Utah Republican lawmaker clears the way for hand-picked successor in 2024 election

Rep. Tim Jimenez’s last-minute withdrawal leaves Nicholeen Peck, his chosen replacement, as the only Republican on the ballot in a deep-red Utah House district.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, during the start of the 2024 legislative session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. After registering for reelection, Jimenez announced he will no longer run in 2024, allowing his preferred successor to take the lead in the race.

Tooele Republican Rep. Tim Jimenez is leaving his seat in the Utah Legislature after just one term. He withdrew from his 2024 reelection bid this week, leaving Nicholeen Peck as the only other Republican in the race. That appears to have been by design.

Jimenez filed to run for a second term on Jan. 2, the first day of Utah’s election filing period. The incumbent lawmaker did not draw an intraparty challenge until the last day of the filing period, Jan. 8, when Peck entered the House District 28 race as a Republican.

During the just-completed legislative session, rumors surfaced that Jimenez was planning not to pursue another term in office and that he had hand-picked Peck to replace him. When The Salt Lake Tribune asked about his plans, Jimenez acknowledged he had asked Peck to run should he decide not to.

“She asked me to run in 2022, so I asked her to run this year,” Jimenez said. He defeated former GOP Rep. Doug Sagers at the Tooele County Convention that year and ran unopposed in the general election.

Jimenez announced this week that he was dropping out of the race. Peck reposted Jimenez’s announcement on social media, acknowledging her plan to replace him.

“I was so surprised and honored when he asked me to consider taking his place. These are going to be big shoes to try to fill,” Peck wrote.

Peck did not respond to emails from The Salt Lake Tribune seeking comment.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nicholeen Peck during the House judiciary committee about HB464 Social Media Regulation Act Amendments, at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, February. 14, 2024.

Jimenez’s use of Utah’s political process to clear the way for his chosen replacement turns the GOP nominating process into a near-coronation.

Peck is the only Republican who can succeed Jimenez in the House district. She is running unopposed at the Tooele County GOP Convention on Apr. 19. After that, she will advance to the November election, where she will face Democrat Fred Baker. HD28, which covers most of Tooele, is heavily Republican.

Registered GOP voters outnumber Democrats by more than 4-1, according to political data firm L2 Data.

Tooele County Republican Party Chair Holly Rabanne did not respond to requests for comment from The Tribune.

Peck is an author and self-styled parenting expert. On her website, she describes herself as a “worldwide parenting phenomenon and leader.” She also is the head of the Provo-based nonprofit Worldwide Organization for Women (WOW) focuses on issues like religious freedom, parental rights and “the proper role of government.”

Peck is a regular at Utah’s Capitol, testifying during legislative hearings. In 2019, she testified against legislation banning underage marriages in the state, arguing that there should be an exception for minors who are pregnant to marry.

Peck’s group is allied with the far-right organization Family Watch International (FWI), which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Last year, human rights organizations accused FWI and founder Sharon Slater of fanning anti-LGBTQ+ hatred in several African countries, The Guardian reported.

Peck’s WOW organization was a co-sponsor of FWI’s 2014 Stand for the Family Conference in Provo.

“I am incredibly concerned with the possibility of Nicholeen Peck being in the legislature. She is a well-known far-right activist affiliated with Family Watch International, which advocates against public education and basic sex education in favor of child marriage and supports laws completely banning marriage equality. Peck’s addition to the Republican caucus would continue the GOP’s spiral into out-of-touch, far-right extremism,” Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Thom DeSirant added.

“It’s extremely disappointing to see this kind of political gamesmanship by Jimenez to essentially coronate a replacement and hand the seat to someone who will use it to further her unpopular and dangerous personal agenda,” DeSirant added.

This would not be the first time a lawmaker has gamed the electoral system to hand-pick their successor. In 2016, there were rumblings that longtime Clearfield Republican Rep. Curt Oda would not run for another term, which he denied. When the filing period opened, Oda submitted paperwork as a candidate. On the final day, then-Syracuse City Council member Karianne Lisonbee jumped into the race. A few days later, Oda withdrew.

In 2001, following the sudden death of state Sen. Pete Suazo, Utah Democrats picked his widow, Alicia, to fill out the remainder of the term. In 2002, she decided not to run for reelection at the last minute, clearing the way for her chosen successor, Nina Sisneros, who filed to run an hour before the deadline. Republican challenger James Evans successfully turned it into a campaign issue, and Sisneros became the first Democrat to lose the Salt Lake City-based legislative district in decades. Two years later, Evans was ousted by Democrat Fred Fife.

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