Republican gubernatorial candidate Aimee Winder Newton, a member of the Salt Lake County Council, on Tuesday named State Auditor John Dougall as her running mate.
“His knowledge of tax policy, combined with a long history of challenging bloated government programs, has never been more important,” Winder Newton said. “Utahns are facing serious economic instability, but when you have a team that knows how to reform budgets, fight wasteful spending, and provide financial security, I know our future will be bright.”
Dougall has been state auditor since 2013 and was a Utah House member for 10 years. He regularly campaigns by referring to himself as “Frugal Dougall,” and had even filed for office in the auditor’s race this year as “John ‘Frugal’ Dougall.”
“Utahns face serious economic pressures and an imminent tax overhaul,” Dougall said in a prepared statement. “Aimee and I will fight to protect every taxpayer dollar as we bring more accountability to the state budget and greater transparency to government.”
Dougall’s addition to the Winder Newton ticket complicates the otherwise quiet race for state auditor. As of last week’s candidate filing deadline, Dougall was the only Republican to declare for the state office and no Democrat had entered the race. Two third party-candidates — the United Utah Party’s Brian Fabbi and the Constitution Party’s Jeffrey Ostler — have also declared candidacy.
If Winder Newton fails to advance out of the Utah State Republican Convention on April 25, she would be out of the running after having given up on signature gathering, and Dougall could continue to seek reelection as auditor. But to continue as Winder Newton’s running mate beyond the convention and into a likely primary election for the Republican gubernatorial nomination would require Dougall to withdraw as a candidate for state auditor, leaving the Republican State Central Committee to choose a replacement nominee for that office.
“He would have to withdraw his auditor candidacy before he declared as LG,” said Justin Lee, the state elections director.
Dougall told The Tribune that he feels he can do more for the state as lieutenant governor than in an additional term as auditor. Conversations with Winder Newton about potentially joining the ticket began a year ago, Dougall said, but he credited the outbreak of COVID-19, its effect on the state and global economy, and a final discussion with Winder Newton last week with crystallizing his decision.
“The simple fact is I believe the magnitude of what we’re facing is bigger than any one person,” Dougall said. “We’re also going to have to work together on this. This is very very serious.”
Winder Newton said that Dougall was at the top of her list for potential running mates when she decided to run for governor last year. She described herself as a “budget hawk” and said she’s excited about being paired with Dougall and his experience scrutinizing government spending, particularly in the aftermath of a global pandemic.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “He’s exactly what we need we need.”
But the timing of Tuesday’s announcement was criticized on Twitter by state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who said it was “selfish” of Dougall to simultaneously run for two offices.
“This is not good for the state,” Weiler wrote, “and not good for the Utah GOP.”
Weiler’s criticisms, in turn, drew fire as well. Another Republican state senator, Riverton’s Dan McCay, suggested that Weiler’s frustrations should also be extended to campaigns that continued gathering signatures after social distancing recommendations were issued to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Nothing [Dougall] is doing will kill anyone,” McCay said.
McCay’s tweet appeared to refer to the campaign of Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. But a spokesman for Cox said campaign volunteers were directed to stop gathering signatures earlier this month.
Weiler told The Tribune on Tuesday that he has similarly objected to previous instances where Utah politicians have simultaneously run for two offices.
“If [Dougall] wants to be LG, that’s fine,” Weiler said. "But why file for reelection as state auditor then?
Dougall, asked about the criticisms on Twitter, suggested that Weiler’s true intent was to boost his preferred candidate in the governor’s race.
“I’m honored that Todd thinks this highly of me, my skills, and statewide support to make the additional effort to comment on this change from my original plan,” Dougall said.
Dougall was the House sponsor of the state’s last major tax reform effort, which immediately proceeded the 2008 economic crisis and included Utah’s shift to a flat income tax rate. He also sponsored the wildly unpopular bill to weaken Utah’s open-records law, HB477, which was repealed following a public backlash against the Legislature.
The Lieutenant Governor’s Office formally oversees the state’s elections, and Dougall said he’s also interested in being involved in policy discussions and advancing a legislative agenda for the executive branch.
“If you want an LG that just cuts ribbons, that’s not my interest,” Dougall said.
Most of the Republican candidates for governor have now announced their running mates. Thomas Wright, a former Utah Republican Party chairman, was the first to expand his ticket with the addition of Congressman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, as his running mate. Former governor and U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman was joined on his ticket by Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi, current Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox selected state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, as his running mate and businesswoman Jan Garbett was joined by Joseph Jarvis, who prior to that announcement was running for Congress under the United Utah banner.
Correction: 3/24/20 10:20 a.m. This story has been updated to reflect that April 27 is the filing deadline for lieutenant governor candidates, rather than state auditor candidates.