Amid attacks for taking big donations from business executives later convicted of fraud and other questionable donors, Attorney General Sean Reyes was forced into a June 30 primary race by delegates to the Utah Republican Convention.
He finished with 56% of the vote in the final round of voting, just short of the 60% needed to eliminate his competitors, according to results announced late Saturday night. He now faces off against Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, the brother of former Gov. Mike Leavitt, for the party nomination.
GOP delegates eliminated from the running former Attorney General John Swallow, who resigned in one of the biggest political scandals in state history. He had sought to regain his seat while claiming he had been the victim of a “political assassination."
On the Democratic side of the race, defense attorney Greg Skordas advances directly to the Nov. 30 general election after winning 97% of the vote over Kevin Probasco. Skordas ran once before for the office, in 2004, but was defeated by then-incumbent Republican Atty. Gen. Mark Shurtleff.
In a video to convention delegates, Reyes focused on his support from President Donald Trump — who recently endorsed him in a tweet — and his support for the president.
Reyes warned against the "political threat that would deprive President Trump of a second term. We cannot let that happen,” noting he is co-chairman of Trump’s Utah campaign.
“When the president was attacked in sham impeachment hearings, I was proud to help prepare a Senate brief providing a legal counterattack” he said as he punched into the air. “When San Juan [County] and President Trump asked for help protecting his historic monument resizing, I’m the one defending it in court.”
Meanwhile, Swallow and Skordas said they entered the race because they were disgusted by Reyes breaking a pledge to return $51,000 in donations from principals of Washakie Renewable Resouces, five of whom were convicted on federal fraud charges. Reyes later claimed he found the money already had been spent — although he kept raising plenty from other sources that went into the same pot.
“The only reason that company [Washakie] would donate $51,000 to the attorney general is to get him to look the other way," Skordas said.
Leavitt also criticized the incumbent, saying, “We have a real culture of the attorney general’s office being for sale.”
Reyes raised 50 times more money this term than either of his convention challengers — $1.35 million over his current four-year term, as 38 donors gave $10,000 or more each. He took large amounts from sometimes questionable industries including high-interest lenders, opioid makers, tobacco manufacturers, multilevel marketing firms and time-share companies.
“Sean Reyes fixates on raising money," Leavitt complained in his video to delegates. “The office of attorney general should never be for sale and it’s not a private money trough. It’s a public trust.” He vowed to work for judicial reform, including reforming such donations.
In the 4th Congressional District, Republican delegates sent Kim Coleman and Burgess Owens to a June 30 primary, where they will compete against two more Republicans who qualified by collecting signatures. Three other candidates were eliminated in several rounds of balloting using ranked-choice voting.
Coleman, a conservative state lawmaker representing the West Jordan area, finished first with 55% of the delegate vote to Owens’ 45%. She said her experience and proven conservative track record made her the best candidate.
Like all the other candidates, she pledged support of Trump, pointing out “this guy [Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams] voted for impeachment.”
“President Trump will be reelected and we will need a strong Republican House and Senate to repair the damage [from the coronavirus pandemic] and to restore our economic freedoms and prosperity," Coleman told delegates. "Keep Utah red.”
Owens, the head of a nonprofit for at-risk kids, spent 10 years as an NFL player, first with the New York Jets and later the Oakland Raiders.
He grew up in the racially segregated south and said he fought and protested segregation as a young man. He says there is a new battle-line that needs his vigilance.
“We now face a new problem that is just as destructive and divisive — we have popular members of Congress who are proud socialists," Owens told delegates.
Even before the convention vote, Owens was assured a spot on the primary ballot, along with Trent Christensen and Jay McFarland. All three had qualified by signature gathering.
Christensen is the chief executive of venturecapital.org, a nonprofit based in Salt Lake City. He worked on Mitt Romney’s two runs for the White House and was executive director of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation, named after Utah’s longest-serving senator who retired in 2018.
But unlike Hatch, Christensen said he would limit himself to just four terms if elected.
McFarland is a former KSL NewsRadio host who lives in Herriman and describes himself as a “fierce champion for conservatism.”
“Rather than fighting the media ... let’s elect somebody who understands the media and can make an impact," he told delegates. “I can and do change hearts and minds every day.”
The winner of the primary will go on to the November election to face McAdams, who easily won his party’s nomination over Daniel Beckstead. McAdams claimed just shy of 90% of the delegate vote.
McAdams is serving his first term after winning the Republican-leaning district by fewer than 700 votes last election over two-term GOP Rep. Mia Love. The Democrat is considered vulnerable by national Republicans and political handicappers.
In the 1st Congressional District, former Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food Kerry Gibson and businessman Blake Moore won the support of convention delegates to go to a Republican primary. They will join Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt and Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson, who gathered signatures to qualify for the ballot.
The convention race featured a huge field of 12 Republican candidates seeking to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, who has held the northern Utah seat since 2003.
Democrats will also have a primary in the race. Darren Parry, former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, won 56% of Democratic delegate votes. Jamie Cheek, a licensed vocational rehabilitation counselor, won 44%.
Gibson, a dairy farmer who is a former Weber County commissioner and legislator, told delegates in his convention video that he has needed experience.
“Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” he said. “I bring stable hands to unstable times.” He told delegates he will fight abortion, protect gun rights and promote “Utah values.”
Moore also touted his experience as a former foreign service officer and as an executive of the Cicero business consulting group.
“I know how to solve complex issues,” Moore said. “I served our country as a foreign service officer … I was trusted with America’s intelligence, and I know firsthand the threats we face.”
Witt, who advanced with signatures, vowed to preserve freedom that “protects the unborn … and stops the gun-grabbers from stripping away the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Stevenson, a former Layton mayor, said he would “battle along with the president to end the socialistic agenda being led by Nancy Pelosi and her liberal friends.”
In the 2nd District, which includes Salt Lake City, Rep. Chris Stewart cruised to the Republican nomination with 72% of the vote, defeating three challengers. The Trump loyalist has been an outspoken defender of the president through the investigations of Russian interference in the election and in the recent impeachment.
Kael Weston clinched the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District with 83% over Randy Hopkins and Larry Livingston. The former U.S. State Department official, now an author and college instructor, faces Stewart in the November election.
In the 3rd District, Republican Rep. John Curtis will skip a primary after winning 65.8% of the delegate vote and will face Democrat Devin Thorpe in November. Thorpe won his party’s nomination with 82% of the vote.
In multicounty legislative races, Utah Capitol Hill’s longest-serving member, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, was forced into a June 30 Republican primary with challenger Chris Wilson in Senate District 25.
Hillyard, who has been prominent in many roles in the Legislature during his 40 years there, was last summer one of the co-chairmen of the tax reform task force that came up with the tax plan that was passed by lawmakers but quickly repealed in the face of widespread public opposition.
Also veteran Sen. Curt Bramble and Rep. Brad Last both were forced into GOP primaries. Bramble, R-Provo, faces Sylvia Andrew in Senate 16. Last, R-Hurricane, chairman of the House’s main budget committee and a member of the Republican leadership team, faces Willie Billings in House District 71.
In Senate District 24, being vacated longtime Sen. Ralph Okerlund, Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, defeated former Utah Natural Resources Director Mike Styler and construction company president Doug Heaton to clinch the nomination. Owens nabbed 67% of the delegate vote.
A primary will be held in Senate District 19 open with the coming retirement of Sen. Allen Christensen. Johnny Ferry and John Johnson will battle in that June 30 runoff.
Steven Lund captured the nomination in House District 58, being left vacant by Owens, who is running for the Senate. Lund defeated two other Republican hopefuls at convention.