How SB54 Could Scramble This Year’s Legislative Races

Vote ButtonsAs both the Utah Republican and Democratic parties hold their neighborhood caucuses Tuesday night, whether the county and state delegates selected in those meetings get to make meaningful votes on candidates remains up in the air.

Not only because a Utah-Republican-Party federal lawsuit awaits a critical judicial ruling, but also because many candidates – most of them legislative incumbents – are in the process of getting certified to their party’s primary ballot via the new SB54 candidate signature-gathering route.

And unless Federal Judge David Nuffer makes a surprising ruling later this month, or early in April, those successful signature-route candidates CAN’T be eliminated by their delegates.

They will move on to the June primary ballot regardless of what those Tuesday-night-picked delegates say about those candidates in the convention.

Admittedly, it is a bit confusing.

But know this: If a federal, state or legislative candidate gets the required number of signatures verified, he or she is on the primary ballot.

And the delegates who will be picked Tuesday night may vote for him or her in their party county or state convention – but it will be an endorsement or show horse vote only.

You can see the candidates who filed to collect signatures here, and how far along they are in that process. A number are already certified – having gotten the number of signatures needed.

Here are the legislative candidate filings.

A candidate had to have declared to gather signatures by 5 p.m. March 17. So a candidate who did not so declare has only one route – through his or her county or state party convention.

As the current party rules stand now, in both the Republican and Democratic parties a candidate must get at least 40 percent of the vote of delegates to advance to the late-June primary election.

A candidate who only takes the convention route, and fails to get 40 percent of the delegate vote, is out – his or her 2016 campaign is finished.

Here is a UtahPolicy summary of how various races involving federal, state and legislative incumbents stand as of their party’s caucus meetings Tuesday night:

— U.S. Sen. Mike Lee is good to go. Lee has gathered the 28,000 signatures SB54 says he needs to make his party’s primary ballot.

Lee can, and probably will eliminate GOP challenger William Gaskill in the April 23 state GOP convention. Lee cannot be removed by convention delegates, although that was never a realistic possibility – Lee wasn’t facing the situation six years ago when Lee helped take out former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett in the 2010 convention.

— GOP Gov. Gary Herbert has 25,268 certified GOP voter signatures. He needs only 2,732 more signatures to be certified to the primary ballot.

His Republican opponent, Jonathan Johnson, has already complained that there is a conflict of interest, since Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s Utah Election Office must certify the signatures, and Cox is Herbert’s running mate. But that’s how the Utah Constitution sets up Utah’s election process.

Johnson is not gathering signatures, and so Herbert could eliminate Johnson in the state convention.

Under SB54, Herbert has until two weeks before the convention – or April 11 — to become certified via the signature route.

Utah’s four GOP U.S. House members are not taking the petition route, and so are throwing their re-nominations into the state GOP convention – where all of them are considered safe, even if they have an intra-party challenger.

Here are the incumbent legislative races:


— 15 Utah Senate candidates have signed up for the signature route, although some have told UtahPolicy they don’t plan to gather signatures, or if they are, are not planning to turn them in for certification depending on who filed against them inside of their parties.

— Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, has his 2,000 required signatures.

It turned out he didn’t need them, for no other Republican filed against him in his Senate District 8.

— Rep. Rich Cunningham, trying to step up to the Senate this year, is – get this – 8 signatures short of the 2,000 he needs. But Cunningham still has several weeks to turn in those 8 signatures to reach the required 2,000 GOP voters’ signatures.

Cunningham is challenging Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, who was appointed to the South Jordan seat when the former GOP senator resigned.

Cunningham lost to Fillmore in a special delegate election, and Cunningham will be bypassing those delegates in the Salt Lake County GOP convention.

If Fillmore doesn’t get 40 percent of the delegate vote, he’s out of office. But even if Fillmore got the 60-percent convention nomination threshold, he can’t eliminate Cunningham – and the two would face off in the Republican primary.

— Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, has the 2,000 required GOP signatures. Bramble is the original sponsor of SB54 and has been battered by GOP activists who oppose the bill.

Former conservative Rep. Chris Herrod has filed against Bramble, as has fellow Republican Tim Spencer.

Bramble can’t be eliminated at the state GOP convention (Senate District 16 is multi-county).  But if Bramble gets 60 percent of the delegate vote, he can eliminate Herrod and Spencer.

If both Herrod and Spencer got over 40 percent of the vote, the three of them would be on the primary ballot. Or if Herrod or Spencer got 40 percent of the vote, then Bramble and that guy would be on the ballot.

You can see in this race the permutations SB54 brings to the convention and primary ballots.

— Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, has his 2,000 signatures. But he didn’t need them as no Republican filed against him in Senate District 19.

— Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, has his 2,000 signatures. A former vice-chair of the Utah Republican Party, Weiler has been a severe critic of the state party’s lawsuits against SB54, and perhaps believed some District 23 arch-conservative would file against him. Heather Gardner did file; she can’t eliminate Weiler in the state convention, but he can eliminate her. Otherwise, they face off in a primary.

— Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, has 468 certified signatures. But he doesn’t need the rest, no Republican filed against him. In fact, no one at all filed against him – Okerlund wins re-election automatically.

— Same with Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan. Hillyard is the current longest-serving incumbent, first elected to the House in 1980. He took the signature route and got his 2,000 – talk about being a belt-suspenders kind of guy. But no one filed against him.

— Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, has 1,782 signatures. But he doesn’t need the rest, no Republican filed against him.

— Rep. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, filed for signatures in his attempt to step up to Senate District 13. But he has not turned in any signatures.

Sen. Mark Madsen is retiring. And Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, and Republican Jimmy Eaton, have filed for that open seat, also. Lifferth and Eaton are not getting signatures.

If Anderegg doesn’t get signature-certified, then he could be eliminated at the state convention, as could Lifferth and Eaton.


— 68 House candidates have filed for the signature route, although many have not turned in any signatures to be certified.

Utah Election Office web site shows 186 people have filed to run in the 75 House seats up for election this year.

— Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, has his 1,000 needed signatures, but no Republican filed against him in House District 1.

— Val Potter got 1,000 signatures in retiring Rep. Jack Draxler’s North Logan district. He didn’t need them; no one else even filed, so Potter wins the seat.

— Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, got his 1,000 signatures. Didn’t need them — no one filed against him.

— Mike Brenny has 842 out of 1,000 in House District 6. He may want to get the rest, for fellow Republicans Aaron Davis, Cory Maloy and John Morris also filed in Anderegg’s solidly-Republican Northern Utah County district.

— Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, has his 1,000 signatures. Didn’t need them, as no other Republican filed in District 10.

— Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, got his 1,000 signatures. He didn’t need them; Dee dropped out of that race and is, instead, running for the Weber County Commission.

— Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, has 1,000 signatures certified. Didn’t need them; no Republican filed against him.

— Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, is certified. Didn’t need his signatures; no Republican challenged him.

— Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, has her 1,000 signatures. A noted Republican moderate, Edwards was smart to gather signatures; she is being challenged inside the GOP by Glen Jenkins. Jenkins can be eliminated in the Davis County GOP convention; Edwards can’t be.

— Former West Valley Mayor Mike Winder is taking on Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, in a swing district, Cox has lost before to a Democratic challenger.

Winder is signature-certified. He can take out Cox in the Salt Lake County GOP convention, but Cox can’t beat Winder there.

— Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is certified in District 45. He didn’t need it; no Republican filed against him.

— Susan Pulsipher has 574 signatures in House District 50 – Cunningham’s old seat.

She would be wise to get the rest needed, as she is being challenged by fellow Republican Louis Welch. If she is signature-certified she can beat him in the Salt Lake County GOP convention; he can’t beat her there.

— Long-time Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, has his 1,000 signatures. Brown is being challenged by fellow Republicans Seth Winterton and Logan Wilde in District 53.

Brown can’t be taken out at the state GOP convention, but either challenger or both could be eliminated. Or either, or both could advance with Brown to the primary.

— Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, has his signatures in District 54. Powell is being challenged within his party by Tim Quinn, but Powell goes to a primary even if Quinn beats him in the convention.

— Xani Haynie has 206 signatures in Rep. Brian Greene’s District 57. Haynie would be smart to get signature-certified, for Greene is one of the most conservative members of the House, and his conservative delegates may want to give him the nomination in the Utah County GOP Convention.

— Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, has his signatures in District 61. Smart move, Grover doesn’t need to worry about Howard Stone in the convention, where Stone may fall, but Grover can’t.

— House Majority Whip Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, has his signatures. But no one filed against him – Gibson wins re-election automatically.

— Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, got his signatures. But like Gibson, no one filed against him. McKell is re-elected.

— Carl Albrecht wisely figured several Republicans would want retiring Rep. Kay McIff’s District 70 solidly Republican seat. Albrecht is signature-certified, and doesn’t need to worry about Glenn Stoneman or Hayven Dunn in the state GOP convention – he can’t be beaten by them there.

— Rep. John Westwood, R-Cedar City, has 994 signatures. He can forget the additional six names, no Republican filed against him in District 72. In fact, no one filed against him; Westwood wins re-election.

— Finally, as you will have noticed almost all the signature-gathers have been Republicans – which may say that Democratic legislative incumbents feel pretty safe with their delegates, and don’t want the expense or bother of gathering signatures.

But there are two exceptions – House Minority Whip Rebecca Chavez-Houck, who is being challenged by Darin Mann, and Rep. Joel Briscoe and his Democratic challenger DeAnn Tilton in Salt Lake City’s District 25. 

Briscoe has signed up to gather signatures, but may not need them as Tilton tells she will no longer pursue her campaign against Briscoe.

However, Mann is forging ahead with the race against Chavez-Houck, and she is actively gathering signatures.

If Chavez-Houck gets her 1,000 signatures, she cannot lose to Mann in the Salt Lake County Convention, but she could take him out if she gets 60% in that contest. Otherwise, they’ll both advance to a primary.

As you can see by this very lengthy analysis story, SB54’s alternative route to the party primary has many impacts on individual races this year.