Democrats pick Ogden physician to fill vacancy in Utah House

Rosemary Lesser is the only Democrat in the Utah Legislature from outside of Salt Lake County.

(Photo courtesy of Utah Democratic Party) Utah Democrats selected physician Rosemary Lesser, pictured, on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021, to fill the open seat in the Utah House of Representatives due to the death of longtime legislator LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff.

Utah Democrats selected physician Rosemary Lesser to fill the open seat in the Utah House due to the death of longtime legislator LaWanna “Lou” Shurtliff, who died at the end of December.

The 37 Democratic delegates in House District 10 picked Lesser over seven other candidates Saturday. The election was conducted via ranked-choice voting, and Lesser triumphed on the fifth ballot.

Lesser told The Salt Lake Tribune on Saturday afternoon that she would not have had this opportunity without Shurtliff’s “hard-won victory” in November.

“I am very honored as to be able to, in a small way, attempt to carry on her legacy and serve as a citizen legislator,” Lesser said.

Lesser is well-known among Weber County Democrats and worked extensively on Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s primary election campaign in the state.

She is a retired OB-GYN, who practiced at the Ogden Women’s Clinic and Ogden Regional and McKay-Dee hospitals. Lesser also served for 15 years as an OB-GYN in the Air Force and completed several surgical missions to Mali, West Africa, according to a news release from the Utah Democratic Party. She will be the fifth medical professional in the Utah Legislature.

Lesser lives in Ogden with her husband, Dave, and the couple have six children, the release states.

“I hope to bring the pragmatism of being a physician and the focus that comes with being a military veteran to the Legislature,” Lesser said, “and I’m thrilled to be working together with so many other legislators who will help me on the path to the better Utah that all of us want.”

The District 10 seat is the only one held by a Democrat outside of Salt Lake County. In a statement Saturday, Jeff Merchant, chair of the Utah Democratic Party, said that Lesser “will be an excellent addition to the Legislature.”

“Her knowledge and expertise have benefited Weber County for many, many years,” Merchant said, “and she will be of immense value to the people of District 10.”

Shurtliff returned to the Utah Legislature in 2018 after having previously served in the House from 1999 to 2008. Shurtliff was the first Democrat to win a Utah House race in Weber County since Neil Hansen in 2008.

Lesser’s win is the second special election to fill a vacancy in the Utah Legislature since the November election. Earlier in December, Republican delegates picked former Rep. Mike Kennedy to fill the Utah Senate seat vacated by Dan Hemmert when he took a post in Gov. Spencer Cox’s administration.

The 2021 Utah Legislature begins Tuesday morning.