A week before the start of the 2018 Legislature, five incumbents already know they are being challenged within their own political parties, a UtahPolicy.com analysis shows.
One is Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, in House District 20, who told UtahPolicy.com on Tuesday that she will not seek re-election this year, but retire from the House after 10 years.
That’s not a whole lot of incumbents being worried about their political futures out of the 75 House members and 15 state senators up for re-election this year.
Still, in an odd way, one of the complaints by the right-wing advocates of the caucus/delegate/convention process is that too many lawmakers will be looking over their shoulders during the 45-day general session to properly do their jobs – because they will know they are being challenged by signature-gathering opponents.
This is the second general election where candidates for the Legislature (and federal, statewide and county offices) can sign up in early January and start collecting the thousands of signatures they need from their registered party voters to make the primary ballot.
If they get the required signatures, they can’t be eliminated in their party conventions by delegates.
The candidates have the choice under SB54 to get to the primary only via signatures, or they can go through their delegate conventions, or they can do both at the same time.
What’s interesting is that most of the candidates who have signed up so far to take the signature route are incumbents, who clearly don’t want to be eliminated in their party conventions if they are challenged.
The biggest potential intra-party legislative race currently is between long-time Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, and Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, in Senate District 15.
Grover is gathering signatures. Dayton told UtahPolicy.com that should she run for re-election, she will only take the delegate/convention route.
She said via text that as she approaches every re-election, she thinks she won’t run again. As of now, she plans on running. But she could change her mind.
“Rep. Grover is my second choice” for her Senate seat, with herself being the first, at this time, she said.
Candidates have an early March window to officially declare their candidacy, and only then will we know which routes to their party’s primary ballots they will take – signature only, convention only, or both at the same time.
Dayton’s is a heavily GOP district and the Republican nominee will certainly be elected in November.
Dayton ran in the special 3rd District U.S. House election this summer, but was eliminated in the delegate convention.
That convention was won by former state Rep. Chris Herrod. But he lost handily in the party primary to then-Provo Mayor John Curtis, who took the signature AND convention routes to the primary ballot.
A UtahPolicy.com analysis shows these House races for incumbents:
— Edwards has two signature challenges at this time, Melissa Garff Ballard and Glen Jenkins.
Edwards is a recognized moderate, or mainstream, Republican, and has been challenged from her right previously.
Jenkins lost to Edwards in the 2016 GOP primary in District 20, where Edwards did collect signatures.
“This was always my plan,” said Edwards, “Serve 10 years, if I was lucky enough to do that, then step aside.
“You will find a large slate of candidates” running for House 20 this year, she added. She is not endorsing Jenkins nor Ballard, and may not endorse anyone before the primary (if there is one) as the year goes on.
— Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake, is being challenged by fellow Democrat Arnold Jones in her District 23 re-election.
— In House District 30, former GOP Rep. Fred Cox has already announced his running against Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley, who took out Cox two years ago.
Cox is a strong supporter of the caucus/delegate/convention process and has not signed up for the signature route, as has Winder.
If Winder gets his 1,000 signatures, he can’t be beaten by Cox in the Salt Lake County GOP Convention, which is coming later this year. In 2016, Winder gathered signatures to get on the ballot, but he didn’t need them as he eliminated Cox at the Salt Lake County GOP convention.
— Down in Washington County, Rep. John Westwood, R-St. George, is being challenged by Rex Shipp inside the GOP.
Westwood has not signed up yet for signatures, and may just decide to go through the convention process if he seeks re-election.
Candidates who are not taking the signature route, but only the convention route, don’t have to formally file for office until March 15, a week after the 2018 Legislature endsMarch 8.
Thus, we don’t know who they may yet be – other than Cox already announcing on Facebook and setting a “town hall” meeting for his constituents and supporters.
The signature-gathering, early January option will do at least one thing: Perhaps hinder the practice of incumbent legislators basically picking their replacements in heavily Democratic or Republican districts.
In years gone by, on occasion an incumbent lawmaker will act like he is going to run for re-election.
But just before the candidate filing deadline, he fails to file, and his designated successor goes in just before 5 p.m. on filing day to take his place.
Often no other candidate in his own party files – as they think the popular incumbent is running again.
His designated successor is the only majority party candidate on the ballot – and coasts go victory later in the year.
But now a candidate can file to gather signatures in January, but get out of the race in March if the popular incumbent decides to run for re-election.
Edwards said she is not trying to pick her successor – and no one should.
The ultimate District 20 winner, she said, “will have to work hard; no one will have (this seat) handed to them on a platter. And that is how it should be.”