Two of the 1st Congressional District candidates are current mayors. Three are or were elected county leaders. One was a tribal chairman. One is fighting a felony charge. One doesn’t live in the district. And one inaccurately claimed for years that he had a college degree.
They are among the vast field of 14 candidates competing in political conventions this week to replace outgoing Republican Rep. Rob Bishop in the district in northern and eastern Utah. They combine to make it a colorful race.
A dozen are competing in the Utah Republican Convention, and two in the Democratic. If anyone wins 60% of the delegate vote, only they will advance from their convention. Otherwise, the top two from each party will.
Two Republicans — Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt and Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson — already qualified to appear in the June 30 primary election no matter what because they gathered sufficient signatures in a separate path to the primary ballot.
The candidates are mostly funding their campaigns out of their own pockets, as newcomers often must.
They have raised $1.2 million combined. But more than half of it, $644,500, was from their own wallets or loans. Republican Douglas Durbano, an attorney, gave his campaign the most, $240,121, or 99.7% of his total raised (which was also the top for money raised in the group).
Stevenson and Witt were No. 2 and 3 on the list of both money raised and amounts given by themselves. Stevenson gave himself $156,700 out of $221,00 total raised (and spent $73,121 to gather signatures), and Witt gave herself $82,188 out of $191,000 total raised (and spent $62,500 to gather signatures).
The five women and nine men running come from interesting geographic clusters. Five come from Davis County, four from Park City, three from Ogden and one from Providence in Cache County. Then there is Cathy Hammon, an attorney, who lives outside of the district in Salt Lake City.
“It’s not a requirement to live in the district, just in the state,” she notes. In fact, current Rep. Ben McAdams and former Rep. Jim Matheson, both D-Utah, and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, won elections when they lived outside their districts. “But if I win, I plan to move to Ogden,” Hammon says, adding that she spent much of her life in the district.
Following is a look at some issues in the race, and why candidates say they are running.
Witt, the Kaysville mayor, notes that only 13 Republican U.S. House members are women (compared to 88 Democrats). “If we keep sending back the same old, same old, we’re going to get the same results,” she said. “I feel strongly that I am the person who can really make a difference. ... I like to say I’m pro-life, pro-Trump, pro-you.”
Republican Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd, owner of a real estate brokerage, said he’s running because “we need some good conservative leadership to take Rob Bishop’s place. ... We need to support the president and take away the headwind” he faces from critics.
Stevenson, a GOP Davis County commissioner who is a former mayor of Layton, said, “I am running because I am heavily involved with Hill Air Force Base and the economy,” and a top priority is protecting the base. He also wants to push for lower prescription drug prices, and to lower the cost of health care.
Tina Cannon, a GOP Morgan County Council member and an accountant, says only 11 current members of Congress have a background in accounting. “It explains a lot about budgeting” there, which she aims to improve especially during the coronavirus crisis. She said she knows how to fuel economic growth and “we need to start acting now to facilitate that process.”
Kerry Gibson is a GOP dairy farmer who is a former Weber County commissioner, legislator and state agricultural commissioner. The Tribune recently reported that for years he claimed to have “a dairy herdsman degree” from Utah State University, while it was actually a certificate of completion for a short-term program over three semesters.
Gibson said he is running because “I’m uniquely qualified to hit the ground running and represent us in Congress. It’s unique to this district to have somebody who’s served in legislative service, in local government as well as executive leadership in the governor’s office.”
Durbano, a GOP attorney from Layton, says he wants “to reenthrone the Constitution and make it great again.” He adds, “We’ve got to get the budget under control. ... We’ve got to push back on these governmental bureaucracies that are unaccountable and unelected.”
He was the CEO of a failed Layton bank that was taken over by state regulators in 2009 — a seizure that cost the Federal Deposit Insurance fund $119 million. Durbano and others continue to appeal the takeover in federal court and last year a judge was swayed to allow the complaint against regulators to continue.
Earlier this year, Durbano wrote a letter to Sen. Mitt Romney demanding the return of his $5,000 in campaign donations after Romney cast the lone Republican guilty vote in Trump’s impeachment trial. He said the senator had “betrayed" the state and nation and "brought shame” on the party and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hammons has a law degree and is living outside the district in Salt Lake City. She said she is running because “I want to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. ... We need to put the family in the Constitution,” and says it is not mentioned or empowered there now.
Facing a felony
Republican Chadwick H. Fairbanks III has run unsuccessfully for Congress, the Park City Council and state GOP chairman — and currently is facing several criminal charges.
A Tribune review of court records show he faces a felony charge for violation of a protective order, and a misdemeanor for custodial interference. He lost a debt collection case over a car, and an eviction case with a $55,000 judgment. He has received a child support lien, and a workforce service lien. He filed for bankruptcy twice. And he’s had 15 traffic tickets since 2015.
He said in an email that most of the charges relate to a nasty divorce and what he says are false allegations by his wife. “In reality, I’ve committed no crimes and the only evidence against me are her unfounded and false statements,” he said. “My good name will be cleared once the multiple criminal investigations into her conduct are complete and my charges are dismissed.”
He said he is running, in part, because “I’m the only candidate who will voluntarily impose term limits on myself. And, I’m the only candidate who can defeat Deep State bureaucrats both in Washington, D.C. and Salt Lake City.”
Blake Moore, a Republican former foreign service officer who is now a principal with the Cicero business consulting group, says he has skills needed now. “I have the private sector experience helping business to grow and solve complex problems, and foreign policy experience.” In the current pandemic, he said he can help provide “a productive and decisive response.”
Howard Wallack, a retired Park City Republican who owned a trucking company, says he can help the economy recover after the pandemic. “I have the unique experience of being part of the supply chain and understanding supply chain economics and the logistics that are required to get this country moving again.”
Wallack ran for the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2012 only to be defeated, along with a number of others, at convention by Chris Stewart, who went on to claim the office.
Republican Zach Hartman of Park City, who works with a firm called Land Advisors Organization, said he wants to help resolve fights over public lands. That includes creating “a baseline of who’s been doing what and where. Then learning what the people would like to do with it from skiing to cattle grazing to industry to open space to watershed” and work out what is best.
Republican JC DeYoung of Park City, who describes herself online as an engineer, manager, entrepreneur and founder of a nonprofit, did not respond to a request for comment about her plans.
Democrat Darren Parry of Providence resigned as chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation to run for Congress. “I just think we need to bring civility back to the government,” he said. “Some of the greatest crimes in the history of our nation were not caused by hatred, but by indifference. It’s time for good people to stand up.”
Democrat Jamie Cheek of Ogden is a licensed vocational rehabilitation counselor. “I want to make sure that we have accessible health care for everyone. As we’ve seen in this pandemic, having our health care tied to employment has been devastating for millions of Americans,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version said Chadwick Fairbanks had not responded to requests to explain criminal charges. He had sent an email that was not noticed, and his comments have been added.