Over the weekend, businesswoman Jan Garbett ended her legal battle to appear on next month’s primary election ballot for governor — and with it, her campaign.
Garbett, a Republican, filed suit against the state last month, arguing that if not for the “unprecedented limitations” the state imposed in response to the coronavirus, she would have met the 28,000-signature threshold required to earn her spot on the ballot.
After she was unable to meet the lower signature threshold imposed by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby — who ruled that Garbett had lost about 32% of the days she otherwise could have gathered signatures due to the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced her requirement by the same amount — she took her case to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Garbett wanted the court to lower the requisite number even further to account for a 70% validity rate, which was what she was projecting as she was gathering signatures. That would have required about 13,660 valid signatures.
But she couldn’t have met even that standard. The state elections office noted in a court filing that of the approximately 21,000 signatures Garbett submitted, about 57% were invalid. Nearly 11,900 of her signatures were tossed for a variety of reasons, including that the signatory wasn’t registered as a Republican or had already endorsed another gubernatorial candidate’s petition.
On Saturday, Garbett filed a motion with the 10th District Court of Appeals to dismiss her effort to overturn the lower court ruling on Saturday. Her motion states that the involved parties involved have agreed to bear their own attorney costs and legal fees.
“This is certainly not the outcome we worked so hard for," she said in a prepared statement Monday afternoon. “I am disappointed that the courts did not make Utah’s election process fair in the face of the pandemic, as so many other states have done. And of course I’m disappointed on a personal level as well — I feel I have a great deal to offer the people of this state on a great many issues. But most of all, I’m disappointed that the people of Utah are once again being denied the opportunity to have a real choice in the governor’s race.”
Garbett, co-founder of Garbett Homes, entered the race for governor in February after learning that all the other Republican candidates supported President Donald Trump. She was the only candidate who did not seek the convention route to the ballot, forecasting that a “Trump-skeptic candidate had little chance of qualifying for the primary through a Republican convention.”
Had she gathered enough signatures, Garbett would have been the first woman representing a major party to appear on a ballot for governor in Utah history.
“It’s a travesty that no major political party in all of Utah history has ever had a female candidate for governor on their primary ballot,” said Joe Jarvis, Garbett’s running mate for lieutenant governor, in a news release. “I’m deeply disappointed that this shameful record will continue for another year. Jan would’ve made an excellent governor.”
Though her campaign is over, Garbett said she would continue to advocate for issues important to Utahns. She plans to join forces with the nonprofit group People4Utah “to find ways to ease the burdens on political outsiders and moderate candidates of all parties.”
“Our political leaders will be hearing from me!” she added.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Burningham — who also sought a spot on the ballot with the help of the courts — is officially out of the race, too, after Shelby denied his motion seeking relief similar to Garbett’s.
In a statement, Burningham said he would not appeal that decision but called for election reforms in Utah, arguing that while most states “made significant elections accommodations during a global pandemic, ours did virtually nothing.”
“That feels wrong and is at the heart of why I was running in the first place,” he said. “This is not the time for politics per usual.”
Gov. Gary Herbert signed an executive order in late March suspending a provision in state election law requiring that canvassers witness each signature and allowing candidates to send and receive petition pages electronically, but Burningham and other candidates have argued that it didn’t go far enough.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox (who was named in Garbett’s lawsuit along with Herbert), former Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright and former Gov. Jon Huntsman all met the 28,000-signature threshold to qualify for the ballot. Former House Speaker Greg Hughes will also appear on the ballot after coming in second after Cox at the Utah Republican Party convention late last month.
Editor’s note • Paul Huntsman, a brother of Jon Huntsman, is chairman of The Salt Lake Tribune’s nonprofit board of directors.