Utah Republicans are still five months away from selecting a nominee in the 2020 governor’s race, but Thomas Wright is getting a jumpstart, and on Thursday, he named Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, as his running mate.
“This is, in my opinion, the Utah Republican Party dream team,” Wright said. Both men served as past chairmen of the state GOP and Bishop was Utah House speaker before his election to Congress.
Announcement of the unusual move comes three days after Bishop endorsed Wright in the governor’s race, ending speculation that Bishop would seek the governor’s office for himself. Bishop, a nine-term congressman, had previously announced that he would not seek reelection to the U.S. House this year.
It is the first time in memory that a Utah member of Congress has left Washington to run in the No. 2 spot in a governor’s race. Former Rep. Jim Hansen ran unsuccessfully for governor after retiring from 22 years in the House and former Rep. Howard Nielson served in the state Senate after leaving the U.S. House.
Wright, a real estate executive, said he was interested in recruiting Bishop to the campaign because of Bishop’s background as a Utah legislator and educator, Bishop’s experience in Washington, D.C., and Bishop’s record of advocating for the state’s rural communities.
“I’m honored to have the candidate that I was most afraid of running against as my lieutenant governor,” Wright said.
Bishop joined Wright at Thursday’s announcement, held at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. The institute’s namesake, developer and philanthropist Kem Gardner, has so far made contributions to two of Wright’s gubernatorial rivals: Greg Hughes, another former Utah House speaker, and Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador.
Bishop said he decided to endorse Wright after seeing him lead the Utah Republican Party. He described Wright as creative, clever and pragmatic, and a leader who brings people together.
“I think we work together very well,” Bishop said. “We round each other out — I’m old, he’s young; I’m short, he’s tall; he’s bald, and I never will be.”
He said he looks forward to working with lawmakers as a representative of the state’s executive branch and to promoting a more teacher-focused approach to public education in the state.
Bishop also said he plans to complete his term in the U.S. House in addition to assisting with the Wright campaign. But he added that he has not yet decided whether he will transfer any of the approximately $300,000 remaining in his congressional campaign account to aid in the gubernatorial race.
“Maybe,” Bishop said, “maybe not.”
Federal laws are much stricter than Utah code about the use of campaign funds, so transferring the money to a state campaign account could give Bishop more control over it.
Provo businessman Jeff Burningham, who is also seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, issued a statement welcoming Bishop to the race while also contrasting the political background of the Wright-Bishop ticket with his own resume in the private sector.
“The congressman has held political office since I was a baby,” Burningham said. “We need new leadership and fresh ideas. We need a governor who is politically unentangled, who doesn’t owe anyone any favors, and will do the right thing for Utah.”
Heather Barney, a spokeswoman for gubernatorial candidate and current Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, said Cox will continue to give serious consideration to the question of his running mate.
“His selection will not be based on politics,” Barney said, “but will be someone who shares his vision for Utah and is willing to work hard for the people of our state.”
Editor’s note • Jon Huntsman’s brother Paul Huntsman is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.