A trio of former state legislators looking to return to the Utah Capitol headline a slew of contested races as Democrats and Republicans from Weber to Washington counties meet Saturday to nominate candidates or at least whittle the field.
In another contest, four first-time candidates are vying to replace the state’s first female House speaker, Becky Lockhart, who opted not to seek re-election after 16 years in the House.
Those contests and others will play out Saturday as delegates in 12 counties cast their ballots in a slew of legislative races and for county office-seekers.
It will be the last time the conventions will hold such sway. A new law passed in the last legislative session allows prospective candidates to avoid the convention system and get on the primary ballot by gathering signatures from registered voters.
In many instances, candidates are vying for the nomination in safe districts, meaning the convention showdown could be the last real test.
The following is a run-down of some of the top-tier races that could be decided Saturday:
Romero vs. Iwamoto • Former state Sen. Ross Romero, who left the Legislature to mount an unsuccessful bid for Salt Lake County mayor, is running a high-profile race against former Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jani Iwamoto to replace Sen. Pat Jones, who is retiring.
Romero said his legislative experience is critical at a time there are just five Democratic senators in the body. “Senator Jones, a 14-year veteran, has been an important part of Democratic representation on the Hill, so a knowledge of the issues, the committees, the policies and process and the colleagues all weigh, I think, strongly for my candidacy.”
Iwamoto said she has represented the vast majority of the district already on the county council, giving her an opportunity to learn the issues important to the area.
“I’ve represented them all before,” she said. “I know the district, I know the issues in this district because I’ve represented it for so long and I live in the heart of it.”
The Democratic showdown has been relatively high-stakes for convention politics, with Romero spending nearly $17,000 so far, and Iwamoto spending more than $15,000 on her race.
The winner on the Democratic side will go up against either Holladay City Councilwoman Sabrina Petersen or Philip Carlson, who is a nurse at University Hospital.
Layton vs. Daw • First-term Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, is in a rematch with former Rep. Brad Daw, whom she knocked off in 2012. Since then, however, her victory has been marred by questions surrounding the secretive involvement of the payday lending industry.
The investigation into former Attorney General John Swallow revealed that payday lenders poured money into the Proper Role of Government Education Association, which used the money to mount withering attacks against Daw, who had sponsored legislation to regulate payday lenders.
“[Layton] is trying very, very hard to help heal the district,” said her campaign manager, Laura Lee Adams. “She has been trying to really concentrate on issues and not let that be a part of it. Unfortunately there are still a lot of people who want to bring that up.”
Adams said Layton would rather focus on issues of personal privacy, local control, parental involvement with schools and other issues that deal with the liberty of her constituents.
Daw said that, while delegates ask about what transpired in the last election, it’s not the main topic they ask about.
“Delegates are obviously doing their due diligence and saying, ‘OK, let’s just put that aside right now and decide who’s the best candidate,’” Daw said. “I’m making the pitch for some of my big issues: campaign finance transparency, the prescription drug abuse [prevention] program, and payday lending regulation.”
Both campaigns say they feel good about how the race is going, but neither will make any predictions about the outcome Saturday. The winner will square off against Democrat Archie Williams, an Orem construction worker.
Greene vs. Richardson vs. Stevens • Perhaps the most intriguing battle on the Republican slate Saturday, Rep. Brian Greene, of Pleasant Grove, is trying to fend off two challengers — former state Rep. Holly Richardson and John Stevens.
Greene edged out Stevens in a 2012 Republican primary. Richardson served in the seat for a year before resigning to run former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist’s unsuccessful bid to oust U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2012.
Stevens, an area manager for the Bank of England, launched his campaign saying Greene wasn’t doing enough to represent the Pleasant Grove district. Richardson has stressed her experience on the Hill and ability to unite people.
Greene said he wasn’t surprised when they both decided to challenge him.
“They both started running against me before I even took office, so I’ve known for close to two years they were there and were going to make a run at it,” he said.
“I feel comfortable with the delegates who were selected,” Greene said. “I feel they’re doing a great job for the most part in conscientiously evaluating the candidates and I feel if they fairly evaluate the records of all the candidates they’ll come to the right decision.”
Richardson said a change is needed. “I supported Brian last go-round, but as the last year has unfolded it has become evident that the people of [District] 57 need a choice.”
The winner on the Republican side will face either Michael Plowman, development director for the Hurst Wood Education Foundation, or Jim Thorne, a pizza delivery driver.
Snider vs. Summerhalder vs. Ellingson vs. Thurston • In Provo, it’s a four-way race to fill the vacancy created by House Speaker Becky Lockhart’s decision not to seek re-election after 16 years in office.
Norm Thurston has held senior positions in the Utah Department of Health, including health reform coordinator and currently as director of the office of health care statistics. He has lined up endorsements from prominent Republicans, such as former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell and former House Speaker Dave Clark.
Karen Ellingson is a mother of four who has been active in her local PTA and is chairwoman of the Springville Library Board.
William Snider is an account manager at Diversify, Inc., a South Jordan-based wealth management company, and a former Army sergeant stationed in Kuwait and a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard.
And Ben Summerhalder does customer service for the Boy Scouts of America.
The only Democrat who filed for the seat is Scott Ferrin, a professor at Brigham Young University.