BYU student vies for city council seat with $0 campaign

BYU political science student Tanner Bennett declares his candidacy for city council in the city recorder’s office Wednesday, June 7. If elected, he is prepared to stay in Provo for the full four-year term. (Photo courtesy of Tanner Bennett)

BYU political science student Tanner Bennett is contending for a spot on Provo City Council with a $0 grassroots campaign.

For him, the campaign is an opportunity to show “you don’t need to have money to have a voice.” 

Bennett is running for Provo City Council’s Citywide II seat. In 2019, David Shipley won the seat with a $23,000 campaign. One of Shipley’s competitors, Janae Moss, spent $72,000.

Bennett’s campaign expenditures total $87.21: $77.21 to declare his candidacy and $10 to hold in a required campaign bank account. He said he plans to take to social media feeds and the streets to get his message out at no cost.

“This whole campaign that I’m running is kind of radical and kind of revolutionary,” he said. “I find that BYU students are extremely passionate. I’m hoping to catch their attention.”

Since declaring his candidacy on June 7, Bennett has posted videos across his social media platforms, focusing primarily on Instagram, TikTok and Reddit. He wants to drive engagement among college-aged students, he said.

Spare time means long canvassing walks with his dog Toby, Bennett said. He has logged up to 10 miles at a time walking and talking to constituents in neighborhoods across the city.

“Social media is a confirming presence, while me being out in the community is more of an active presence,” he explained.

If elected, Bennett said he wants to further the interests of college students and other underrepresented groups in Provo. 

Big issues for him include tenant rights, the establishment of a basic living standard, the expansion of active and public transportations, care for the city’s growing homeless population and support for LGBTQ+ communities.

He also hopes to tackle municipal overspending. In his view, the city has a significant spending problem.

“Last year we took in about $340 million in taxes, we ended up spending right around $540 million,” he said. “I’ve been trying to do some digging through the budget to see where that money came from.”

Bennett does not take his candidacy and potential election lightly. He currently has two full-time jobs, a full course load, a wife and a baby on the way. 

Bennett and his dog, Toby, meet with Provo constituents. In an Instagram post, Bennett referred to Toby as his “canvassing director.” (Photo courtesy of Tanner Bennett)

“This thought kept coming back to me,” he said of running for city council. “I kept thinking, there’s no way.”

Bennett said he and his wife talked through the possibility and prayed about it. He said he felt good about his decision regardless of the outcome.

“If I can build some kind of following and … interest in local politics, I can just show people you don’t need to have money, you don’t need to have a bunch of resources,” he said. “You just need to be willing and try.”

Bennett’s mother, Gayleen Bennett, said while his announcement of candidacy was unexpected, it was not altogether unsurprising.

“Tanner is always leading out on the cutting edge of stuff,” she said. “He’s always adding new things to his plate.”

Gayleen described Bennett as empathetic and a good listener. She is “100% supporting him,” she said, even offering to buy him some signs — which he turned down.

Bennett acknowledged that the road to a city council seat is difficult given the low political engagement levels of his target demographic, which he calls the “Provo Silent 40%.”

“This demographic, 18-30 years old, never shows up to elections,” he said. “You’re looking at 2%-3% that are registered, of that demographic.”

However, Bennett said he is hopeful about garnering support from this historically overlooked group.

In conversations with other candidates, Bennett realized most campaigns ignore Provo’s student population.

“They know that they ignore us, and they have no plans to address us at all,” he said.

Bennett said he wants to be a voice for underrepresented communities. Another young candidate in the Citywide II pool feels the same way.

21-year-old Ari Emmanuel Webb said his decision to run was “spur of the moment.” He has had a longtime interest in politics and currently studies political science at the University of Utah.

“Whether or not I’m actually successful in this campaign, I want to get the experience,” he said.

Ari Emmanuel Webb poses with Utah Senator Nate Blouin. Webb interned with Blouin prior to filing his candidacy for Provo City Council. (Photo courtesy of Ari Emmanuel Webb)

Webb is a member of the LGBTQ+ community and was formerly a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said his unique perspective and experience are important to introduce to Provo politics.

Feeling marginalized is a reality for Webb and others in Utah, he said. A recent state law banning gender-affirming care for minors was a reminder of local attitudes.

“It can be hard to feel that Utah is a good place to live in these circumstances,” Webb said. “I want to prove to myself, and to those people that might be worried, that this place is capable of being accepting and we can work towards that together.”

Webb said he is also running a low-cost grassroots campaign and uses social media to connect with constituents. If elected, he aims to improve transportation, homelessness and inclusivity.

The primary election for Webb, Bennett and other candidates will be Tuesday, September 5. Voters will then choose between two finalists in the general election Tuesday, November 21. 

Bennett said he hopes students will engage with his social media content and turn out for the elections. 

“For nine months out of the year, this is your home,” he said. “If costs increase, if rent increases, why on earth should you have to tolerate that?”

Bennett creates social media content on TikTok and publishes it across multiple platforms. His campaign relies on unsponsored social media posts. (@bennett.for.provo via TikTok)
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