Rep. Joel Ferry resigns from the Legislature but is still on the November ballot

Utah Democrats say they’ll ask the courts to force Ferry off he ballot if he won’t withdraw.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Rep. Joel Ferry resigned from the Legislature on Friday, two months after Gov. Spencer Cox appointed him as executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. Ferry reportedly plans to stay on the November ballot despite his resignation. Utah Democrats are crying foul.

On Friday, Joel Ferry, Gov. Spencer Cox’s pick to run the Utah Department of Natural Resources, resigned from the Utah Legislature. Despite leaving, Ferry has given no indication he will drop his bid for reelection in November.

A Utah Senate confirmation committee gave Ferry’s nomination as executive director of DNR a favorable recommendation on Friday. Ferry tendered his resignation shortly after that.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the people of (House) District 1, so it is with great appreciation, and a little bit of sorrow, that I resign my position as State Representative for District 1, effective immediately,” Ferry wrote in his resignation letter.

Since Cox nominated him in June, Ferry has been heading up DNR in an acting role and holding on to his seat in the Legislature.

House Speaker Brad Wilson praised Ferry’s service following his resignation but made no mention of the controversy arising from Ferry holding his legislative seat while serving in his new capacity.

KUTV reported Ferry intends to remain on the November ballot. The Tribune could not reach Ferry for comment.

Utah Democrats have been clamoring for Ferry to step down from the Legislature and remove his name from the ballot, claiming he violated the separation of powers in Utah’s Constitution by simultaneously holding positions in the executive and legislative branches. They say Ferry’s resignation is not enough and want him to withdraw from the election because he cannot hold the seat if he wins.

“We’re glad that Joel Ferry finally decided to resign his position in the Legislature after months of unconstitutionally serving in two branches of government. But now that it’s even clearer that he has no intention to serve the people of his district if reelected,” the Democratic party said in a statement.

Suppose Ferry remains on the ballot and wins, which is likely in the heavily Republican district. In that case, he could resign again and allow Republican delegates instead of voters to pick his replacement.

Earlier this week, Democrats asked Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson to take Ferry off the ballot. She declined, saying there was no statutory basis to kick him off.

Democrats say they intend to go to the courts to force Ferry out of the race.

“His presence on the ballot does a disservice to the people of District 1 by attempting to put the selection of a new representative in the hands of a small number of party loyalists,” the Democratic statement said. “If he continues to refuse to remove himself from the ballot, we will move forward with legal action to have him removed.”

There’s an excellent reason for Ferry to remain on the ballot and for Democrats to want him removed. Besides Ferry, the only other candidate who will appear on the ballot is Democrat Joshua Hardy. If Ferry is gone, it gives Democrats a good shot at winning a northern Utah legislative seat that Republicans won by more than 60 points in 2020. If Ferry stays on the ballot, it’s a good bet he’ll win even though he likely won’t take the seat.

Ferry’s resignation means Republicans must find a replacement to fill out the remaining four months of his term. Since House District 1 covers more than one county, that decision will be up to state delegates in his district. The party has 30 days to send a replacement to Gov. Cox for appointment as Ferry’s successor.