A West Jordan man employed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has become the newest member of the Utah House of Representatives, filling the vacancy left by the departure of Ken Ivory.
Steve Christiansen, who took the oath of office Monday before the state Legislature convened for a special session, will serve the roughly 16 months remaining on Ivory’s term.
“I worked briefly in Washington 35 years ago, and that piqued my interest in government,” Christiansen said in a Monday interview. “I’ve been a student of our government, constitutionally and so forth, ever since. This kind of service has not felt right until now, and now it feels really good.”
Christiansen said he works as the church’s director of presiding bishopric projects, leading a team of internal consultants in managing global business ventures.
He seems to share his predecessor’s concerns about federal overreach, writing on the Salt Lake County GOP page that he would work in the state Legislature to “restore proper balance between our national and state governments (national is out of control!).” In an interview, he said he’ll continue Ivory’s advocacy for state ownership of public lands.
He also wrote that he’ll push to loosen the “federal ‘handcuffs’” placed on parents, teachers and principals when it comes to education. Decentralizing education will “allow teachers and principals to regain more passion and electricity and energy for the work that they do in the classroom benefiting our children,” Christiansen told The Tribune.
His other priorities include defending religious freedom, protecting gun rights and promoting responsible stewardship of natural resources, according to his party profile.
He is married with four children and five grandchildren.
The Salt Lake County Republican Party last week held a special election to fill Ivory’s seat representing District 47, which covers parts of West Jordan. Christiansen won about 69% of the vote, beating two other contenders.
Ivory last month announced he was resigning his public post to accept a job that would "require his full time and attention.” He later disclosed that he had taken an executive level position at a Silicon Slopes company he’d previously helped hire for a legislative project to appraise Utah’s public lands.
The original $25,000 contract with the Lehi company, Geomancer, later grew into a $700,000 agreement; while Ivory signed the original deal, he advocated for but did not vote on the expansion.
Still, wilderness advocates questioned the propriety of Ivory’s jump to a job at a firm profiting from state dollars he helped secure.
Ivory has defended his conduct, saying that he distanced himself from the state’s contract with Geomancer as soon as the tech company made him a job offer.
Tribune reporter Benjamin Wood contributed to this report.