Newly elected Rep. Logan Wilde is standing on the back of his Ford truck, cutting twine from bales of hay on a frosty day in December. His 15-year-old daughter Charlotte is at the wheel as they drive toward a mass of black cows huddled together in the pasture.
"I kind of always understood that I would be — I was the oldest son and I always understood that I’d come back and work for the ranch, but — Slow down Charlotte!” he yells.
Charlotte, who just got her learner’s permit, hits the brakes so Wilde doesn’t lose his balance while flipping haystacks off the tailgate. Wilde and his two brothers all work on their ranch in Croydon, that’s been in their family for six generations. They raise cows and sheep.
Utah’s fast growth is evident across the Salt Lake Valley, but even in the state’s more rural areas, like Croydon, longtime residents and local governments are struggling to keep up.
Croydon has a population of about 200 in Morgan County, where many work in agriculture or at the towering cement factory nearby. Charlotte says it’s a very close-knit community.
“Anywhere you go you can get close to your neighbors,” she says. “But like especially out here, we have this little Facebook group where we post ‘Does anyone have this?’ And we borrow stuff back and forth. And we always can run next store if we need butter or something.”
But Morgan County has changed a lot since Wilde was young, with more people moving there from the Salt Lake Valley. It’s one of the reasons he decided to run for the District 53 seat he now holds, which includes all of Ridge and Daggett counties and parts of Duchesne and Summit counties, minus Park City.
“As young people come along, they want a house, they want to be able to expand themselves, and you have to accommodate for those kinds of things,” he says. “But at the same time, you have to weigh the cost of ... the overall burden to the community by putting in a new development.”
Wilde first got into politics more than a decade ago after his uncle asked to serve on the Farm Bureau. He eventually was persuaded to run for a seat on the local Conservation District and then the Morgan County Council. As a member of these boards, he was able to travel around the state, and to D.C., to lobby on issues like land management and the sage grouse.
“I did get the taste for it," he says of politics. "And at that point it gave me the idea that I’d like to be in the state legislature or state senate. So I started looking for avenues to do that.”
Wilde’s ascent to the State House wasn’t exactly guaranteed. Last year he ran against veteran lawmaker and former Republican speaker of the House Melvin Brown in a tight primary race.
“Well, lo and behold, I was able to beat him — by nine votes," he says. "Just a small margin; it was small."
Brown contested the results to the state Supreme Court but eventually conceded the race. In a phone interview, he says Wilde had a more enthusiastic turnout, especially in Morgan County.
“The problem is [if] you have a constituent base that’s active and involved and if they turn out to vote they can help you,” says Brown. “In this particular case, they weren’t engaged, and so it didn’t help much.”
Tina Cannon is the Morgan County Council chair and has known Wilde for several years. She says people were surprised by Wilde’s victory, but thinks his knowledge of local issues played a big role.
“Because we’re really becoming a tale of two counties,” she says. “We’ve got the part of Morgan County that’s closest to Wasatch Front in the Mountain Green area that’s experienced a lot of growth. And then we have more rural aspects...where Logan lives, that is more agricultural. How you meet the needs of both…that gives Logan some really unique qualities in representing the citizens of Utah.”
Wilde admits it’s a balancing act, especially with a constituency that isn’t that keen on big government.
"That's kind of what my platform was," he says. "I understand what’s happening at the local level. I understand why we’re failing with our roads on the local level — why we’re having difficulty with our jails at the local level. Because I’ve seen it. I’ve sat there trying to crunch numbers to make a budget, and there doesn’t seem to be enough money to make these programs work.”
Wilde is now three weeks into his first term at the Legislature. He sits on the Political Subdivisions and Natural Resources and Agriculture committees. And he’s already proposed a few bills — one on water rights and another giving more discretion to counties on how to use local emissions fees.
For him, advocating for more autonomy and local control for his district starts with listening and learning the furious pace of the legislative process.