Primary elections: Who’s running in the Utah Legislature’s 20 Republican and 3 Democratic races

Republican state and county conventions voted to send many incumbents to primaries against opponents on their right.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) 23 primary races in the Utah Legislature are up for grabs in June.

Para leer este articulo en español, haz clic aquí.

There are 23 primary elections for Legislature this year, the most in decades. In 1994 and 1982, there were 21.

Voters can find their legislative districts on the Legislature’s website by entering their voting addresses. Make sure to look twice, as some districts have been redrawn and renumbered and it’s possible you will be voting in a numerically different district you voted in two years ago.

[Related: Utah’s national race primary election guide]

Republican incumbents in multiple districts were forced into primary elections by GOP delegates at the state or county conventions, which is part of an overall shift to the right in the Republican base.

Earlier this year, longtime moderate Republican Rep. Steve Handy was knocked out of his seat by Davis County Republicans who nominated political newcomer Trevor Lee for the race. Handy said he was mounting a write-in bid in the general election after Lee made transphobic comments on a conservative podcast.

And three top Republicans in the Utah Senate were forced into primary elections by delegates. Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers of Cedar City, Majority Whip Ann Millner of Ogden and Jerry Stevenson of Layton, the chair of the top budgeting committee, have challengers from their political right. Vickers’ opponent, Patrick Larson, has posted calls for political violence on social media.

If any of those three were to lose the primary election, it would send a political shock wave through the GOP-controlled Utah Senate, where leadership changes usually happen through retirement or scandal instead of election losses.

Primary defeat of any of those GOP leaders would send a political shock wave through the Utah Senate, where leadership changes usually happen through retirement or scandal instead of election losses.

Utah legislative primary elections by the numbers:

Number of primaries: 23

GOP primaries: 20

Democratic primaries: 3

Primary elections with signature-gathering candidates: 16

Republican incumbents in primaries: 12

Democratic incumbents in primaries: 2

Republican state Senate primary elections: 4

Democratic state Senate primary elections: 3

Republican state House primary elections: 16

Democratic state House primary elections: 0

Senate District 5, Republican primary: Ogden, Hill Air Force Base and Mountain Green

In Senate District 5, which includes the greater-Ogden area and Hill Air Force Base, both Republican candidates told The Salt Lake Tribune that education and tax cuts were top priorities.

Incumbent Majority Whip Sen. Ann Millner, a former president of Weber State University, is being challenged by attorney Doug Durbano. Millner has represented what was previously Senate District 18 since 2015, but with redistricting this past year is now running in the redrawn district.

Millner said she is “a strong supporter of education, a thriving business community, economic development and making sure we maintain our quality of life in Utah.” That includes, the state senator said, focusing on “fundamentals,” like increasing parent engagement in education and making sure “every child has a plan that best meets their needs and their parent’s goals for the child.”

She is also happy with the tax cuts the Legislature made this past general season, a priority that Durbano shares. He is running on a “Freedom Formula,” a term he coined that equates to “lower taxes equals less government, equals more freedom.”

And like Millner, Durbano also supports parental rights in education but said there’s “a lot of light” between himself and the incumbent. The lawyer and businessman calls himself a “Constitutional conservative” and “private sector guy.” He said he’s a strong supporter of the Utah GOP’s platform but isn’t OK with Republicans that only join Utah’s predominant party to get elected. “I believe in truth over harmony,” he adds.

Senate District 6, Republican primary: Layton

In Layton, Sen. Jerry Stevenson is running for reelection in Senate District 6 against GOP challenger Betty Young. Formerly Senate District 21, the newly redrawn Senate District 6 received new boundaries during last year’s redistricting process. Stevenson has represented the Davis County area in the Senate since 2010.

In a statement, Young told The Tribune that she’s running for election because she doesn’t think Stevenson, a three-term senator, has actively represented his constituency. If elected, Young said she would stay in office for one or two terms, and then “it will be time for someone else to come in with renewed energy.”

According to her campaign website, Young was born and raised in Italy before becoming an American citizen. She said she’s interested in working on affordable housing, air quality and “the rising cost of living that is weighing heavily on Utah families when they are buying their groceries and gas.”

Stevenson, a former Layton mayor and the Utah Senate’s current Executive Appropriations Committee chair, did not respond to an email or phone call from The Tribune. Stevenson’s “core values” include believing in free enterprise and fiscal responsibility, according to his campaign website.

“I’ll continue to look for improved transportation options and ways to clean our air in an effort to improve our way of life in North Davis County. Doing so will attract employers, in turn increasing our ability to properly fund education — without raising taxes,” the incumbent writes on his campaign website.

Senate District 9, Democratic primary: Portions of Salt Lake City

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) State Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake.

Sen. Derek Kitchen, fresh off a legislative session that saw him booted from a committee assignment by his own party’s leadership, faces a familiar primary challenger in Dr. Jennifer Plumb, a pediatric emergency department physician and opioid mitigation advocate. Plumb lost to Kitchen by 550 votes in the 2018 Democratic primary for what was then Senate District 2.

Kitchen, first elected to the Senate in 2018, touts his experience as a lawmaker and said he is running for another term in what is now Senate District 9 to hold the powerful accountable. He said he wants his party to not only work across the aisle with Republicans, but also to use the rules of the Legislature more effectively to push Democratic priorities.

“My goal, ultimately, would be to bring additional members into the Senate,” Kitchen said, “to pick up some seats so that we can build a powerful coalition on the other side.”

Plumb said she has experience creating and shepherding more than a dozen bills through the Legislature since 2014, albeit not as an elected representative. Her advocacy, she said, has contributed to the passing of liberal causes like a syringe exchange program and giving residents access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

“There are ways to build legislation and then work with the kind of competing interests or the parties to get things done,” Plumb said. “I think one of the crucial differences is that I am someone that is very capable of getting results and is very capable of working in those spaces.”

If elected, Plumb said, she wants to help with appropriating money the state is receiving through a settlement with opioid manufacturers and distributors, protect the rights of transgender Utahns and use her perspective as a female physician to do “damage control” in the Legislature if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman’s right to an abortion.

Senate District 13, Democratic primary: South Salt Lake and Murray

First-time candidate Nate Blouin argues he has a vision for Utah’s future that sets him apart from longtime Sen. Gene Davis in the primary battle for what is now Senate District 13.

Blouin said he’s focused on addressing climate issues, affordable housing and backing an independent redistricting commission.

“Those things,” he said, “give us hope that we can make progress here in Utah.”

Blouin, who has a background in renewable energy advocacy but left his job to campaign, said he wants to improve air quality along the Wasatch Front by reducing emissions and enhancing access and affordability for public transportation.

Davis, who has served in the Senate since 1999, said his knowledge of legislative rules and operations has allowed him to be effective for his constituents. He said he’s delivered for his voters by working on air quality issues and improving education.

If elected to another term, he wants to boost wages for workers, improve low-income housing options, and address hunger by making visually unappealing produce that would otherwise be wasted available for consumption.

“I’ve still got the energy,” he said, “and I still have the drive to be able to continue to represent my district.”

Senate District 14, Democratic primary: Millcreek, Holladay and Murray

State Rep. Stephanie Pitcher currently represents House District 40 and is running in the newly drawn Senate District 14 against Deondra Brown. Utah’s old Senate District 14 was represented by Republican Sen. Mike Kennedy and included conservative areas like Alpine and American Fork. The newly redrawn and renamed Senate District 14 is in Salt Lake County and much of it was represented by retiring Democrat Sen. Jani Iwamoto.

A musician and graduate of The Juilliard School, Brown said she offers a unique perspective that is missing from the Legislature.

“Our vocation and our passion is all about connecting with people,” she told The Tribune. “That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve been trained to do.”

She wants to boost teachers’ salaries, continue her decade of advocacy for victims of crime, improve mental health services across the state and fund art programs for students and communities. Brown is an abuse survivor herself and has lobbied for consent education.

During her time in the Utah House, Pitcher led a bipartisan effort in the Legislature to reform the state’s cash bail system and this past session sponsored legislation to crack down on illegal vehicle pollutants. Pitcher, who’s a prosecutor, told The Tribune that she feels like she’ll be able to make more of an impact in the Senate, regardless of how bittersweet it would be to lose her House seat.

“As any legislator, but especially as a Democrat, our relationships are our currency. And if you establish yourself as someone who’s straightforward and honest and trustworthy, you can get a lot done up there” she said of the Capitol, ”regardless of your party affiliation.”

The winner will face Republican Dan Sorensen in the general election. Kennedy will run for reelection in Senate District 21, which now includes northern Utah Valley.

Senate District 23, Republican primary: Pleasant Grove, Orem and Vineyard

Days before he filed to run for the GOP nomination against incumbent Sen. Keith Grover, Brandon Beckham was charged with a second-degree felony after a woman accused him of forcible sexual abuse. That legal hurdle did not stop Beckham from continuing his campaign.

GOP delegates in Utah County decided to advance Beckham to the June primary election after his supporters called the charges a “political hit job” and claimed he was “Kavanaughed,” a reference to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault during his 2018 confirmation hearings. Had Grover received four more votes, he would have secured the nomination at the convention, avoiding a primary.

During Beckham’s most recent court appearance, the alleged victim in the case was granted a pretrial protective order against him.

Grover was first elected to the House in 2006 and won a special election to complete the term of Sen. Margaret Dayton in June 2018. Grover had been an administrator in the Alpine School District but was recently hired as an administrator at the University of Utah. He is also chairman of the subcommittee that sets the budget for higher education in the state.

He has sponsored legislation to encourage exploration of nuclear power in the state, created a scholarship program for high-demand technical jobs, and tried — but failed — to pass legislation creating a distinction between “games of skill” and gambling on games of chance, which are banned in Utah’s Constitution.

Senate District 28, Republican primary: Delta, Beaver, Cedar City and Hurricane

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers is being challenged by candidate Patrick Larson in Senate District 28.

Vickers has served in the Legislature since 2009, and he is an advocate for increased local control, funding for education and the efficient use of water resources, as well as tax policies that spur small business growth.

“I’m well positioned to continue to represent these areas well, and [the] bottom line is I want to represent them,” he told The Tribune.

Larson’s website states his opposition toward SB54, which changed the candidate nomination process, RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), critical race theory and COVID-19 preventive measures — calling lockdowns “illegal, immoral and unconstitutional.”

Larson has posted calls for political violence on social media.

House District 2: North Cache County

Familiar opponents face off in the House District 2 primary, as former state legislator Val Potter challenges incumbent Rep. Mike Petersen, who beat him out in 2020.

Potter was critical of Petersen’s efforts in the Legislature, particularly on education and law enforcement issues. “Mike Petersen has not been accomplishing the things that Cache Valley needs out of him,” he told The Tribune.

As a first-term lawmaker, Petersen passed three bills during this year’s legislative session, two of which dealt with voting and elections. He pointed to his conservative record as the reason he should be reelected.

“It’s clear to me that Val and I have a very different set of principles: mine are consistently conservative while his are not,” Petersen wrote in an email to The Tribune.

House District 4: Randolph, Morgan and Coalville

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Kera Birkeland.

In the primary for House District 4, incumbent Rep. Kera Birkeland is being challenged by Republican candidate Raelene Blocker.

During this year’s general session, Birkeland was the sponsor of HB11, a high-profile and controversial transgender sports ban. She said that her current legislative focus is on education, rural issues and government accountability.

Birkeland recently sent a letter on official Utah House letterhead to school principals with guidance on transgender issues from an out-of-state conservative legal group with a history of suing schools over transgender issues.

According to her website, Blocker is a member of numerous community organizations, and she promises to support Utah educators should she be elected. She says she is pro-vaccine, while being anti-mandate, opposes abortion and supports the Second Amendment.

While telling The Tribune she supported “girls playing with girls and boys playing with boys” in sports, Blocker said lawmakers rushed to pass the revised HB11 in a “completely dishonest” process.

House District 8: Eden and Huntsville

There is no incumbent in House District 8, and two fresh faces from the Republican Party are battling for a spot in the general election. Rep. Steve Waldrip dropped out of the race in April.

Candidate Jason Kyle identified the right to life, medical freedom and election integrity as a few key issues. He also advocates for state sovereignty and limited taxation, according to his website.

Candidate Kimberly Cozzens agreed on many of the same points and espouses strong support for the First and Second Amendments on her campaign website.

“We have seen these past two years how our free speech has been stripped away in the name of ‘misinformation,’ and ‘public safety,’” she wrote. “Misinformation and public safety according to who?”

Cozzens also says she opposes critical race theory, but supports protecting women’s sports and “getting porn out of our schools.”

House District 10: South Ogden and Uintah

Candidates Jill Koford and Lorraine Brown will compete in the House District 10 primary for a chance to challenge Democratic incumbent Rosemary Lesser in the general election.

A small-business owner, Koford is a strong proponent of limited government, free markets and the Second Amendment, and opposes pandemic mandates and critical race theory.

Brown focused her campaign on some of the same issues and highlights her opposition to abortion and desire to limit government. Her website says she will support teachers and protect the environment.

House District 11: Hill Air Force Base and Riverdale

Incumbent state Rep. Kelly Miles will face Republican candidate Katy Hall in House District 11.

On his campaign website, Miles lists his top priorities as upholding the Constitution, protecting the family, bolstering education, supporting mental health needs in the state and preserving the caucus system.

Hall told The Tribune that she is running because of deficiencies she sees in Miles’ service to his constituents.

“I feel the current representative is disengaged from many of the townships in District 11,” she wrote in an email.

She is running on a platform of improving communication surrounding local issues, upholding conservative values and supporting a dialogue between parents and teachers.

House District 18: Farmington and Centerville

In March, Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville, announced he was retiring from the Legislature. It was unexpected and set off a last-minute scramble to fill his seat.

Davis County GOP delegates sent Paul Cutler and Alena Ericksen to the June primary election after they tied in the final round at the convention, setting up a contest between the mainstream and far-right wing of the party in House District 18.

Cutler was elected Mayor of Centerville in 2014 and served on the Centerville City Council from 2004 to 2011. He’s earned the endorsement of several establishment Republicans, including Hawkes and former Gov. Gary Herbert.

Ericksen briefly was a candidate for Utah’s 1st Congressional District against Blake Moore but dropped out a few weeks after declaring her candidacy. She was part of two lawsuits against Utah government officials and the Davis School District over coronavirus-related restrictions. Those lawsuits sought nearly $1.5 billion in damages. Ericksen’s cases relied on the language used by followers of the far-right anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement.

Ericksen is also a proponent of the constitutional sheriff philosophy, which asserts that sheriffs are the highest constitutional authority and can decide which laws to enforce and which to ignore.

House District 19: West Bountiful and Bountiful

Bountiful incumbent Rep. Raymond Ward squares off against candidate Lyle Mason in the House District 19 primary.

Ward has been in office since 2015, and he spoke to The Tribune about his support for public education and health care, noting that he was recently appointed chair of the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Mason states on his campaign website that he is for limiting federal power while opposing medical mandates, environmental, social, and governance scores for companies, transgender treatment for minors and heavy taxation.

House District 20: Woods Cross, North Salt Lake

Incumbent Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard faces candidate Ronald Mortensen in Republican’s race to represent House District 20.

Ballard has served in the Legislature since 2019, and she is running for reelection on the platform of supporting families and improving air quality and education. She also believes in limited government and the right to bear arms.

A retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, Mortensen is an anti-illegal immigration activist, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump as an assistant secretary of state overseeing population, refugees and migration. The nomination was met with backlash due to his views on immigration.

He is also listed as a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which was deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

House District 29: Fillmore, Tooele, Delta and Wendover

Redrawn House District 29 has two candidates competing in the Republican primary, Bridger Bolinder and Mark Huntsman. The old district’s incumbent, Rep. Matt Gwynn, is running in House District 6 and doesn’t face a primary challenger.

Bolinder and Huntsman are running on similar platforms, and both emphasize the need for water management and conservation on their websites.

They also voiced support for tax cuts and the Second Amendment. Bolinder said he would advocate for more funding to address transportation needs, and Huntsman highlighted his years of service as chair of the Utah State Board of Education and his stance against government mandates.

Bolinder won nearly 89% of the delegate vote at the Republican convention in April, while Huntsman won 11.1%.

House District 41: Cottonwood Heights and Alta

Candidates Steve Aste and Wayne Gary Sandberg are competing in the House District 41 primary. Rep. Mark Strong, who represents the district with its current boundaries, will run in House District 47.

Aste told The Tribune he believes the Republican Party needs to “root out” RINOs and take a firmer stand for conservative principles.

His campaign website speculates on whether COVID-19 “was intentionally released,” calls the nation’s election integrity into question and criticizes critical race theory, calling it “one of the single most racist ideologies ever.”

A self-labeled constitutional constructionist, Sandberg told The Tribune his main legislative focus would be on education, how the state handles taxes and the protection of natural resources.

House District 45: South Jordan and Sandy

(Lindsay Whitehurst | AP) Rep. Susan Pulsipher.

Former state legislator Richard Cunningham will challenge South Jordan incumbent Rep. Susan Pulsipher in the primary for House District 45.

While praising the overall job Pulsipher has done, Cunningham was critical of her stance on several issues and said the “district needs an entirely new voice.”

If reelected, Pulsipher said her legislative priorities will be on lowering taxes and improving child care and education. She also referenced her strong track record of conservative voting.

“I have been working very hard to represent my constituents. I’m open; I listen,” she said.

House District 46: Draper

Draper Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist is entering his first primary against challenger Carolyn Phippen in the House District 46 race.

A politician for more than a decade, Stenquist emphasized his work in making Utah more sustainable, voting conservatively and collaborating with others.

Among the policy stances listed on Phippen’s website, she highlights her position on upholding the Second Amendment, being “unapologetically” anti-abortion and securing the election process.

“We then need to take legislative action to tighten up the [election] process, minimize opportunities for fraud, and provide greater transparency,” she wrote.

House District 67: Duchesne, Price and Castle Dale

The primary race in House District 67 features two educators — incumbent Rep. Christine Watkins and candidate Tom Hansen.

Watkins, who is serving her second stint in the Legislature, is a retired educator and charter school administrator. She chairs the Business, Economic Development, and Labor Appropriations Subcommittees and has sponsored bills focused on water in the Legislature.

Hansen has been the chairman for the Republican Party in Emery County for five years. As a former math teacher, he says he understands the value of budgets and argues that the state’s $200 million tax cut is not enough.

He has been unhappy with some of the bills passed in the Legislature over the past year, specifically mentioning HB168 and HB242 that affect water issues.

“For our area, there are some situations that have come about that I think I would be a better candidate,” he told The Tribune.

House District 72: New Harmony, Hurricane, Virgin, Springdale and Apple Valley

Republican candidates Willie Billings and Joseph Elison will compete in the House District 72 primary. Rep. Rex Shipp, the district’s current representative, is running for House District 71 in yet another redistricting shuffle.

Billings says he is a fiscal conservative, he will look to defend public lands for locals as well as the rights of parents and children in education.

“Increasing money spent on administration is not the answer,” Billings says on his campaign website. “Revenue from our lands should fund our children’s education, not fill the pockets of the federal government.”

Elison expresses similar views as Billings when it comes to education being controlled by local governments. He wants to sever ties with the National Education Association by giving more control to parents and school districts.

Elison’s goals also include transferring educational decision-making power to parents and school districts, cutting taxes and eliminating the influence of ESG scores and “cancel culture” on public policy.

House District 73: Washington and Leeds

Nina Barnes and Colin Jack will be the only competitors in the House District 73 Republican primary. Incumbent Travis Seegmiller recently announced his resignation from the Legislature and has officially withdrawn from the race. Jack was selected by party delegates to be the interim representative but still faces Barnes in the primary.

Jack, who grew up in the Navajo Nation, will only serve until the end of Seegmiller’s term if he loses. The winner is unopposed in November’s general election.

Barnes is a grandmother, public servant and business owner. She’s lived in southern Utah for more than 27 years. With growth happening in her would-be district, water planning is a key element of her platform. She also is anti-abortion, supports the Second Amendment and opposes vaccine mandates.

“We need a representative who will fight for our quality of life and preserve the pioneer heritage that makes our country great,” Barnes says. “We deserve leadership with integrity and civility who will use a strong voice to advocate for our conservative values and fiscal restraint.”

By profession, Jack is an electrical engineer. Some of his platform issues include the right to defend the Second Amendment, as well as supporting the growth of Washington County. He also wants to cut “bureaucratic bloat” from the government and wishes to see more decisions made at the local level.

As a lawmaker, Jack said he “will work to derive and balance conservative budgets, negotiate practical solutions to the issues in our state, and introduce the laws of physics to the capital, to the benefit of our district.”

House District 74: Ivins, Shivwits and Santa Clara

The Republican primary for House District 74 between Kristy Pike and Neil Walter will decide who ultimately represents the district in the Legislature since no other party’s candidates decided to run.

According to a profile by the Washington County Utah Republican Party, Pike is a staunch supporter of free markets and limited government. She is also the director of the Washington County Children’s Justice Center, a place for children who are victims of abuse or other crimes. She’s a strong supporter of law enforcement in the community.

Walter is the CEO of Brokers Holdings, which includes NAI Excel in St. George. NAI Excel is a leading commercial real estate firm. He has taught economics and finance at Utah Tech University, which was known as Dixie State.

On his website, Walter discusses his opposition to critical race theory and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores, as well as his support for Utah’s caucus system, using the name “Dixie” and people’s rights to make their own medical decisions.