By the slimmest of margins, one single vote, Utah Democrats returned former Rep. Lynn Hemingway to Utah’s Capitol Hill Wednesday night.
Hemingway replaces Rep. Justin Miller in HD40 after Miller resigned following a guilty plea to second-degree felony communications fraud for illegally taking $25,000 from the campaign of Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams.
Hemingway defeated Amy Fowler in a second round of voting by a 26-25 margin. He originally stepped down from the legislature after an 8-year run following the 2014 session.
Hemingway stressed his experience when making his pitch to delegates.
“I’ve won this district four times. This is not a gimme,” he said. “People know what my capabilities are. You carry a very heavy load for 36,000 people. I am an expert on land use and energy, expertise that is sorely missing in the legislature.”
Hemingway had already announced his intention to challenge Miller for the Democratic nomination in HD40 in 2016. He says his decision to unretire was prompted by Miller’s legal troubles.
“It became clear to me that the district was not being well-represented, and I made the decision I needed to come back.”
Fowler, who advanced to the second round of balloting, would have become the second currently openly-gay member of the legislature. She was introduced by Sen. Jim Dabakis, who said her youth and energy made her an appealing candidate.
“I’m old,” said Dabakis. “We need young people for the future of our party.”
Fowler, who is a public defender, said she got into the race because she felt she could make a difference.
“There were a lot of hurdles standing in my way. People said I’m too young, too female, too lesbian,” said Fowler. “It’s time for the fringes to be accepted.”
Two other candidates, Chris Stout and Michael Shea were eliminated in the first round of voting. After failing to win the race, Stout threw his support behind Fowler, but it was not enough to put her over the top.
Had the second round of voting ended in a tie, the ultimate winner would have been decided by a coin flip – an eventuality that almost happened.
Hemingway returns to a Democratic caucus that is two people smaller than when he left in 2014. He acknowledges that there’s a lot of work to be done to help Democrats regain their relevancy on the Hill.
“It’s a mess,” he said with a laugh.