For the past four decades, residents of Utah’s 1st District have been represented by just two congressmen. Retiring Rep. Rob Bishop will have served 18 years by year’s end, and the late Rep. Jim Hansen served 22 years before him.
So the race to replace Bishop this year is truly one for a generational change, and is the most important election in years for the district covering northern and eastern Utah.
Four Republicans are battling as residents receive by-mail ballots for the June 30 primary — former Weber County Commissioner Kerry Gibson, businessman Blake Moore, Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson and Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt. The winner will be a heavy favorite to win the final election in a district where no Democrat has managed to snag even 40% of the final vote in 30 years.
That GOP race appears close, but with half the voters still undecided. A poll released Thursday by the Utah Election Hive consulting firm, which has Moore as a client, by Dan Jones and Associates, shows Stevenson and Moore with 16% support, Gibson with 13% and Witt with 7% — but a huge 48% undecided.
Two Democrats also are vying for their party’s nomination: Darren Parry, former chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, and Jamie Cheek, a vocational rehabilitation manager for the state.
The race has been a colorful and sometimes wild ride on the GOP side. Witt was censured by her City Council for her support of a proposed concert to protest and openly defy COVID-19 restrictions; Moore has been criticized for not living in the district; and Gibson has attracted a long string of controversies in his political positions.
Here is a look at the candidates and their campaigns this year:
The Kaysville mayor often tells voters, “I am pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump, but most importantly, I'm pro-you.” But her campaign has been defined mostly by controversy surrounding her support for a proposed concert at a city park featuring country star Collin Raye to protest and defy COVID-19 directives.
Other candidates denounced that as political grandstanding that would threaten residents’ health. Her City Council blocked the concert by threatening to turn on sprinklers and cut power — and passed a letter of censure against her after it had planned to call for her resignation.
But Witt was proud of her stand, saying, “It’s important for everyone to know that I will stand up for their constitutional freedom, no matter what.”
She promoted her stance in a radio ad and brought it up several times in the candidates’ televised debate even when answering questions that had little to do with the topic.
“I’ve probably taken a stronger stance than anybody on reopening America,” she said in the debate. Opponent Stevenson questioned that, saying she had opposed reopening pickleball courts amid COVID-19 in Davis County when other mayors supported reopening them.
Witt also has stressed her strong support for President Donald Trump, and in a video speech to the GOP state convention criticized Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, for bucking the president at times.
In the GOP debate, she also backed Trump’s vow to use military force against protests of police brutality. Two of her rival candidates, Gibson and Moore, opposed such deployment. Witt also supports Trump’s push to build a wall along the Mexican border.
She has vowed never to raise taxes and has been endorsed by the American Conservative Union and the Susan B. Anthony List (an anti-abortion organization).
The dairy farmer has long experience in government, including serving three terms as a state legislator, two terms as a Weber County commissioner, as deputy commissioner of the Utah Department of Natural Resources and nine months as the Utah agriculture and food commissioner.
“Now is not the time for on-the-job training,” Gibson said about his experience in a debate. “If we are going to balance the budget, protect Hill Air Force Base, have a prominent seat at the table in our public lands debate and protect our values and constitutional rights, we’re going to need a proven conservative with a record to back it up.”
Gibson has run into a variety of controversies through the years in his various jobs.
After years of claiming on resumes and biographies that he has a “dairy herdsman degree” from Utah State University, The Salt Lake Tribune revealed in April that USU says he has no degree — but he has a certificate from a short-term program over three semesters.
Last year, six companies that unsuccessfully sought state contracts to grow medical marijuana filed a complaint, saying Gibson — when he was the state agricultural commissioner — had inappropriate contact during bidding with one of the winning companies, called True North. That company’s principal, Mike Standlee, also gave Gibson’s campaign a maximum-possible $9,800 donation.
Controversy stalled confirmation of Gibson as deputy director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources in 2018 as an Ogden police probe looked into allegations that he, as a Weber County commissioner, misappropriated county resources and equipment on his family farm and directed county employees to perform campaign fundraising for him during business hours.
After review of the police findings by the Davis County Attorney’s Office, no charges were filed. Gibson denied any wrongdoing, saying political foes trying to tarnish his image were behind the matter. Now, Gibson is suing, seeking to stop the release of that police investigative report to Ogden’s Standard-Examiner, which had been ordered by the Ogden Records Review Board.
Gibson has been endorsed by dozens of legislators, mayors and other officials in northern Utah.
The former foreign service officer and current executive in the Cicero business consulting group says his experience prepared him well to serve in Congress.
“My unique, in-the-field foreign policy experience combined with my career as a business leader have prepared me to serve our state and country at this important time,” Moore says on his website. He also said in a video speech to GOP state delegates, “I know how to solve complex issues.”
He was criticized by the other candidates for not living in the district. He lives on the east bench of Salt Lake City, about 15 miles from the nearest border with the 1st District at the Summit County line. He has said he will become a district resident if he is elected.
Other candidates say it’s tough to know the needs and desires of constituents if Moore doesn’t live with them.
Moore said he grew up in Ogden, in the district. “When you’re from Ogden, that never leaves you,” he said. “This is my district. This is where I have spent the vast majority of my life. ... I think the voters care about who’s the most qualified.”
The U.S. Constitution does not require congressional candidates to live in the districts they represent, only in the same state. While it once was almost unheard of for a congressional candidate to run outside his or her home district, it’s become almost commonplace in recent years. Three Utahns have pulled it off since 2008: Republican Jason Chaffetz and Democrats Jim Matheson and Ben McAdams.
Moore is endorsed by such people as state Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, and former South Ogden Mayor George Garwood.
The Davis County commissioner is also a former Layton mayor and a three-term member of the City Council there. He worked more than 30 years for Nestle, has his own home construction business and is a former school teacher.
Stevenson said in a video speech to GOP delegates that he would “battle along with the president to end the socialistic agenda being led by [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and her liberal friends.”
He also said in an interview, “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 said wants to push for lower prescription drug prices and to reduce the cost of health care.
Stevenson describes himself as a fiscal conservative who cut taxes twice as Layton’s mayor and says Davis County has avoided a tax hike while he has been a commissioner.
He is endorsed by such people as Clearfield Mayor (and former congressional candidate) Mark Shepherd, North Salt Lake Mayor Len Arave, Syracuse Mayor Mike Gailey, Woods Cross Mayor Rick Earnshaw and Roy Mayor Robert Dandoy.
Between the two Democrats running for their party’s nomination in the bright red Republican district, Parry is a moderate while Cheek is a progressive leaning further to the left.
Parry said a moderate is best able to attract independents and middle-of-the-road Republicans needed for any Democrat to win the district. But Cheek said Democrats have nominated moderates for the past 10 elections and failed to win more than a third of the vote in any — and said she can excite the party’s base and talk about issues important to everyone, like health care.
Also, Cheek — who is pro-choice on abortion — has criticized Parry for giving anti-abortion answers to questions.
In a state where candidates often like to proclaim that they are fourth- or fifth-generation Utahns, Parry says he is “at least a 50-generation Utahn” and a former chairman of the Northwest Band of the Shoshone nation.
“I just think we need to bring civility back to the government,” Parry said about why he is running. “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. ... I am a bridge builder.”
Cheek, a vocational rehabilitation manager for the state, said she listens and works on issues of concern to all such as health care and education, which also builds bridges.
“I’m willing to listen and I’m willing to learn. And I want to know what matters most to them,” so she can represent her constituents well. “We do have the issues on our side. We do have the things people care about: health care, education and climate change.”
Cheek also said, “I work every day with the people in our community who are falling behind and who are falling through the cracks,” and vowed to be a voice for the marginalized. “What’s important is being able to engage that group, bring them to the table and have their voices heard.”
Correction: Clearfield Mayor Mark Shepherd and Wood Cross Mayor Rick Earnshaw were improperly identified in earlier versions.