SALT LAKE CITY -- Sen. Jim Dabakis is known for being outspoken.
But he left many in the Utah Democratic Party speechless Monday with the sudden announcement that he would resign -- within two hours -- as party chairman. He cited health reasons and a desire to spend more time with his family.
"I've had a few health problems and it's time to take a look at them seriously and make sure everything is fine," Dabakis told FOX 13.
Dabakis would not reveal what medical condition he has been diagnosed with, but said it was "serious." He was scheduled to undergo medical tests on Tuesday.
"I wanted to focus a little bit more on making sure I'm healthy and full of energy," Dabakis said. "The party chair job is 24/7 war as opposed to the senate job, which is more genteel."
Dabakis said Monday he looks back on his three years as party chairman with a sense of pride. He said he managed to get the party out of debt and increase involvement from members. It comes at a time when many Utah State Legislature races face no Democratic challenger. Dabakis said that still includes 30% more than previous election cycles.
Dabakis is keeping his senate seat, filing for re-election to District 2 in Salt Lake City.
At Utah Democratic Party headquarters on Monday, staffers were seen crying and hugging, stunned by the news.
"We're really sad about it," said Matt Lyon, party executive director. "Jim has been a role model and a leader, for me both personally and professionally."
The Utah Republican Party called Dabakis "an unfailing advocate" for his party.
"I will miss publicly debating him on the issues of the day," Utah GOP chairman James Evans said in a statement Monday. "He brings a uniqueness and high energy to every debate. On behalf of the Utah Republican Party, we send Jim our sincerest wishes."
Dabakis' term as party chairman was historic -- the first openly gay man to lead a political party in conservative Utah. He was among the first couples to marry in the frantic hours after a federal judge overturned Utah's ban on same-sex marriage. In his resignation letter, Dabakis took a swipe at Governor Gary Herbert for refusing to recognize the marriages.
"Frankly, no matter what Governor Herbert says--we are married. And as Samuel Johnson said, 'Love is, what you have been through together,'" he wrote.
Brigham Young University political science professor Richard Davis said Dabakis "certainly got a lot of attention" as party chairman. Given Democrats' shrinking numbers in office, the next party chair will have to do more to appeal to moderates to vote Democrat.
"I think there's a lot of potential support for Democrats out there, because there's a lot of dissatisfied Republicans," Davis told FOX 13. "But that would require that Democrats reach out to those voters and talk issues that are important to those voters. That is something that is yet to be seen."
For his part, Dabakis told FOX 13 that no longer being Democratic Party chairman meant he could be even more outspoken on progressive causes. He said he was considering creating a political action committee to support more left-leaning candidates.
"I think I've been muzzled a little bit in my ability to speak out on some issues and some things," he said. "There have been times I had to bite my tongue."
Read Dabakis' resignation letter here:
My Dear Democrats,
This is a hard letter to write.
Noon today, I will resign as Utah State Democratic Party Chair.
It was a little less then three years ago that I took the job. It has completely transformed my life. It has been the greatest honor to represent Utah Democrats from Sr. George, to Charlotte, to the White House. But, the real joy I have experienced is traveling to every corner of our state and meeting so many wonderful, dedicated Democrats--that is something I cherish.
Your Utah Democratic Party is in good shape. Facing the November elections, we have a large and talented pool of candidates. We have worked, begged and scrimped and now have an unprecedented $430,000 in our election war-chest. We have an amazing staff. We have more Chair's Circle members then ever and we have a strong executive committee.
Governor Howard Dean (former head of the DNC and presidential candidate) said, after spending three days with us that he thought that our staff (he didn't say "chair") is the finest Democratic Party staff in America! Bar none. I wholeheartedly agree. Our staff is led by one of the finest young men of his generation. Matt Lyon is an organizational genius. And most importantly in the world of politics, he has a very strong moral and ethical compass. Never have I seen him compromise doing what's right--even when it hurts. Whatever success the party has enjoyed over the last three years, it are mostly a result of the skills and talent of Matt and our amazing staff. Usually, when there has been a major screw-up, truthfully, it was me.
My single piece of advice to future chairs is do not give into the temptation (and pressure) to hire friends and cronies. Every single person we hired was hired (and let go) strictly on merit. We ramped up the staff from 3 to 14 employees and we did it because we hired the best people we could find. Of that, I am proud and I feel has been essential to the success of the party.
So, why, you may ask? And why now? I was going to announce that old political standard: I am quitting for 'family reasons'--but I not sure that would be legally permissible in Utah. Would I have grounds to quit federally--but not grounds to quit in the state--if it was for 'family reasons'? AG Reyes,--as a guy who is in court fighting to end my marriage, Sean, I could use a legal opinion here?
While I spend the next months fighting some medical issues, I can assure you that my voice still works. I will stay in the Senate and run for re-election (I have 3 tough Tea Party opponents). Frankly, the Senate job is very genteel, unlike the party chair's 24/7 war. I can handle the Senate job and do what I need to do to get physically better. Quitting one job was a compromise I made with Stephen (my partner of 27 years and husband of 3 months).
Speaking of Stephen, (those of you that may get queasy with this next paragraph may click off now--and for goodness sake--alert the children): Stephen, you have been amazing. Uncomplainingly, letting me go out, night after night. Six AM breakfast after breakfast, so many weekends gone. Anniversaries, family events, everything subjugated. I have been completely avoiding my share of the household work and abandoning virtually all income responsibilities over the last three years. You have been magnificent. Frankly, no matter what Governor Herbert says--we are married. And as Samuel Johnson said, "Love is, what you have been through together."
Finally, I would like to stay in touch with you. My great Democratic friends all across Utah. You may find me on facebook at James Dabakis (https://www.facebook.com/jim.dabakis). Or Jim Dabakis for Senate (https://www.facebook.com/JimDabakisForSenate2). I am on the radio every Saturday morning with Progressive Saturdays at 630 on the AM dial (from 10am to 3pm) or you can stream live (http://www.k-talk.com/index.php/listen-live/). Additionally, I am on KCPW Wednesday mornings with Rep. Greg Hughes and Professor Natalie Gochnour. And on Channel 4 every Thursday during the 6 o'clock news with Thomas Wright in a four minute feature called 'Together Four Utah.' I will not stop speaking out for Utah Democrats!
Also, as my tenure as chair ends, I may well morph into the blazing liberal I have always felt, but needed to moderate out as a statewide spokesperson. I will represent my good folks in Senate 2, as well as progressive people all across Utah!
Look for a new Democratic organization to be the voice of Utah progressive people, both in communication and to raise Koch Brothers kind of money (LOLOLOL) to make progressive voices in Utah matter...watch for unveiling of the DABAK PAC.
Thanks for giving me three short years and a lifetime of memories. No words can thank you enough for allowing me this experience.