GOP gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Johnson is on the right side of his political party in demanding an immediate lawsuit against the federal government seeking control of public lands in the state, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.
Johnson, who finished first in Saturday’s Republican state convention, says as soon as he’s able if elected this year, he will sue in federal court, seeking a U.S. Supreme Court decision giving Utah control of 31 million acres of federal land within our borders.
Pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds that 58 percent of Republicans want to spend $4.5 million on such a lawsuit.
Thirty-one percent of Utah Republicans say no, don’t file it now, and 12 percent don’t know.
Johnson is locked in a primary fight with Republican Gov. Gary Herbert. Herbert is on the June 28 primary ballot after getting 45 percent of the GOP convention’s delegate vote Saturday. Johnson got 55 percent.
Herbert also gathered 28,000 GOP voter signatures, ensuring his primary ballot slot per the new SB54 candidate primary access law.
Herbert says now is not the time to file such a lawsuit.
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has a bill that would swap out a number of acres in Eastern Utah – Federal lands given for certain protection areas, along with certain development areas.
And, says Herbert, considering the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, it is no longer a good bet that the Supreme Court would side with Utah in what would be a groundbreaking high court decision.
Best to wait to see what happens with the Bishop bill; best wait to see the new makeup of the high court.
But Johnson says no – sue now.
It is just one of more than a dozen issues that Herbert and Johnson disagree on.
Jones finds that all Utahns are split on suing to get the federal lands – 46 percent don’t want to spend the $4.5 million, 44 percent do, and 12 percent don’t know.
But Johnson is on the right side of Republicans on this issue. And only registered Republicans can vote in the upcoming GOP primary.
Democrats don’t want to sue for control of the federal lands, no doubt not trusting a GOP governor and Republican-controlled Legislature to do right by more land ownership.
Jones finds Democrats oppose a federal lawsuit over public lands, 81-12 percent, with 7 percent undecided.
Political independents – those that don’t belong to any party – agree with Democrats: 60 percent say don’t sue in federal court, 31 percent say do sue, and 9 percent don’t know.
Herbert, who says he strongly wants the state to have control of BLM and U.S. Forest Service lands, believes an ill-timed lawsuit – one in which the state loses – could stop any federal land transfers in Utah for generations to come.
It is not worth the risk.
But Johnson says Utah has waited long enough. Move forward with the lawsuit, because congressional action can’t be counted on.
And Jones’ new poll shows that 58 percent of Utah Republicans agree with Johnson.
Jones polled 600 adults from March 23 to April 5. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.