It’s time once again for The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utahn of the Year.
Since 1997, Tribune editors and editorial board members have been choosing a Utahn of the Year. The aim is to find the person or persons (and a couple of times, a non-person) who best reflect both Utah and the top Utah news of that year. Last year the distinction went to the imperiled Great Salt Lake.
Readers also get their shot. Here, in alphabetical order, is a list of candidates, and write-ins are welcome. Reader poll results will be published at the same time as the editors’ choice. If you would like to vote by mail, you can send your ballot to The Salt Lake Tribune, 90 S. 400 West, Suite 600, Salt Lake City, UT. Please vote by 5 p.m. Dec. 15.
Danny Ainge — Win or lose, the Utah Jazz are clearly Ainge’s team now, after the former BYU star and Celtics czar blew up the old crew and assembled a surprising team from others’ spare parts.
Scott Anderson — For decades the Zions Bank CEO has been building bridges across cultural and political boundaries, bringing together coalitions on Utah’s most pressing problems. Affable but serious, and always forward-focused, Anderson’s understated leadership has been an unseen hand in the state’s progress
Bonnie Baxter — The Westminster College biologist and director of the Great Salt Lake Institute worked in relative obscurity until the famous body of water became infamous. Now she has a YouTube hit she’d rather not have written: a eulogy for the dying lake.
Nathan Chen — A strong and graceful skater who started out at Ballet West Academy, Chen represents Salt Lake City’s greatest aspirations in becoming an Olympic city. Born to Chinese immigrant parents, he became a home-built star who conquered the world to win gold this year in men’s figure skating in Beijing.
Tony Finau — The West High graduate, who polished his game hitting balls into a mattress in the garage of his west Salt Lake City home, arrived big time in the professional golf world this year, winning three PGA tournaments.
Kaytriauna Flint — When Flint told Utah State University she was sexually assaulted, the school’s weak response prompted her to sue so other students might fare better. The school eventually paid her $500,000, but not before the lawsuit exposed the backward mindsets of USU’s police chief and football coach.
Zach Frankel — The feisty water watchdog hasn’t backed down from a fight with the insular “water buffaloes” who talk conservation but walk more tax-fueled water projects. As drought and climate change bear down, Frankel is finding more Utahns willing to challenge the buffalo herd.
Diana Hagen, Paige Petersen and Jill Pohlman — It was only 40 years ago that a woman was first appointed to the Utah Supreme Court. With Gov. Spencer Cox’s appointments of Hagen and Pohlman this year, the highest court in the state became majority female for the first time.
Ben Hart — “I feel like the Utah Inland Port Authority has its best days ahead of it,” says the authority’s new boss. That won’t be hard, given the tortured trail the port has taken. Hart is pledging to set a clear and transparent path, and he has an early agreement with Salt Lake City to show for it.
Jason Hinojosa — The new police chief at the University of Utah took over a force that has been struggling since the murder of Lauren McCluskey exposed its weaknesses. His more victim-centered approach avoids asking the questions that shut people down.
Deidre Henderson — In public campaigns and in private conversations with malcontents in her own party, Utah’s lieutenant governor was steadfast: Utah’s mail-in voting preserves election integrity, and there’s no reason to turn from it. Now she has one more election as proof.
McKayla Julian — The name says it all. At Julian’s nonprofit “Pretty Tough Ladies Resource Center,” those escaping domestic violence don’t just get a new outfit or a referral for legal help. They get Julian, who lived what they’re living and found her way out.
Ray Kingston — Among the many Utahns who died this year, none may leave as lasting and visible a legacy as Kingston, the architect behind Abravanel Hall, Snowbird, the restoration of the Cathedral of the Madeleine and other landmarks.
Mike Lee — The enigmatic U.S. senator fended off a challenge from independent challenger Evan McMullin after a rough year that saw his “Please tell me what I should be saying” conversation come to light, exposing just how willing he was to find a way to keep Donald Trump in power.
Adam Lenhard — Some St. George City Council members fumed after City Manager Lenhard signed off on filming an HBO drag show on city property. Lenhard was insistent that show producers had a First Amendment right to be there. He resigned under pressure, and the council had to give him a $625,000 settlement, money not every St. George taxpayer thinks was well spent.
Evan McMullin — Demonstrating both the promise and the limitations of third-party politics in Utah, the former CIA agent gave the hard-right incumbent Republican Mike Lee a close run in the most expensive U.S. Senate race in the state’s history.
Newcomers — Utah saw its largest jump in in-migration since World War II, as 38,141 more people moved in than moved out of the state in 2021. Even Utah’s legendary birthrate couldn’t keep up with that.
Dallin Oaks — The Latter-day Saint apostle and former Utah Supreme Court justice, next in line to lead the predominant faith in Utah, stepped up his call for compromise in balancing religious freedoms and LGBTQ rights, delivering another major address on the topic in Rome. Nowhere was this approach more apparent than in his church’s support of the Respect for Marriage Act.
Burgess Owens — After barely winning his seat in Congress in 2020, the former NFL player easily beat his opponent this year, helped by two years of incumbency and a redistricting that made the 4th Congressional District one of the most Republican in the nation.
Jerilyn Pool — Pool and her husband have been running QueerMeals out of their Provo home for years, providing not just food but also comfort and validation to young LGBTQ residents. As a board member for Provo Pride, she has kept a watchful eye over gay- and trans-rights protests, including staging herself at the bottom of the Y mountain when it gets the rainbow treatment.
Prison mosquitoes — They were among the few inhabitants already present when construction began on the new Utah State Prison in the wetlands, and anyone and everyone told state officials they would be a problem. Yet somehow those officials thought the little bloodsuckers wouldn’t like prison life. Now, they’re ruling every cellblock.
Mitt Romney — Utah’s junior senator was the ultimate establishment Republican until his party went anti-establishment. This year he continued his maverick streak, including declining to endorse Utah’s senior senator for re-election.
Sherrie Swensen — After 32 years of service, the Salt Lake County clerk retires at the end of the year. She has been a guardian of democracy, ensuring fair and honest elections while pushing to make voting as easy and accessible as possible for “we the people.”
Kyle Whittingham — In a year bookended by the Utes’ first and second Rose Bowl appearances and plenty of highs and lows in between, Whittingham showed once again that he can guide his team through tragedy and triumph.
And here is the list of past Utahns of the Year:
2021 • The Great Salt Lake.
2020 • Health care workers.
2019 • Utah Jazz owner and philanthropist Gail Miller
2018 • Former North Ogden Mayor and fallen soldier Brent Taylor.
2017 • Longtime U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch.
2016 • Madi Barney, who brought attention to how Brigham Young University was handling reports of sexual assaults.
2015 • Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes.
2014 • Same-sex marriage plaintiffs.
2013 • Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
2012 • Mormons Building Bridges.
2011 • Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank.
2010 • Elizabeth, Lois and Mary Smart.
2009 • Elizabeth Smart.
2008 • Utah Jazz owner and businessman Larry Miller.
2007 • First responders to tragedies, including the Trolley Square shooting rampage and the Crandall Canyon Mine disaster.
2006 • Latino leaders Jorge Fierro, Andrew Valdez, Ruby Chacon and Alma Armendariz.
2005 • Pamela Atkinson, advocate for the poor and homeless.
2004 • Utahns killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2003 • Gov. Olene Walker.
2002 • LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.
2001 • Winter Games organizer Mitt Romney.
2000 • Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson.
1999 • The letter that sparked the Olympic bribery scandal.
1998 • Mary Ann Kingston, who suffered a brutal beating after escaping plural marriage.
1997 • NBA MVP Karl Malone.