State legislative race mirrors larger split in the Utah Republican Party

(Tribune file photos) Phill Wright, left, and Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful.

The Utah Republican Party’s civil war between moderates and die-hard conservatives is perfectly mirrored in the state House District 19 race, where Rep. Ray Ward is being challenged by Phill Wright.

This battle, now headed to a primary election, pits pragmatist vs. ideologue.

Ward is a family physician in Bountiful who sees himself as a problem solver. Earlier this year he sponsored and passed HB12, which expands Medicaid to cover family planning services for low-income women, and co-sponsored SB184 to allow women to obtain birth control directly from a pharmacist. He also pushed a doomed resolution, HCR1, recognizing climate change and a scientific consensus that it is human-caused.

“I have Republican things I believe in,” Ward said in an interview. “But I believe we need real-world solutions based on those principles.”

He labels himself as a “pragmatic” Republican who is looking out for his community.

Conversely, Wright describes himself as an “ideologue” who fights for his beliefs.

“Our Founding Fathers were not pragmatists, they were ideologues who were grounded in their beliefs and spent their days educating the public to rally around their cause,” Wright said. “I have been raised to be an ideologue, to know what you believe, who you are and to take a stand for truth.”

A former Utah GOP vice chairman, he is a fierce defender of the traditional caucus-convention method of selecting nominees. Wright is an executive at Lehi-based Entrata. The software company is led by Dave Bateman, a wealthy conservative who has taken on the Republican Party’s legal debt from fighting the law allowing signature-gathering candidates to get on the ballot and intends to press the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Wright chose not to gather signatures for his campaign, leaving his fate to Davis County Republican delegates at the convention earlier this month. Fortunately for him, the county party — which has developed a reputation as something of a rogue organization — recently changed its rules to require signature-gathering candidates, like Ward, to win 70 percent of the delegate vote instead of the usual 60 percent to clinch the nomination at convention.

Ward almost landed the knockout blow, but fell just short with 66 percent to Wright’s 33 percent. Both now move on to duke it out in the June 26 primary.

Both Ward and Wright describe themselves as establishment Republicans, although their interpretations of what that means are quite different.

“I have watched my opponent over the years continue to vote and introduce policy that violates our [party] platform,” said Wright. “[Ward’s] voting record does not reflect conservative or Republican principles.”

However, Wright said he “will not attack the character of my opponent. He is a good man, but we have vast differences on policy.”

Ward, defending his record and his political pragmatism, said he plans on running a positive campaign about issues important to voters.

“I’m not interested in an angry philosophy that sounds good because you’re angry but leaves you dangling for a real-world solution,” he said.

When asked about their top focus if elected, Ward said he would continue working to make health care costs more “transparent and manageable.” He also wants to work on affordability to be able to provide quality care without bankrupting Medicaid.

Wright said he would place an emphasis on education funding that makes a difference for students.

“I want to work on legislation to make sure more of our education dollars make it to the teachers and the classrooms so that Utah can attract and keep the best teachers and our students don’t have to do fundraisers for classroom supplies but can focus on learning and graduating,” he said.