registration data.

Despite the city council and mayoral races being officially nonpartisan, the Democratic Party’s endorsement could prove decisive.

In 2020, Grand County voters elected Walker to an at-large seat on the Grand County Commission by a three-point margin. He defeated Stephen Stocks, who is running for mayor this year, again as an independent. In state and federal races, local voters went for Democrats in even greater numbers.

For years, Grand County had been the third- and is now the second-most Democratically leaning county in Utah, behind Summit County today and Carbon County prior to 2004.

Historically, that has not meant that Democrats have won more Grand County votes than Republicans. Instead, they have lost with smaller margins.

That changed in 2020, when local voters voted for Democrats more than Republicans at 11-, 7- and 4-point margins in the race for president, state attorney general, and governor, respectively. It was a dramatic shift from 2016, when Republicans won the Grand County vote in all six state and federal elections held that year.

Because Moab’s municipal elections have long been officially nonpartisan, data about the historic partisan and ideological leanings of voters in local elections do not exist.

Republicans make no endorsements

Local leaders decline to endorse, cite nonpartisan status of city council elections

Grand County Republican Party Chair Cricket Green

The leaders of the Grand County Republican Party said Thursday the party will not endorse a candidate this year in the city elections. 

Party officials did not say they were opposed to the field of candidates, but rather that they want the candidate with the best ideas to win, not for voters to merely vote along a party line.

Cricket Green is the chair of the Republican Party. Her husband, Kent Green, is running for mayor this election. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When asked why the party was not endorsing any candidates this cycle despite the fact that a registered Republican is running, Cricket Green first pointed out party labels do not appear on the ballot in Moab’s city council and mayoral elections. “We are not endorsing any candidates because the race is a non-partisan election,” Cricket Green said.

She added that she and other party members want people to vote on the merits of policy ideas rather than party label. Bryon Walston, the vice chair of the party, said he agrees.

Cricket Green said that the city was at a critical juncture for determining its future and blamed turmoil in city hall on voter’s impulses to hew to partisan labels rather than candidates’ ideas and qualifications, adding that such blind partisanship has wreaked havoc across the country.

In May, before the candidate filing period opened and shortly after she was elected the chair of the party, The Times-Independent asked her why none of the candidates for Grand County Commission in 2020 were registered Republicans. She said that the filing period had coincided with the start of the pandemic, so “COVID-19 just made everything lopsided.”

Green also said at the time the party was on the lookout in lead-up to the 2021 city elections for “center-of-the-line candidates” interested in receiving support in the race. She provided her email at the time for publication to allow residents to contact her.

“Most of Moab’s population is diverse, and I want to have that reflected on the city council and county commission,” Green had said. “It’s completely left-leaning on both sides; there’s no middle of the road.”

Note: The Times-Independent does not endorse candidates for political office.

Correction: A previous version of this story included false information about the party affiliation of the candidates. The error was the result of a pre-publication draft going to press rather than the final draft.