Just west of the Lone Peak Wilderness and south of Dimple Dell Road in Salt Lake County lies Utah House District 32, where one of the most compelling election rematches will take place this November. Facing off once again will be LaVar Christensen, a split-term Republican (from 2002 to 2006 and again from 2010 to today) incumbent known for conservative extremes in a time when tea party candidates could ride that wave. Challenging Christensen again is Alain Balmanno, a Democrat and former attorney in the state’s Attorney General’s office, who lives in Draper after retiring from public service and the military where he handled cases for the Adjutant General.
Both candidates are attorneys. Christensen graduated with his J.D. from the McGeorge Law School at the University of the Pacific in California, (he is a member of the California and Utah Bar Associations) while Balmanno literally earned his stripes and commission in the US Army.
Christensen currently serves on Utah’s House Health and Human Services committee where he has punctuated the proceedings as committee Vice Chairman. Before the deal was brokered between Gov. Gary Herbert and the federal government to reopen the National Parks after the government shutdown of 2013, Christensen said, “There is a provision where Utah can withhold monies collected by the state owed to the federal government, and I fully expect state revenue officials will withhold future amounts due if necessary.” Irony prevailed after the National Parks in Utah reopened when Governor Herbert praised the effort to reopen them after the national Republican party had initiated the shutdown.
Christensen’s greatest legacy began ten years ago when he sponsored the bill that would amend Utah’s Constitution by inserting the language of Amendment 3 into the state’s core legal document – defining marriage in Utah as only between one man and one woman and bringing the state into its current legal situation, and into the national spotlight. Many observers believe that the legality of that effort will now involve a ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States sometime in or after March of 2015 where due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution may limit states’ authority to define marriage in such a case. A staunch defender of “traditional families,” Christensen has also been involved in regulatory efforts on matters of child adoption.
When asked what will make the rematch different compared to the 2012 race, Balmanno said that the last race “involved a Romney tsunami” for the state of Utah – something that Christensen capitalized on. Indeed, Christensen defeated Balmanno by a two-to-one vote.
Balmanno, a native of Morris County, New Jersey, attended the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at BYU before handling courts martial for the Army. From 2000 to 2005 he worked with the Attorney General’s office for Utah where his noteworthy Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) case went before the 10th Circuit Court. Before striking out his own, Balmanno worked “of counsel” at the law firm of Christensen and Jensen (unrelated to his opponent) where he handled land use and planning matters.
Alain Balmanno and LaVar Christensen last faced one another two years ago before re-districting allowed for a change on the playing field in House District 32. “As the district moves from Northwest to Southeast, it becomes more affluent and conservative,” he said. Balmanno believes that his opponent is “well-meaning,” but describes Christensen as being “too fixated on the Amendment 3 position” that counters human rights.
In the past two years, polls indicate that Utah has shifted on the idea of same-sex, civil marriage. “I would attempt to maintain a Christian viewpoint as a legislator, but not if it causes trouble for others [who are not Christian],” said Balmanno. “My perspective is a combination of the founding fathers and Ronald Reagan,” he said, and since his involvement in a landmark DCFS case where he said he negotiated with a federal judge “…I’m a defender of morality and a parental rights guy.”
During a recent interview, Balmanno was asked what kind of learner he believes he is. “I do a lot of reading, and I’m a quick study,” he said. He describes himself as a “federalist” by nature and even though government can help us solve problems, “Big government is bad for the people,” he said. “That we don’t trust government but we are forced to trust big corporations is nonsensical,” Balmanno stated. “Government is a tool that people have to make our society better. That’s why I’m running.”