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The 2022 Rep. Jim Dunnigan and Democrat Lynette Wendel rematch is set in a new district

On the left, Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan and his Democratic challenger in House District 36, Lynette Wendel.
Utah Legislature
courtesy of the candidate
On the left, Republican Rep. Jim Dunnigan and his Democratic challenger in House District 36, Lynette Wendel.

In 2020, Republican state Rep. Jim Dunnigan barely claimed victory over Democrat Lynette Wendel. The incumbent won the election by a slim 84 votes in House District 39. But that district is no more.

Now the two face each other again in this year’s midterm election, but a Wendel win could be even harder to pull off in the newly drawn House District 36.

A redrawn map

Prior to 2022’s redistricting, District 39 covered most of Taylorsville and a sliver of Kearns on the Salt Lake Valley’s west side. District 39 had one of the larger Hispanic and Latino populations at 26%. It also had more residents who worked in trade industries, like manufacturing, and 54% of people made less than $75,000 a year.

The diverse area was more purple than other suburban parts of Salt Lake County. In one part of Taylorsville, the vote was split evenly between Wendel and Dunnigan. But Kearns tends to vote blue more often, and Dunnigan lost there by over 300 votes.

Both Dunnigan and Wendel agree the boundaries changed quite significantly due to redistricting. But Wendel believes her narrow loss may have influenced how those lines were drawn.

“It's no secret that I only lost my race by 84 votes,” she said. “I think that made me a particular target when favoring an incumbent to change my district.”

Kearns is entirely out of the new District 36. While it still includes a big chunk of Taylorsville, where both candidates live, West Jordan was added to the boundaries. To Dunnigan, it's less of a swing district now and more aligned with his party affiliation.

“West Jordan is more Republican,” Dunnigan said.

According to political party data shared with KUER, District 36 is 43% Republican, 18% Democrat and 33% unaffiliated.

The district demographics have also shifted. District 36 is less Hispanic or Latino at 21%, more residents are over the age of 65 and the number of constituents making less than $75,000 a year went down by 10%.

Voting issues

Even though the boundaries have changed, Wendel said the Legislature still needs to support the west side of the valley more.

“We need to be able to bring all of our stakeholders to the table, all of our opportunities, all of our solutions,” she said, “to make sure that our west side voices and the issues that impact all of our families, our seniors are brought front and center at the state legislature.”

While there has been a lot of economic development throughout the district, Wendel said not all constituents feel that success.

Some of the biggest issues she said she’s heard from constituents in the district relate to housing prices, transportation, infrastructure and public safety.

Specifically, Wendel said many people she's spoken with are worried about road safety and security. She said she’s witnessed people drive 50 miles an hour down residential neighborhoods. To ease the worry, Wendel would like to implement “traffic calming measures” and designate “safe routes to schools” that will bolster that sense of “safety, security and stability.”

Wendel also wants to repeal the food sales tax and craft legislation that addresses health care and air quality. But she doesn’t want to do it alone or just within party confines.

“I think the best solutions for our community exist within our houses, in our PTAs, our schools, our senior centers, our local governments,” she said. “We really need to honor that at the state Legislature, to bridge that relationship between the people, between our neighborhoods and the policies and the resources of the state.”

Dunnigan said he has heard similar concerns from constituents regarding inflation and transportation. He also would like to abolish the food sales tax.

And while he said the Legislature can’t tackle inflation on its own, he would like to establish policies that keep more money in constituents' pockets. One of his priorities if re-elected would be to tackle the rise in property taxes.

“Residents saw their taxes go up proportionately greater than commercial because the valuations on commercial properties just didn’t go up as much as residential,” he said.

Dunnigan would like to improve transportation infrastructure on the west side. He said the west side “has been neglected” on bus routes. And his recommendation to improve the traffic along Bangerter Highway is to widen and add additional lanes to “help the traffic flow” better.

If Dunnigan wins another term, he said the first thing he will focus on is secondary education funding and preparing higher education and technical colleges to “turn out workers a little bit quicker,” especially in the behavioral health field.

“We need people that are going to treat mental health issues and addiction issues,” Dunnigan said. “And we've got to get and encourage our higher ed and our tech schools to get more people in the pipeline and get them trained.”

Utahns have until Election Day on Nov. 8 to vote. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 7. Eligible residents can register to vote on Election Day but must do so in person or at an early polling location.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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