Bob Bernick’s notebook: Brawl in District 19

I suppose it was inevitable that the Utah House District 19 GOP primary race this year was going to be really tough, maybe even mean-spirited.

And, unfortunately, it’s proven true.

Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, one of the more reasonable Republicans in the Utah House, is being challenged by former state party vice-chairman Phill Wright.

Utah politicos will know both names – Ward for his “compassionate conservatism” – as a family doctor he’s spoken out on many medical/family issues.

And Wright for his wacky opposition to Count My Vote and continued personal vendetta against GOP state chairman Rob Anderson – who beat Wright for the party’s top post last year.

Wright got into the primary against Ward because a uniquely unfair, odd, Davis County GOP rule that says if your opponent takes the signature-gathering route – as allowed by Utah law SB54 – then in convention he has to beat you by 70 percent of the delegate votes to win the nomination outright, not the normal 60 percent.

Well, Ward beat Wright by more than 66 percent – but not 70 percent.

So if Ward had NOT taken the legal signature-gathering option this year he would have eliminated Wright in the convention.

But since Ward did take the legal SB54 route, he now has to face Wright in the GOP June 26 primary.

Wright is the darling of the Keep My Voice folks – with anti-Count My Vote Sugar Daddy Dave Bateman even hiring Wright at his Entrata company.

That’s fine. Bateman can hire whomever he wishes. He’s Entrata’s boss.

But now Ward has to fend off not only Wright but the money behind Bateman and Entrata.

Wright’s pre-convention financial report shows he’s raised and spent almost nothing.

Ward’s shows donations of around $19,000 (including his leftover 2016 account) and donations mostly from fellow Bountiful residents of between $30 and $100 (with a few more substantial contributions).

But wait for the pre-primary reports – due seven days before the June 26 vote. Look for some big bucks coming from pro-caucus-convention (KMV) folks to Wright’s account then.

Ward has already complained online that Wright has sent out a flier that is patently false in some areas, clearly misleading in others.

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One claim is that Ward voted for a $115 million increase in the sales tax. There was no vote to increase the sales tax in his district or Davis County.

Also, Ward’s supporters have pointed out that for years – in various online listings – Wright has said he has a degree from Brigham Young University in communications.

While Wright attended BYU, he never got a degree there – BYU officials report.

Ward not only has an MD, but he also has a Ph.D., his supporters say, and Ward is not lying about his academic past.

Now Ward is being criticized for sending out a flier of his own that says, among other things, that he voted for freezing the basic school levy for five years.

That is accurate. But that statement doesn’t reflect that the bill – supported by a number of GOP conservatives in the 2018 Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Gary Herbert – may well result in more property taxes being paid in several Utah schools districts – all with the aim of stabilizing/equalizing property taxes between districts and thus providing more equal funding for every school child.

Wright’s fight against Anderson goes beyond understanding.

Wright even offered a party bylaw change in the last state Central Committee meeting that would have required the chairman (Anderson) to provide only standing microphones at all CC meetings – and only recognize speakers at those standing mics. (It didn’t pass.)

Anderson says Wright et al. have been crowding around the standing mics, not letting others speak, at CC meetings. So Anderson provided handheld mics (to be passed around) and started recognizing folks at their seats so that the anti-SB54 wacks couldn’t crowd out opponents around the standing mics. Petty tactics by Wright et al. for sure.

Do we need more folks like this in the Utah House?

Even if Wright wins, it’s unclear how he can crowd out other House members who he doesn’t like and stop them from speaking on the House Chamber floor. Hey, each House member has a mic at his desk.

Anyway, some Ward’s fellow GOP House members have come to his support – although more likely would have, but fear angering the wack KMV diehards that are making things so difficult inside the Utah GOP today.

This is, however, still a bell-weather primary match-up.

If Wright wins – and the GOP nominee likely will carry the very red district in November, where Democrat Courtney Jones is overmatched – it will bring renewed anti-SB54 energy into the House Republican caucus.

And add fuel to the Legislature’s fire over the dual-pathway law.