Staff column: Changes in political/social environment
This past two weeks have brought into sharp focus how much the social and political environment in and around Carbon County is changing, and will change in the next year.
In February the merger between Utah State and the College of Eastern Utah was approved by the legislature in a bill introduced to the body by two Republican lawmakers, that both represent the traditionally coal-producing/labor-centered county. Only a few years ago not only would have such a merger been unthinkable, but having the bills put forth by two GOP representatives - neither of whom actually live in the county - would have been beyond anyone's imagination.
Once that was established leadership over educational institutions within the county also began to change. First, after much study and deliberation, Joe Peterson was selected as the first chancellor of the new USU/CEU alliance. Peterson, who has some strong Carbon County ties (he spent much of his childhood in the county as his father taught at CEU), appears to be a very good choice. But that decision was actually kind of a shock to many people, because Cory Duckworth, who was leading the transition change for the Board of Regents, and who was also a strong candidate, was not selected.
Maybe the office of higher education wanted to put someone in the job with some real local ties for reasons of community homogenization after the debacle they hoisted on the area in the 1990s. Regardless of the reason, in conversations with Peterson and his feelings about the are and the job, he will be an excellent leader to help with the transition to a new educational institution.
Adding to that another important institution within the college will be getting a new leader soon too - the director of the CEU Prehistoric Museum. Interviews for a new director just took place last week.
In January, superintendent of the Carbon County schools, Patsy Bueno, announced that she would be stepping down by July 1. Bueno, who has worked for the district for 38 years and served as an employee who did everthing from cook meals for the lunch program to be the leader of the schools, was largely beloved by everyone who came in contact with her. As school board president Barry Deeter put it on Thursday night as the board announced who the new superintendent would be, Bueno came to the job during a time when the district needed "healing" after a tumultutous time with the prior superintendent including the closing of East Carbon High School.
After speaking with the newly named superintendent George Park last Friday morning for over 90 minutes, I think the board has made another good selection; someone who has the interests of the kids at the top of his agenda. However, once again, change is here and ongoing.
Then there is the political climate in the county and even the state, which let's face it, affects Carbon big time. As of Saturday, Bob Bennett is a lame duck senator. His rural business caucus had been held here three times and the intention was to bring it here again and again. It was a big deal and whether a new senator continues it will remain to be seen. Bennett's politics will not be repeated either; either we will end up with a much more conservative Republican or a more left leaning Democrat now. All are really unknown quantities.
Jim Matheson, the only Democratic federal official from Utah, and the one who represents the area in Washington D.C. as of Saturday, is facing for the first time in his congressional campaign career a primary race against Claudia Wright who says he is "not Democratic enough" largely because of his votes on a number of issues including Obama's health care plan.
Locally, politics are also in transition. Bill Krompel, long time county commissioner has called it quits and a number of people are vying for his spot. All who are running would be new to any kind of elected position. And much like Matheson, John Jones the incumbent coming out of convention, is facing a primary race against Kyle Edwards, a new face in the political scene. Two other county races also have primary contests too.
So Republican, Democrat, Independent or something else, there will be a lot of changes for the voter to make this year.
I could go on, but it is obvious, by the end of this year, we will have a new kind of college, at least one new county commissioner, and a new senator representing us in Washington D.C. We may also have many other possibilities, some of which a year ago we would never have imagined.
It is a changing world and some years just turn into watershed times. This is one of those.