Utah lawmakers say U.S. Senate candidate Mike Kennedy used their names, faces without permission

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) This March 1, 2018 file photo shows Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, speaking during news conference at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City.

State Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, has picked up endorsements from a number of his colleagues in the Legislature. His campaign released a list on Friday of 24 current and former members of the Utah House and Senate backing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

But at least one of those names, Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, was released in error.

“I really like Mike Kennedy and have enjoyed working with him,” Chew told The Tribune on Friday. “But I haven’t OK’d anybody to say I was endorsing him.”

A spokeswoman for Kennedy’s campaign attributed the error to a miscommunication, adding that the lawmakers were believed to have confirmed their support. But the endorsements come on the heals of a Kennedy mailer some legislators similarly say implied their endorsement without permission.

Rep. Christine Watkins, R-Price, said she was surprised by her inclusion on Friday’s endorsement list, but does not intend to ask the Kennedy campaign to withdraw her endorsement. She said she was asked to endorse via email, but never responded due to the time constraints of her own primary campaign.

“Rather than cause a big ruckus I’m just going to let it stand,” Watkins said.

Other names on Kennedy’s list include Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, a member of House GOP leadership, and outgoing Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.

“I strongly support Mike Kennedy to be the new junior senator from Utah,” Noel said in a prepared statement. “Mike is intelligent, thoughtful, sincere, and a true conservative. He has the desire and all of the personal and intellectual qualities to be an outstanding United States senator.”

Cindie Quintana, a spokeswoman for Kennedy’s campaign, said the endorsements were confirmed before the list went out. But she acknowledged that Chew and Watkins may not have understood the campaign’s intention to release the names.

Asked about Chew — who told The Tribune he has a personal policy against formally endorsing candidates — Quintana said Chew recently spoke favorably of Kennedy at a public meeting.

“I don’t know why this is even a story,” she said. “If someone says positive things about you and openly states they support you, in my mind you would think that is an endorsement or a stance of support.”

One legislator upset with Kennedy’s campaign was Rep. Carol Moss, a Holladay Democrat, who hasn’t come anywhere close to endorsing the Republican.

Yet she was surprised to find her image in a photo that went out on one of Kennedy’s campaign mailers.

“He didn’t ask to use that photo with me prominently standing next to him,” said Rep. Carol Moss, D-Holladay, said of the mailer. “I think it’s very disingenuous of him to use that photograph.”

The image in question was taken from the launch of the Utah School Safety Commission on March 1, which was held in the ornate Gold Room of the Utah Capitol. A number of lawmakers from both major parties were present in a show of bipartisan support for the volunteer commission, which was arranged by Kennedy.

But in repurposing the photo for campaign materials, the image was tightly-cropped and altered to include Kennedy’s campaign logo over the podium where Kennedy is pictured speaking.

After the mailer was released last month, Moss — seen just over Kennedy’s shoulder in the image — says she was contacted by a relative who asked if the House Democratic Caucus was supporting Kennedy’s campaign.

“I think it’s deceptive,” Moss said. “I think it’s really self-serving and opportunistic.”

Moss said that the issue has caused her to reconsider her opinion of the commission, which was ostensibly intended to study gun violence and school safety in order to submit recommendations to the Legislature.

Kennedy originally served as the facilitator of commission meetings, but stepped away from active participation after the launch of his Senate campaign.

Quintana declined to comment on the campaign mailer.

The Mitt Romney for Senate campaign, meanwhile, touted the endorsement of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, releasing a statement of the governor saying no candidate is better prepared to serve the Beehive State than the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate.

“His experience, integrity and judgment are precisely what Washington, D.C., needs right now,” Herbert said in a prepared statement. “His national profile will give him a seat at the leadership table immediately. That is why I urged him to seek this seat, and that is why I am voting for him to represent Utah.”

This endorsement appears to be a reiteration of what Herbert had said at least as early as April, when he announced his support of Romney on his monthly press conference on KUED-TV.