Ellis blows away Walker in treasurer's race

Published June 25, 2008 12:44 am

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A stormy state treasurer's contest - fraught with allegations of bribery and underhanded politics - ended Tuesday with Richard Ellis eliminating Mark Walker by a sizable lead to win the Republican nomination.

Ellis, the current chief deputy state treasurer, will now face off against Democrat Dick Clark in November.

"I'm obviously very happy but surprised. I didn't expect the difference to hold at 60-40," Ellis said as he watched election returns Tuesday with family and friends gathered at his West Jordan home. "It's been an uphill battle for me since the convention."

Walker, a two-term House member from Sandy, enjoyed the backing of top Republican lawmakers and Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, while former Gov. Olene Walker, outgoing State Treasurer Ed Alter and county treasurers supported Ellis.

Two incumbent state House members, who also had the backing of party leaders, were ousted by GOP challengers. Anti-illegal immigration crusader Rep. Glenn Donnelson and pro-school voucher Rep. Paul Neuenschwander both were defeated.

In the treasurer's race, Ellis filed a complaint in late May with the lieutenant governor's office, alleging that Walker offered him the chance to keep his job, sweetened by a pay increase from $104,000 to $160,000, if he would drop out of the race.

Walker denied the charge.

On Thursday, Ellis sidestepped Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert by filing his stalled complaint directly with the attorney general's office. According to attorney general spokesman Paul Murphy, an independent prosecutor will be appointed to handle the matter.

Herbert, who had earlier declined to forward the complaint to the attorney general prior to the primary, did so immediately after the polls closed.

Walker recently sent out a flurry of statewide mailings, telling voters that with Ellis they could expect higher taxes and more government spending.

More recently, radio and TV talk-shows featured Ellis explaining the state treasurer's fiduciary role and discussing the pending investigation. Midway through Sunday's "Take Two" program on KUTV, Walker joined host Rod Decker and Ellis to confront the dicey bribery charge.

Walker, a family-values conservative, called Ellis's complaint - and the furor it created - low and dirty, questioning Ellis' timing in bringing it forward. Ellis claimed that voters had a right to know the character of their candidates.

Walker's qualifications for the job also came under scrutiny. The University of Utah political science graduate spent three years selling Zions Bank investment products to Utah cities and counties and said his private sector experience would enable him to make a good office great.

Walker suggested shifting state investments to a less-liquid but more productive Zions fund.

He also intended to raise the state treasurer's profile by taking his conservative message to the people.

Ellis contended that the office is more professional than political and that an independent voice is needed in that slot to provide sound advice to the Legislature and the governor.

At press time, Walker had not returned phone calls.

In Weber County's House District 7, newcomer Ryan Wilcox showed four-term incumbent Donnelson the exit. The race became controversial when Donnelson refused to debate Wilcox.

Southern Davis County's District 20 GOP primary heated up early and the sniping didn't stop until the election, with Neuenschwander and Becky Edwards exchanging harsh jabs.

Edwards, daughter-in-law of former BYU coach LaVell Edwards, said Neuenschwander's support of school vouchers showed he did not represent voters in his district.

Dan Liljenquist clinched victory over Ronald Mortensen in the state's only primary election for the state Senate.

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