Familiar faces join the 2020 race for the Utah Legislature

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Doug Owens chats with Leroy Tharp as he campaigns in a shopping center in West Jordan, Monday, November 3, 2014

A former congressional candidate and the current vice chairman of the Utah Republican Party are among the candidates who have filed to run for seats in the state Legislature this year.

By the early afternoon on Thursday — the final day to declare candidacy for the 2020 election cycle — several incumbent Republican lawmakers had drawn intraparty challengers while competition stacked up in otherwise open seats.

Democrat Doug Owens, who twice ran against then-Rep. Mia Love to represent Utah’s 4th District in Congress, filed for the seat currently occupied by veteran Millcreek lawmaker Patrice Arent, who will leave the Legislature after her current term.

“She’s done a fabulous job,” Owens said of Arent. “I’d love to help carry the torch on air quality and education and some other things.”

Owens will face three other Democrats in the race — Brandy Farmer, a director of Centro Civico Mexicano, Derek Dyer and Sherri Wittwer — as well as Republican Lisa Bagley and Nishan Beglarian, of the Constitution Party.

Owens said there are limited opportunities for Democratic candidates in the state, but he was intrigued by the potential to serve the public in the state Legislature. He suggested that 2020 could be a particularly unpredictable election cycle with the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump and the social and economic effects of the Coronavirus.

“I think all bets are off,” he said.

This year’s 4th District race is creating an open seat in Utah House District 42, as incumbent Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, will leave the Legislature to challenge Democratic Congressman Ben McAdams. The candidates for Coleman’s legislative seat include Aaron Starks, vice chairman of the Utah Republican Party, as well as Republican Jordan Teuscher and Democrat Samuel Winkler.

“This is our opportunity to shine in the Southwest [Salt Lake] Valley,” Starks said. “We have one shot at doing growth correctly. I can help bring our communities together, collaborate with local leaders, and ensure we are following a good process.”

Teuscher also commented on the growth in Salt Lake County, saying the area needs to “seize the moment."

“Unlike others in this race, I’ve lived in this area nearly my entire life,” Teuscher said. "We need someone in this seat that understands and has experienced the challenges that face this legislative district.”

In the state Senate, the retirement of Monroe Republican Sen. Ralph Okerlund will see a Republican faceoff for that seat between Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, and Michael Styler, the state’s longtime and recently retired director of Natural Resources. Styler also served in the state House from 1993 to 2004. Independent American candidate Warren Rogers also has filed in the contest.

And the announcement by Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson that she would join the gubernatorial campaign of Spencer Cox as his running mate teed off a flurry of activity for her seat, with Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, and Utah Board of Education member Scott Neilson joining an already-declared Republican candidate, Flor de Maria Sulbaran, in the race, which also includes Republican Julie Fullmer and the United Utah Party’s Emily Bergeson.

McKell’s switch drew a crowd of seven Republican hopefuls to that House District 66 race, including Utah Farm Bureau vice president Matt Hargreaves.

The retirement of Cottonwood Heights Democrat Marie Poulson at year’s end has also attracted a large number of hopefuls to fill that coming vacancy, including former state Democratic Party Chairwoman Daisy Thomas and fellow Democrats Gay Bennion and Megan Skiles. Republican Jaren Davis and Libertarian Lee Anne Walker also are running.

Three other familiar faces in the Legislature have filed candidacies aimed at returning to Capitol Hill: former representative Rich Cunningham is running again against South Jordan Sen. Lincoln Fillmore in Senate District 10 and Ryan Wilcox is seeking the House District 7 seat he held from 2009-2014 after Rep. Kyle Andersen said he would not seek reelection. Wilcox will face another former lawmaker in the general election, Democrat Grant Protzman. Democrat Dan McClellan is running in the Senate race.

Thursday also saw the announcement by Republican gubernatorial candidate Jan Garbett that her running mate will be Joe Jarvis, a physician who had been running for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District under the United Utah Party banner. Both say they got in the race to give Republicans disillusioned with President Donald Trump an alternative. All other GOP hopefuls running for governor back Trump.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jan Garbett speaks after filing to run for governor, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 19, 2020. Her running mate Joe Jarvis is at left.

Thirteen United Utah candidates had filed for election as of Thursday afternoon. The party’s slate is largely composed of legislative candidates, but also includes Thomas McNeill in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District and Brian Fabbi, who is running for Utah state auditor against incumbent John Dougall, who has included his “Frugal” campaign nickname in the candidate listing.

In other races, incumbent Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes will face a challenge from within the Republican party in the form of David Leavitt, who currently serves as the Utah County attorney. And 12 Republican lawmakers will see challenges from within their party, including St. George Sen. Don Ipson, who will face off with Utah Board of Education member Michelle Boulter; Fruit Heights Rep. Stewart Barlow, who will face Utah Parent Teacher Association leader LeAnn Wood; and Lehi Rep. Kay Christofferson, who will face Merrilee Boyack, a conservative activist and chairwoman of Abortion-Free Utah.

Boyack said she decided to run because there is a “serious need” for stronger voices in the state Legislature fighting against tax increases and working to shrink government and protect families.

“I will be a bold new legislator who is willing to speak out In defense of life, parental rights, and getting the government burden off of our families and businesses,” she said. “My opponent is a nice guy who has been in [office] for eight years, voting for several tax increases. It is time for a new legislator who will not just go along with the establishment.”