Utah’s youngest state legislator is farmer from Paradise

PARADISE, Utah (AP) — Casey Snider — farmer, firefighter, newly minted state legislator — declares sorrowfully that his energy levels have been fading a bit as he approaches the ripe old age of 33.

The Cache County resident used to milk cows every morning before sunrise and then head to school for the day. He used to commute between Utah and D.C., taking the red-eye flight east on Sunday nights so he could start the workweek Monday morning. He used to run on three to four hours of sleep a night.

Now, he needs five, he confessed in a recent interview at his Paradise home.

His wife, Kelli, has little sympathy for his supposed decline.

“OK, Mr. Productive,” she said with a laugh.

While he might not be youthful by his own standards, Snider is a youngster compared with his colleagues in the Utah House of Representatives, where the average age hovers around 60. When he was appointed in October, he became the youngest member of the Legislature — for now — and will be among the few state representatives under 40.

I won’t call anybody old if they don’t call me young,” Snider joked.

He also said he sticks by conservative ideas that are far older than he is — a trait not uncommon for the rising crop of GOP lawmakers, says Natalie Callahan, chairwoman of the Utah Young Republicans.

“People want to feel like this new generation is socially liberal,” Callahan said. “I don’t think that this generation is less conservative than any generation before. I think that they define what it means to them to be a conservative, and I think they stick with that.”

State Rep. Marc Roberts, who formerly owned the title of Utah’s youngest legislator, is also among its most right-leaning, as rated by the American Conservative Union Foundation. In 2018, Roberts, R-Salem, supported a “stand your ground” bill, voted against a measure mandating insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorders and opposed Medicaid expansion legislation.

“Some of us younger lawmakers, we have been the more conservative group,” Roberts, 37, said.

Snider said he favors low taxes, small government and upholding property rights. He’s anti-abortion (except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is at risk). Broadly speaking, he advocates for enforcing existing gun laws before passing new ones.

On the other hand, he’s no fan of the acrimony rampant in the current political discourse and doesn’t shy away from blaming President Donald Trump for magnifying the problem.

A protégé of the late U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, Snider was directly affected by the tea party insurgency that forced his boss out of office in 2010. Bennett’s goodbye speech on the Senate floor left a deep impression on Snider.

“Usually, that is an address that’s like five people watching on C-SPAN and an empty Senate chamber,” Snider said. “But when he spoke, both people who agreed with him and people who disagreed respected him enough to want to come and hear what he had to say.”

‘I wasn’t going to be anybody else’s pawn’

Snider is a northern Utah native by blood and marriage. He grew up in Liberty, on land his family homesteaded 150 years ago. He married the Cache County Dairy Princess, and the two live together in a buttermilk-colored bungalow in Paradise with their 4-year-old daughter and more goats in the yard than Snider would prefer.

And now, Snider will serve as state representative for District 5, an area shaped like an orange slice and completely contained inside Cache County.

His political aspirations, on the other hand, were not homegrown.

Snider’s political origin story is set in Siberia (he was on a Mormon mission there), where he and a companion were sitting on a bench one day minding their own business, when a car suddenly pulled up. Three men — whom Snider diplomatically referred to as “gentlemen” — jumped out, ordering him and his friend to climb inside. Snider and his companion refused.

“At that point,” Snider explained, “one of the gentlemen grabbed my companion and kneed him in the groin and dropped him in the snow.”

One of the strangers also bashed Snider’s face, breaking his jaw.

Long story short, the three men turned out to be Russian officers, the whole thing caused a mini international incident and the police department tried to intimidate Snider while the police brutality case was in court.

Snider felt like a piece in a game he didn’t control, and he didn’t like it.

“I decided when I came home, I was going to move the pieces,” he said. “I wasn’t going to be anybody else’s pawn.”

So, after Snider graduated from college, he took an internship with Bennett in Washington. He and his wife returned to Utah after Bennett’s ouster by Mike Lee, and he took a job with Trout Unlimited, a nonprofit that works to conserve cold-water fisheries and watersheds.

He has since worked again in Congress for U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, started farming on about 270 acres and founded a nonprofit that preserves agricultural land through easements. He also celebrated the birth of his daughter, Rosalie.

Snider is taking his seat in the Legislature with some experience being one of the younger faces in the room. He’s the “little brother” among the volunteer firefighters at the Paradise Fire Department, his colleagues say, and is known as a team player who’ll do the jobs no one else wants.

“He’s always excited to do the crappy stuff,” Capt. Bob Horger said.

Snider’s path to the Utah Capitol has been somewhat winding.

He actually campaigned for the District 5 post twice in recent months — once to complete the term of former Rep. Curt Webb, who resigned in October to serve as a missionary in Hawaii, and again to win a full, two-year term that will begin in January.

His opponent in the special election, Republican Karl Brown, is married to his rival in the general election, Democrat Karina Brown. Snider handily won election to the full term, beating Karina Brown by about 76 percent to 24 percent in the heavily Republican district.

And he’s already starting to think about the bills he might want to pass. Legislation encouraging collaboration between local and federal firefighters, for instance. Or a measure that would ease regulations on laminated wood products, expanding the market for the small timber removed while treating forest lands.

A willingness to collaborate is what most sets apart the younger generation of GOP politicians, said Callahan. They tend to like teamwork and don’t mind sharing credit for legislative accomplishments, she said.

Callahan said if more young people were in the Legislature (Utahns 25 and older can run), it would also likely be a more innovative place.

But it’s tough for them to serve in these elected posts, she said. Younger people are often focused on building their careers and raising children and don’t have the time or resources to spend 45 days in a legislative session that pays $12,285.

I would love to see more young people get involved and run and win. But I understand that they’re busy creating their own legacy,” Callahan said. “And you get paid basically nothing.”

Snider has had some experience with that, having once survived with Kelli on a congressional intern’s salary in a D.C.-area apartment and later in a powerless, fifth-wheel trailer in the Uinta Mountains. And he said he’s excited to bring his government knowledge and Cache County background to bear on his service in the Legislature.

But he said he’s no career politician. He has his eye on consolidating his farmland around his home and continuing to volunteer as a firefighter.

And, as he ages, he’ll have to budget more time for sleep.

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