Voters ousted key county government leaders in Utah, Salt Lake, Tooele and Beaver counties in Tuesday’s Republican primary election, but the highest-profile official rejected was Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie — who came out as gay last year in the conservative stronghold.
“Absolutely, my sexuality was part of the issue. There’s no doubt,” he said Wednesday, after going down to defeat by a 60.4% to 39.6% margin in early returns to former Marine Lt. Col. Tom Sakievich.
“I can’t tell you the number of hate emails I received. I didn’t make an issue out of it in the campaign because that’s not the kind of person I am,” he said. “But there is no doubt that the Eagle Forum [a conservative group] and its lies were absolutely in play here. The hit pieces it ran on my stance on abortion were completely false and it’s disappointing, but it’s politics.”
Sakievich see things differently.
“Most people that I talked to said that they’re aware of his coming out. But to them, that wasn’t the issue. The issue was the taxes and how the government is being run,” Sakievich said. “That’s what really drove their opinions.”
Ivie acknowledges that controversy over taxes was a huge issue in the race, after he had voted for an unpopular 67% property tax hike — the first adjustment in 23 years, which he said was needed to overcome neglect he found when he took office.
Ivie said Sakievich “ran around telling everybody that he was going to cut taxes, increase services, and then use a tax fund that you can’t use to pay for it. That’s a lie. … It’ll be interesting to see what happens when reality sets in.”
He said his opponent’s proposals included using a tourism tax to pay for such things as the police force, but Ivie said that fund by state law can be used only for items directly related to tourism.
Sakievich said he has talked to legislators about changing the rules on the tourism tax and believes with that and other steps, “I didn’t see a reason to raise the property tax.”
Ivie said he’s at peace with the defeat.
“I’m happy today. I’m sad for Utah County. But for me personally, I get to go back to my ranch and ride horses full time,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do with the LGBT community, especially with troubled youth, to reach out to them.”
He added, “I’m going to continue to be involved and engaged in the [political] process and in trying to make our community a better place. So at the end of the day, for me God is in charge and I will serve where I can.”
Controversy over taxes also has GOP Salt Lake County Council member Max Burdick trailing homemaker Dea Theodore by a 53.2% to 46.8% margin. She earlier came within seven votes of ousting him at the county’s Republican convention, where Burdick failed to provide a video for delegates at the all-online event.
She has attacked him for supporting a tax hike last year. “My biggest concern is the latest tax increase passed by the County Council and that our current District 6 council member voted in favor of it,” she says on her website. “The county has a bloated budget of $1.5 billion, but yet you were asked to pay more in property taxes. We cannot afford to continue this path.”
Former state Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, was in the spotlight earlier this year for starting a petition drive that helped force the Legislature this year to repeal an unpopular tax reform package, but that apparently was not enough to help him win a County Council primary against former South Jordan Mayor Dave Alvord.
Alvord, who campaigned saying he helped keep taxes low when he was a mayor, holds a 52.5% to 47.5% lead over Cox in their fight to represent the county’s west side on the council — a seat being vacated by Michael Jensen.
In Tooele County — which is switching its form of government from a county commission to a county council — incumbent Commissioner Shawn Milne appears to have lost his race for one of the new council seats.
In a three-person Republican primary, he trails Tooele City Council member Scott Wardle 48% to 29%, while Sarah Patino had 23%.
Both Wardle and Milne said their race was largely about how to handle growth in the county.
“It was about how growth impacts the quality of life, and how we just don’t get out ahead of it,” Milne said, adding that he and Wardle actually had few differences on the issue.
Wardle said he believes that his push to possibly bring more water to the county with the help of the state and federal governments “was one of the issues that resonated highly.”
In Beaver County, County Commission Chairman Michael Dalton — who was seeking a third term — was defeated by challenger Wade Hollingshead by a 66.3% to 33.7% margin.
“We tried to do some economic development that people didn’t like,” including building a proposed but canceled events center, Dalton said Wednesday — but added he isn’t sure of the reasons for the big margin. “I’ve been a commissioner for eight years and put my life and soul into it, but I guess it wasn’t enough for Beaver County.”
Hollingshead said, “The county was just looking for a change: a new voice, new ideas and different thoughts. I offered that, and they came out and voted big.”