Utah's Democratic Party Leader Resigns

Mar 24, 2014

Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis has stepped down as chairman. He will run for reelection in his progressive, Salt Lake City District
Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis has stepped down as chairman. He will run for reelection in his progressive, Salt Lake City District
Credit Brian Grimmett

Dabakis talks to a reporter about his departure as chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.
Dabakis talks to a reporter about his departure as chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.
Credit Judy Fahys

The chairman of the Utah Democratic party is stepping down from the position he’s held for nearly three years.

Jim Dabakis says he’s resigning to deal with an undisclosed medical condition. But he says the move also frees him to be a stronger advocate for progressive causes. 

“As a party chair, I often felt constrained about what I would say,” Dabakis explains, “and what I could say not wanting to hold candidates from the rural parts of the state to a flaming progressive agenda.”

Dabakis has a new political fund to help progressives get elected. He’s also devoting more to his partner of 27 years, Stephen Justesen. Their marriage was among more than 1,000 same sex weddings performed in Utah after a federal judge overturned the state’s ban. Gay marriage is currently on hold while the state appeals the federal ruling. The Democrats have built an election war chest of more than $400,000 dollars during Dabakis’s tenure, and the staff grew from 3 to 14. Dabakis insists the Democrats represent Utah values even though the GOP dominates.

“I have gone out of my way to try to be moderate,” says Dabakis, “and to create a Democratic Party whose tent was big enough for many, many points of view – unlike the  pup tents the Republicans are in which has a very narrow focus, and if you don’t fit into that focus, you’re not welcome.”

La Vone Liddle is a volunteer for the Democrats. She’s says she and many other staffers were devastated to that such a strong voice for party ideals won’t be leading any more.

“He is not only charming, but he really tells how it is,” says Liddle. “He doesn’t sugar-coat things. He brings to the fore what really is important. They tease him about bloviating. That’s alright. We need more bloviating.”

Dabakis will continue to serve as a Utah State Senator and run for re-election in November. The Democratic vice-chair, Josie Valdez, will lead delegates in choosing a new chairman at the party’s state convention On April 26.