The Judy Weeks-Rohner and Fatima Dirie race is a question of who best reflects District 30
In 2020, Democratic candidate Fatima Dirie narrowly lost to former GOP Rep. Craig Hall in the state House race. But she’s giving it another shot – this time against a different candidate in the newly drawn House District 30.
Dirie, who moved to Utah in 1997 as a Somali refugee, lost in 2020 to former Republican Rep. Craig Hall by 146 votes. Hall has since left the Legislature after Gov. Spencer Cox appointed him to serve as a Second District Court judge.
The west side of the Salt Lake Valley, and especially West Valley City, is one of the most diverse populations in Utah and has only grown within the last 10 years. It’s home to industries like oil refineries, copper mines and construction.
West Valley City has the largest Hispanic or Latino population in the state at 40%. Other races and ethnicities in the city make up a more sizable percentage compared to the rest of the state, with 5% mixed race, 3% Asian and nearly 3% Black, according to the most recent Census data.
District 30 doesn’t cover the entire city, but for the most part, the demographics remain the same. It’s 32% Hispanic or Latino, a large percentage works in manufacturing, construction and retail and 57% of households make less than $75,000 a year.
To Dirie, HD30 is now a minority-heavy district that isn’t well represented on Utah’s Capitol Hill. She said a lot of media coverage and legislative conversation has to do with how “dangerous” the west side is.
But that isn’t Dirie’s lived experience.
“I think all of that speaks to the volume of how much we need to allocate more resources, more budget into the west side and add in pathways and programs that will help change that narrative,” she said.
Dirie would like to see more positive west-side representation in the Legislature.
She notes the district has many entrepreneurs from different countries, working-class families and people who choose careers that don’t require a college degree.
“I think it's important that we understand people's cultures, people's diverse representation, where we come from are different walks of life, and that's what makes us unique,” Dirie said. “That's what I bring to the table is my experiences, my uniqueness of growing up from a different country, coming to Utah and trying to thrive and make it through the various system.”
The incumbent, Judy Weeks-Rohner views the district as hardworking with strong union representation. She said she’s seeking reelection because constituents have asked her to, and it’s her way of giving back to the community.
“I'm a farm girl from Wyoming, and that's how I was raised,” she said. “Hard work and giving back.”
The biggest concern she said she’s heard from constituents is hands-down inflation. That’s followed by the spike in gas prices and property taxes.
She said residents are asking: “Where is that next dollar going to come from to get the loaf of bread? How am I going to get money for gas so I can get to work? How am I going to pay that property tax that's due in November?”
Shared economic concerns
Both candidates said they have heard similar concerns from constituents, like inflation and tax hikes. But Dirie said affordable housing and the rising cost of living have been at the forefront.
“They're already working three jobs. So adding another job that doesn't pay them well is not going to resolve the issue,” she said. “We need to increase minimum wage, we need to work with unions and protect the working class families.”
If she’s elected, Dirie said she’ll make sure money from the federal American Rescue Plan Act set aside for housing is allocated to the right communities.
Another big priority for Dirie is improving public safety on the west side. She noted she would work with the Legislature and community leaders to help get it done.
End the food sales tax
Both candidates want to see lawmakers repeal the food sales tax.
Weeks-Rohner prides herself in helping stop the 2019 GOP-led proposal to increase the food tax. And if re-elected, she has one big priority: remove it once and for all.
“I think that if we did that, it would release the burden for so many of the working people and those on fixed incomes,” Weeks-Rohner said.
There’s no doubt in Weeks-Rohner’s mind that removing the food tax can be done. She said she’s seen minds change about the food tax in the House but acknowledged “a lot of work” needs to be done on the Senate side of things.
Dirie said crafting legislation that would ditch Utah’s food tax would be one of the first things she’ll do if elected. She said it is an important step toward protecting working-class families.
Mail-in ballots have been sent out, and must be postmarked by Nov. 7. Utahns can also drop off their ballot at a secure box location, vote in person at an early polling location or on Election Day, which is Nov. 8.