Johnson Announces He’s Challenging Herbert in 2016

Next year’s Republican governor’s race started Saturday.

At the off-year GOP state convention Gov. Gary Herbert talked up his record as a seven-year governor while’s chairman Jonathan Johnson “officially” announced he’s running against Herbert in 2016.

In the South Towne Convention Center only about half of the 4,000 state delegates showed up to pick some state officers – Chairman James Evans had no opponent and was re-elected by acclamation – and argue over party bylaws.

But it was the play in the governor’s contest that foreshadowed what is to come.

Johnson challenged Herbert to a series of debates – starting if you can believe it, this October. 

Johnson then asked the delegates (and their guests in the hall) to text a number up on jumbo screens and say if they wanted a series of Herbert/Johnson debates or not.

Johnson later said that 400 people texted in, and 94 percent said they wanted Herbert/Johnson debates, and wanted them early.

But anyone could have texted in, not just the 2,100 delegates and several thousand non-delegates in the hall, but Johnson supporters who knew the telephone number and when to text in.

Herbert said he was not interested in debating Johnson as he was focused on governing.

Johnson has given the state GOP $25,000. So has Herbert.

And for the first time – Evans started a “chairman’s circle” group for $25,000 donors – those who gave that much money were allowed to address the convention delegates for a supposed eight minutes (most ran over).

Herbert went first and defended his administration – great job growth, an economy unparalleled among the states, fighting the federal government – points he’s made a number of times over the last few years.

Johnson pointed to areas where he’s going to go after the governor – saying Herbert is a manager, not a leader, one who gives lip service to any number of issues, but doesn’t lead on, or really fight for, any of them.

A great economy today doesn’t mean a great economy tomorrow, said Johnson.

Johnson said leadership is not waiting until several days before the GOP convention to announce a ban on federal pass-through funds for Planned Parenthood, something Herbert announced Friday.

Herbert is the new chairman of the bi-partisan National Governors Association, a post he carries through next summer.

The NGA, along with national education leaders, drew up the Common Core education standards. And Herbert initially backed Utah state education officials adopting those standards (and he walked into a buzz saw over that issue three years ago at the state GOP nominating convention).

Johnson went on at some length about “federal” Common Core standards, and said as Utah’s new governor he will not only detail how Utah’s public education system should be controlled by parents and local teachers but fight against Common Core.

But Johnson has a long way to go.

A recent UtahPolicy poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates shows Herbert is well liked among voters, and Johnson not known at all.

From the podium, Herbert cited another poll by Dan Jones for UtahPolicy, saying 75 percent of Utahns believe Utah is on the right track while 75 percent say the nation is on the wrong track.

Things are going very well in the state, said Herbert.

He said for the fifth month in a row Utah leads the nation in economic growth, now at 5.2 percent.

“We are in control of our public education” in Utah, said Herbert – perhaps anticipating Johnson’s attack on the Common Core front.

“As far as I’m concerned, we should do away with the federal department of education,” said Herbert.

“We are No. 1 in the nation. Our challenge is to stare there,” said Herbert.

A few interesting points outside of the early gubernatorial contest in Saturday’s GOP meeting:

  • While saying he can not directly comment on any investigation his office is conducting, Attorney General Sean Reyes told the delegates – concerning the national debate over U.S. Planned Parenthood providing aborted fetal tissue for scientific study – that delegates can count on the AG’s office fully enforcing state abortion law, and to the extent he can, said Reyes, he will prosecute those who violate that law.

Utah Planned Parenthood DOES NOT conduct any abortions but keeps itself to providing sex education, family planning and fighting sexually transmitted diseases.

  • After much debate, some of it heated, delegates decided to give to the party’s Central Committee the power to change bylaws dealing with membership in the Utah Republican Party.

That means the 180-member CC may, at some future date, kick out of the party any would-be GOP candidate who takes only the petition-gathering route to the party primary ballot.

That would violate the agreements made by the GOP-controlled Legislature and backers of the Count My Vote citizen initiative, found in the 2014 law called SB54.

There could be interesting consequences to such a CC action, including lawsuits and claims such action violates Qualified Political Party status under SB54 – pushing the state GOP into uncharted legal waters and perhaps its candidates off of future ballots.