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(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove.
Utah’s Republicans and Democrats to pick candidates
County conventions » Key legislative races to be decided — some with familiar rivals.
First Published Apr 09 2014 07:07 pm • Last Updated Apr 10 2014 12:10 pm

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.

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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.

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"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.

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