Bob Bernick’s notebook: Election intrigue in Utah County

Bernick Mug 01

Talk about wheels within wheels and personal conflicts of interest. It would be tough to find more intrigue than in the Republican intraparty primary battle just finished in Utah House District 66 — mostly headquartered in Spanish Fork, Utah County.

You almost need an official game-day program to keep track of all the players involved. Or an in-depth background script to follow all the plots.

But let’s give it a try.

We’ll start at the top: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s decides to bring state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, on as his LG running mate. The first domino in this campaign game falls into place. is told that while the Cox/Henderson team ultimately proved successful in the June 30 GOP gubernatorial primary — and Henderson certainly is a well-respected lawmaker — Cox at one point was considering asking retired Utah National Guard Gen. Jefferson Burton to be his LG.

(Burton this spring was picked by the Herbert/Cox administration — with Cox as the top point man — to lead out on the state Health Department’s coronavirus fight. You may know Burton’s name for that very public endeavor.)

Former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman — who ultimately lost by a few percentage points to Cox in the June 30 primary — was shopping around Utah County, looking for a female LG running mate. He ultimately picked Provo City Mayor Michelle Kaufusi on Feb. 7.

Perhaps believing he needed a Utah County woman on his ticket — Burton is also from Utah County — Cox picked Henderson on March 19.

And that Henderson pick — with Burton now out of that mix — leads several other political dominos to fall.

Cox’s brother-in-law is Utah House Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork. With the Henderson Senate District 7 now open, she was running for re-election in 2020, McKell jumps from his House District 66 re-election into the Senate open race. And that, of course, leaves his seat open.

And into that race jumps — you guessed it — Burton, who just happens to live in that district.

All this happens within a few days because the candidate filing deadline is just hours from the time that Cox publicly names Henderson to his ticket.

Bang! McKell jumps out of his House re-election into the Senate race.

Bang! Burton, now disappointed not being with Cox, jumps into the House 66 open race.

(One may wonder why Cox made the Henderson pick so close to the candidate filing deadline. It would not have been the first time in small-town GOP politics where an incumbent legislator attempted to pick his or her replacement by letting all believe they were running for re-election only to jump out of their seat at the last minute, giving little time for a not-chosen-replacement to get organized enough to file.)

Still, all is not perfect in Spanish Fork Republican politics. (We don’t even need mention Democrats. If there are any in Spanish Fork, they’re smart enough to keep their heads down.)

McKell ends up with four GOP challengers. But one withdraws before the delegate convention and McKell — who already knows most of Henderson’s delegates, many were his District 66 delegates, also — wins the convention with more than 60 percent of the vote, winning the nomination there. There are no other non-GOP candidates other than a United Utah candidate, so McKell is basically a Senate shoo-in come November.

The second domino falls into place.

Now the Burton race gets even more interesting.

Burton has six GOP challengers — seven filing within just days after Henderson goes with Cox, and McKell gets out of his House race for the Senate open seat.

And several of them are well-known in Spanish Fork and its environs, including Kari Malkovich, who has been active in local GOP and nonpartisan politics for decades. (She is, in fact, a Woodland Hills city councilmember).

Five of the GOP House District 66 candidates fall in the convention. But Burton can’t win outright there, as McKell did. And now it is a June 30 GOP primary between Burton and Malkovich.

But wait. It gets even odder.

Malkovich has worked for years as the public relations director for the local personally-injury law firm of McKell, Thompson and Hunter. You guessed it, Rep. Mike McKell is the McKell of MT&H.

“I was encouraged to run by a lot of folks,” Malkovich tells “In fact, Deidre called me up and told me I had to run; that I was the most experienced and qualified in the district. She supported me 100 percent. She contributed to my campaign,” says Malkovich.

McKell, her employer, told Malkovich he was staying out of the race for his old seat; he had too many friends on all of the sides.

Well, not quite.

At some point, McKell endorsed Burton; who was also endorsed by Cox, whose endorsement is on the general’s campaign homepage.

McKell never told Malkovich about his Burton endorsement. “I heard it through the grapevine, so to speak,” she says. (She is still employed at MT&H, no problems at work, she says.)

The Burton/Malkovich GOP primary campaign heats up; much money being raised by both sides. Where is it coming from?

“Most of mine is from within my district,” she says. “Most of (Burton’s) isn’t.”

Well, let’s look:

— Burton raises $18,775 — not a bad amount for a Utah House primary where it is always tough to get money. He spends $10,673 and has $8,101. That is kind of a lot of cash to leave unspent for an all-deciding primary. There were only Republicans in the District 66 race, so with Burton’s primary victory, 60-40 percent over Malkovich, he’s elected to the Utah House.

— Malkovich raises $15,865, again not a bad showing. She spends $10,435 and has $5,429 in cash left over, perhaps looking at a general election campaign that never came.

So, who’s giving?

— Henderson was the second donation to Malkovich, $500. But later Henderson gives Malkovich in total $3,500 — her largest donation — $2,500 in lawn signs.

House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, which is the next-door district, gives Malkovich $750. House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, gives her $1,000. Reagan Outdoor Advertising, which usually gives money to a lot of incumbents, gives $1,000 in a donated billboard.

— Burton gets some very interesting donations, too.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, $3,000, one of the first donations Burton gets. Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, $2,000. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, $1,000. Schultz, $1,000, (same amount he gave to Milkovich). House Majority Assistant Whip Val Peterson, R-Orem, $1,000.

And Committee to Re-elect Mike McKell, $1,500. That’s a lot of GOP legislative leadership giving, but remember, it comes after Lt. Gov. Cox, the likely next governor, has endorsed Burton.

Cox doesn’t give directly. But at one point in Cox’s career, he ran the family’s local business, CentraCom, a rural telephone company and leading member of the Utah Rural Telecommunication Association, which gives Burton $250.

But there are a few more. As noted, McKell et al. are personal injury lawyers. And McKell certainly knows all the really big personal injury lawyers in Utah.

Other Burton donations: Craig Swapp & Associates, $250. Robert J. Debry & Associates, $250. Siegfried & Jensen, $750. Driggs, Bills & Day, $250.

So, with Cox’s pick of Henderson, his brother-in-law wins a Senate seat, and a close associate/friend, Burton, wins a Utah House seat.

Who says there may be discord between the Utah governor’s office and the state Legislature?