One of the more fascinating Utah House races we’ve seen in a while is in Layton’s House District 16, which saw Rep. Steve Handy make the perplexing decision not to gather signatures, was bounced at convention by a problematic far-right challenger in Trevor Lee, then attempt a Hail Mary signature campaign.
Handy officially filed his write-in candidacy on Aug. 30. A week later, another Steve — Steve Fershtut — also filed as a write-in candidate.
Here’s what makes that interesting: With two write-ins named “Steve” in the race, voters would have to write the first and last name of their preferred candidate for the vote to count, making Handy’s already difficult job of running a write-in slightly harder.
Lee has his hands full trying to explain away Twitter posts he had made promoting election conspiracies, attacking women, insulting state Republican leaders, calling Pride Month “satanic” and just generally being an offensive jerk.
So the story was that Lee or one of his supporters — like perhaps state Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, whose child is married to one of Fershtut’s grandchildren — had recruited Fershtut to run in hopes of trying to peel off some potential Handy votes.
It had the makings of being a fascinating and devious ploy, but one that Fershtut told me isn’t actually the case.
“Steve Handy and I are good friends,” Fershtut said. “As far as getting in to be a spoiler in the campaign, I did not. … Put that to rest, it’s just not true.”
Fershtut said he was running because he thought it might be a way to get attention for his crusade to promote state autonomy and criticize Democrat’s national platform.
Handy told me he isn’t convinced there wasn’t gamesmanship involved, but he wasn’t bothered by it.
“I’ve known Steve Fershtut, I consider him a friend. I think he got co-opted into this,” Handy said. “We’re not worried about it. It’s a fly in the ointment. … We’re taking the high road, moving up with our campaign, and educating voters … if they want to re-elect me they need to write my full name in.”
Ultimately, it looks like it won’t matter. Fershtut announced at a candidate forum Tuesday he planned to drop out, since his focus on national issues was a bad fit for a local legislative race.
And on Wednesday, the lieutenant governor’s office disqualified Fershtut because he had failed to file his required financial disclosure.
So to the extent that waters had been muddied, they’ve now been un-muddied. Handy would still like voters to remember to write in his full name.