SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Democratic Party has voted overwhelmingly in favor of electing as its new chairman an art dealer believed to be the first openly gay leader of a political party in the state.
Jim Dabakis, a co-founder of Equality Utah and the Utah Pride Center, was elected Saturday during the party's state convention in Salt Lake City.
Dabakis said his sexual orientation never came up during the nomination process.
"The whole gay thing just simply did not surface as an issue," he told the Salt Lake Tribune. "People are broad-minded in Utah, and they want to know if you can do the job or not."
Dabakis also said he will go out of his way to make members of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feel comfortable in the Democratic Party. He said Democrats believe in the inclusion of all people, even if they have some differing opinions, including Mormons who primarily vote Republican.
"I want to speak directly to the LDS people in our state," he said. "I want you LDS people to participate in our party. We want your spirit, we want your contributions, and we want to earn your votes. I will do whatever I can as chair to see that our big tent is comfortable to LDS people because it's the right thing to do."
Dabakis said many Mormons want a chance to be part of the "normal, moderate, reasonable" Democratic Party in light of splintering in the GOP between the tea party and more moderate Republicans.
"People are looking for real life answers to problems," said Dabakis, who replaces retiring three-term party chairman Wayne Holland. "I believe to my core Democrats can win in Utah."
The Utah Republican Party controls both houses of the state Legislature. It also holds all statewide offices and two of the three congressional seats.
Democratic Party delegates noted Dabakis has been a successful businessman and radio talk show host, and has been involved Utah politics for 30 years, the Deseret News reported.
"He will bring energy," said Tim Chambless, with the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. "He'll bring a greater connection with the business community."
Convention delegates also elected small-business owner Brian Doughty, who is openly gay, to replace state Rep. Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City. Biskupski resigned after buying a house outside the district.