Salt Lake County Democrats on Saturday picked Doug Owens as their nominee in state House District 36 in the Millcreek/Holladay area to replace outgoing veteran Rep. Patrice Arent.
Owens, well known to Democrats after twice running unsuccessfully for Congress against former Rep. Mia Love in the 4th Congressional District, received three of every four votes in fending off three other candidates: Derek Dyer, Sherri Wittwer and Brandy Farmer.
He will face Republican Lisa Bagley and Constitution Party candidate Nishan Beglarian in the Nov. 3 general election.
In another hotly contested race Gay Lynn Bennion won the nomination in House 46, the seat of outgoing Democratic Rep. Marie Poulson, of Cottonwood-Heights. Bennion defeated former Utah Democratic Chairwoman Daisy Thomas in the second round, 60% to 40%, after Megan Skiles was eliminated in the initial round.
Bennion will face Republican Jaren Davis and Libertarian Lee Anne Walker in the November election.
Saturday’s convention was like none before it, but is a preview of things to come.
An estimated 1,100 Salt Lake County Democratic delegates were eligible to participate — from the comfort of their own homes — in Utah’s first major virtual political convention of this election year during the coronavirus outbreak.
There was none of the usual fanfare and hobnobbing of a party nominating convention. Instead, candidates in eight contested races were asked to post 5-minute videos on the party website and delegates were contacted by phone to cast votes.
As if that weren’t enough of a departure from the norm, the convention — for the first time — used ranked-choice voting.
Under this method, delegates voting in two races with more than two candidates, picked their first and second choice candidates.
Then, the party threw in one more new twist. The threshold for clinching the nomination without going to a primary runoff was changed from 60% of delegate votes to 55%.
It had all the makings of a perfect day for Murphy’s Law to kick in. But party leaders said they had a good plan and stuck to it.
“We’re really organized," Bonnie Billings, party executive director, said. She expressed confidence that after scrambling to adjust to the new reality of coronavirus they could make it work.
Final results were posted before 8 p.m.
Next weekend seven county parties will have their try at virtual conventions, including Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber Republican parties. And the GOP and Democrats will hold their separate state conventions on April 25.
The biggest challenge Saturday was the four-candidate House 36 race, but no second round of ranked-vote counting was necessary because Owens captured 75% of delegate votes in the first count.
Arent, as well as Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini and Holladay Mayor Rob Dahle, endorsed Owens, an attorney and son of the late Congressman Wayne Owens.
Owens said he was impressed with the convention plan.
“My hat is off to party officials who are really scrambling to make things work in an upended world,” he said.
The COVID-19 outbreak also turned his list of priority issues upside down. He had been running as the candidate of clean air and education — along with his rival candidates — to continue the work of Arent, who has been a stalwart member of the Legislature’s clean air caucus.
Now though, “I’m keenly interested in helping us rebound from a coronavirus recession or worse,” he said. “Helping us get back to normal will be issue No. 1.”
He also promised to carry on Arent’s determination to work across the aisle with the Republican majority to get things done. (On the final night of this year’s legislative session, she passed a bill she had pushed for years, doing away with straight-ticket voting in Utah elections, with GOP members joining Democrats in support.)
“I married a Republican, so I’m used to working with Republicans,” he said. He added that he likely will go to a part-time schedule in his law practice to devote the time and attention needed for legislative responsibilities.
In the only contested state Senate race in the convention, in District 6, Erika Larsen easily won the nomination, with 79% of the vote, over Emily Barnes, at 21%. Larsen now goes on to the Nov. 3 general election to face the GOP nominee, either Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, or Karen Hyatt, of West Jordan.
Democrats Ofa Matagi and Fatima Dirie will face off in a June 30 primary in House District 33 after they split Saturday’s delegate vote 50-50. The winner will go on to face incumbent Republican Rep. Craig Hall in the West Valley City seat.
Another primary is set on the Democratic side of the Salt Lake County Council 6 race. Terri Tapp Hrechkosy got 52% of the delegate vote and Aaron Dekeyzer, 48%. Hrechkosy narrowly missed out on reaching the 55% threshold needed to clinch the nomination. The primary winner will face incumbent Republican Councilman Max Burdick or challenger Dea Theodore in the November election.
In House District 37, veteran Rep. Carol Moss easily captured the nomination, with 79% of the vote, to challenger Noman Khan’s 21%.
Scott Bell was nominated in House District 47 with 61% of the vote, defeating Ryan Jensen, with 39%. Bell goes on to the general election to face the winner of a three-way race for the Republican nomination in a seat now held by Steve Christiansen, who is running for his first full term in the West Jordan seat.