Utah Rep. Ken Ivory resigns his public post to accept new job

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) State Rep. Ken Ivory gives his view on HJR 8 Joint Resolution Calling for a Convention to Amend the Constitution of the United States on the hours floor, at the Utah State Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

Utah Rep. Ken Ivory is resigning from the Utah Legislature after accepting a job that “will require his full time and attention.”

“[Ivory] has been an important part of this institution for nearly a decade, and it is hard to imagine what the House will look like without him,” House Speaker Brad Wilson said in a Friday news release announcing Ivory’s departure.

Ivory, a West Jordan Republican first elected to the House in November 2010, will officially resign Monday with about 16 months left in his term.

“It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve in the Utah House," Ivory said in a prepared statement. "During my time, I’ve been blessed to work with amazing leaders across the political spectrum to help make this State the best place to live, work, receive an education, and raise a family.”

The Salt Lake County Republican Party will guide the process for choosing a replacement. That name will be submitted to Gov. Gary Herbert, who will make the appointment, according to the release.

Scott Miller, chairman of the county GOP, said he’s hoping to convene party delegates in early October to take a vote on Ivory’s successor. He said Ivory contacted him earlier this week to share news of his departure; while Miller said he doesn’t know what job Ivory took, the lawmaker “sounded very excited about this opportunity that he’s been presented with.”

It was not clear which job Ivory has accepted. Ivory wrote in a text message that he is out of town and would be unavailable for interviews Friday. He posted a photo to Facebook on Friday that appeared to be taken at an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Austin, Texas.

An attorney and consultant by trade, Ivory in January filed a conflict of interest form indicating that he is president of the 3 Great Rights Institute, a South Jordan nonprofit that also employs his wife, Becky. The group’s website — which identifies the three great rights as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” — states that it seeks to “raise up the next generation of leaders” by hosting youth training workshops.

Earlier this year, Ivory was appointed as chairman of ALEC’s Center to Restore the Balance of Government, which is not listed on his conflict-of-interest form. The center’s director, Karla Jones, told The Tribune that Ivory’s position is part-time and unpaid.

He is not stepping down from his elected Utah position to go to work for ALEC, she said, adding that he plans to keep his volunteer position with the organization.

Ivory has been a vociferous critic of an outsized federal government and has particularly targeted federal management of public lands. He is a leading proponent of conveying these vast reaches to state ownership.

In 2012, he sponsored and passed a bill requiring the federal government to transfer 30 million acres of public lands in Utah to the state. The deadline for this transfer has long passed without action.

Ivory has argued that the federal government doesn’t pay enough to compensate local counties for the lost revenue from untaxable federal lands and has pressed the state to undertake its own valuation of the land.

But he seemed more optimistic about the U.S. Department of the Interior under President Donald Trump’s leadership, even praising former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke following a meeting in Washington, D.C.

“So much progress is coming from the work and leadership of Secretary Zinke,” Ivory wrote in a November Facebook post.

Zinke, while supporting greater say by the states over public lands, was an outspoken opponent of selling them off outright. His replacement, David Bernhardt, has made no such commitment and set off alarms when earlier this month he named William Perry Pendley as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management. Pendley, a former president of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, has been a fierce advocate for the sell-off of public lands in the West.

Ivory’s advocacy work has embroiled him in controversy, with a watchdog group in 2015 labeling him a “snake oil salesman” and filing formal complaints against him. The complaints submitted in Utah, Arizona and Montana accused Ivory of scamming counties into giving taxpayer dollars to the American Lands Council (ALC), the nonprofit he started to champion the transfer of public lands to states.

The Utah attorney general’s office investigated the allegations but ultimately closed the case after finding the counties that paid the ALC didn’t feel cheated and were satisfied by their interactions with the nonprofit.

Ivory has also been colorful in his criticism of the federal government’s forest management practices, earlier this year comparing Utah’s national woodlands to “a dynamite factory run by chain-smoking chimpanzees.”

During his nine years in the Utah Legislature, Ivory also has worked to protect victims of sexual abuse, last session shepherding through a bill that added college professors and instructors to the list of individuals who occupy positions of “special trust” — and therefore are subject to heightened penalties when convicted of sexually abusing a child.

He also tried to pass a bill that would’ve authorized motorists to drive through red lights, as long as the coast was clear. That measure passed the House but failed in the Senate.

Republicans interested in filling Ivory’s seat can begin submitting their names now, Miller said, so party officials can post information about the candidates online ahead of the convention. Contenders can also be nominated from the floor on the day of the vote.