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Editor’s note • This profile is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s coverage of this year’s special congressional election. Profiles for Becky Edwards, Bruce Hough and Democrat Kathleen Riebe can be found at these links.
When Republicans in the Utah Legislature pushed to fill the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Chris Stewart as soon as possible, the biggest beneficiary was Celeste Maloy. In under two weeks, the former congressional staffer rocketed from political unknown to Republican convention winner.
Almost immediately after Maloy bested former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes by 31 votes in the fifth and final round of delegate voting at the special GOP convention, questions have been raised about her eligibility to run for the Republican nomination to replace her former boss in Congress. State law does not permit someone to seek a political party’s nomination if they aren’t a member.
Maloy, who has made her southern Utah roots a centerpiece of her campaign, has not lived in Utah since 2019 when she relocated to Virginia to work as an attorney in Stewart’s congressional office. Because she changed her address to Virginia, she did not cast a ballot in the 2020 and 2022 elections. State officials were in the process of removing her from the voter rolls when she jumped into the race to replace her boss.
In July, a former candidate who lost to Maloy at the GOP convention filed a lawsuit alleging Maloy wasn’t a Republican, but a judge has hence ruled Maloy will remain on the September ballot.
According to political data firm L2, Maloy did not cast a ballot in four of the past six elections, including the 2012 presidential election with Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee. In the 12 even-year elections since 2000, Maloy has cast a ballot in half of them.
Since her convention win and ensuing controversies, Maloy has stuck chiefly to media appearances and right-wing podcasts where she was not asked about the controversy. Maloy and her team refused multiple interview requests from The Salt Lake Tribune for this story.
After graduating from BYU law school, Maloy worked as a deputy in the Washington County attorney’s office, then handled public lands issues for the Utah Association of Counties. That experience has informed her belief that local and state governments can manage public lands far better than the federal government. In testimony to the House Natural Resources Committee in 2017, Maloy accused federal employees of often making decisions far beyond the authority Congress gave them.
“My experience in interacting with land management agencies, particularly the Bureau of Land Management, is that administrative processes overshadow the agency mission given by Congress. We routinely see federal agency employees treat their manuals and handbooks as if they are the ultimate law,” Maloy said, adding that local governments, “have few effective options for limiting agency overreach.”
“We cannot vote them out. We cannot fire them,” Maloy said.
State Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, is one of a handful of southern Utah officeholders who have endorsed Maloy precisely because of her focus on public lands.
“She’s immensely qualified in the public lands arena, which is very important to Utah,” Ipson said, explaining why she earned his stamp of approval.
Ipson adds Maloy’s experience as a legal counsel in Stewart’s office should help ease the transition if she is elected in November.
“She will be ready to hit the ground running. She already has the relationships with people she’ll need to get things done. She’s well qualified to continue his [Stewart’s] work,” Ipson said.
Because of her focus on public lands, Maloy hopes to be appointed to the House Natural Resources Committee. That could be difficult since Rep. John Curtis already sits on that panel. A seat on the House Armed Services Committee would also be a welcome assignment for Maloy.
It’s not uncommon for staffers to make the leap to elected members of Congress. More than a dozen new members elected in the 2022 midterms got their start working in congressional offices, Roll Call reported.
Since Maloy hasn’t voted since the 2018 midterm elections, it isn’t easy to discern her political leanings. Some clues suggest she is not a fan of former President Donald Trump or the “Make America Great Again” movement.
In 2017, when Maloy served as the vice-chair of the Washington County Republican Party, she authored an op-ed in a local paper favoring a “big tent” approach while decrying the “infighting” that consumed the GOP following the election of Trump.
“Sometimes we Republicans get so caught up in defending our particular brand of republicanism that we muscle, shame or shove other Republicans out of the tent. Instead of working together for a better Utah, a better United States of America, or even a better Washington County, we sometimes work against each other for a more pure strain of republicanism that suits our tastes,” Maloy wrote. “That isn’t the party I want to belong to.”
It’s unclear whether Maloy faced any questions from Republican delegates about past support for Trump, which could have brought her non-vote in the 2020 and 2022 elections to light. During the run-up to her convention win, Maloy sidestepped any questions about which presidential candidate she favors next year, only promising to support the eventual Republican nominee, whoever that may be.
“I think it’s my job to support whoever the [presidential] nominee is,” Maloy said when asked who she favored during a pre-convention debate in Davis County. “I don’t know who is going to be on the ballot, but whoever it is, whoever the voters choose, that’s who I’m going to be supporting.”