Layton Rep. Steve Handy, a long-time GOP incumbent who was ousted at the Davis County Convention in March, says he isn’t ready to give up his seat in the Utah House of Representatives just yet.
On Monday, Handy told The Salt Lake Tribune that he was likely to launch a write-in campaign to challenge Trevor Lee, who received the most support from Davis County delegates in March. The decision comes after The Tribune reported that Lee had used a transphobic slur on a podcast that suggested that Utah Gov. Spencer Cox might be transgender.
“There has been such a groundswell of encouragement since the end of the convention,” Handy said. “With the recent development of … Trevor Lee espousing what I think are extreme views that are not in line with what I know of this legislative district where I’ve lived for over 40 years, the groundswell has grown.”
Handy recognizes that write-in campaigns rarely succeed, but he believes that there are enough Republicans “fleeing the party” after Lee’s remarks, unaffiliated voters and Democrats who would see him as the only reasonable choice that it could work. He said he is about 90% “in” on a write-in bid, but is having a few more conversations before making a final decision.
“In a legislative district where I’m well-known — this person is not well-known, he has no background or relationships in the district — it would be expensive and would require an incredible ground game to educate voters,” Handy said.
In a statement Monday, Lee said he looks forward to contrasting ideas with Handy and challenging the notion that his convention win over Handy was “some sort of [a] right-wing extreme event.”
”What occurred at convention was an indictment of Mr. Handy’s inaction on issues that matter to everyday Utahns,” he said, “things like taxes and red flag laws. My win was the voter reaction to his consistently liberal voting record.”
Appearing on “The Modern Conservative Podcast” on April 26, Lee criticized Cox for his veto of HB11, banning transgender females from competing in high school sports.
“The person I have a problem with is Spencer Cox. That is a true RINO,” podcast host Jay Harvey said during the episode. “He might even be transgender because he’s all for everything they say and do.”
Harvey, noted that Cox is one of the most popular governors in the United States. Lee then interjected, asking with a slur used for transgender people, “Was that before or after he vetoed a bill for t------s?”
Lee declined to comment on his remarks at the time, but in a Facebook post over the weekend said that he takes “ownership of what I said and the word I used.”
“Honestly, I had no clue it was so disparaging. It’s a word I’ve heard used in pop culture my whole life,” he wrote. “But that’s no excuse and now that I know it’s something others feel that strongly about, I’ve erased it from my vocabulary.”
He said he would not use it again and challenged people to stop branding “The Right” with the terms “Nazi, Extremist, Fascist, Insurrectionist.”
“Those words are as troubling and offensive to us as the word I used that hurt and angered you,” Lee wrote.
In their own social media post, the Davis County Republican Party “unequivocally” condemned “the transphobic comments made recently by House District 16 candidate, Trevor Lee. They added that the comments did not represent “the attitude or beliefs of our party, our members, or our community.”
Handy said the Layton district is patriotic and Republican, but not extremist, and he believes that county delegates got swept up in a conservative zeal.
“There’s real anger over this,” Handy said of the phone calls and text messages he has received. “I just don’t think this fellow was well-enough vetted for them to understand his extremist views. They’re antithetical with the views of this community. They’re just way out there.”
Handy has until 65 days before the November general election to file as a write-in candidate. If he qualifies, below Lee’s name would be a line that says “Write-in” and a blank line for voters to add the name. The filing is required in order for the Davis County Clerk to count the votes for Handy.