University of Utah professor launches bid to become Utah’s next governor

(Photo courtesy of Chris Peterson) Pictured is Chris Peterson.

A University of Utah law professor has jumped in the crowded race for Utah governor — though he’s running as a Democrat in a field full of Republicans.

Chris Peterson, who specializes in consumer protection, announced his candidacy Wednesday, saying he wants to use his experience to bolster the state’s economy and assist families “still struggling to get by.”

“It’s time for a change that restores some balance to Utah government,” he said in a prepared statement. “I will fight to put the interests of the public first. As governor, I will work tirelessly to promote affordable health care, ensure quality education, uphold environmental stewardship and safeguard consumers.”

Peterson was previously a finance official in the Obama administration, focusing on protecting defense service members from predatory lending and serving in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was also an associate dean at the U.’s College of Law from 2009 to 2012. Currently, he is a professor there.

His focus has been on business law and banking, including challenging loan companies that arrest borrowers in Utah. In a recent piece by ProPublica, he said, “They’re handcuffing and incarcerating people in order to get money out of them and apply it towards insanely high interest rate loans.”

Peterson is the second Democrat in the competitive 2020 gubernatorial race, following Zachary Moses, the CEO of a travel company that focuses on LGBTQ clients.

Current Gov. Gary Herbert announced he would not run for reelection, and it’s kicked off a mad dash to fill his seat. In deep red Utah, the position typically is won by a Republican — and seven have launched their bids.

Those are: Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Utah Gov. and U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, Provo businessman Jeff Burningham and realty businesswoman Jan Garbett.

Peterson said that he’ll stand apart because of his platform:

• Education: He proposes spending more in classrooms and possibly extending the constitutional earmark to include more funding where some GOP candidates want to get rid of the guarantee.

• Health care: Peterson believes health care is a “basic human right” and would like to see programs in Utah expand access to those who need it most.

• Consumer rights: With expertise in this area, he’s proposing a crackdown on predatory business models that loan people money with high interest rates. Peterson would also like to help boost small companies and rural developers in the state.

• Political corruption: A large part of Peterson’s campaign is focused on what he feels have been repeated efforts by the state government to override voters, particularly on ballot initiatives for medical marijuana and gerrymandering.

“I support fully respecting the will of voters,” he said.

Peterson also promises to hold regular town hall meetings with residents.

Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Tribune owner and publisher Paul Huntsman.