Lee vs. McMullin is getting all the attention, Robert Gehrke writes, but don’t ignore these key Utah races

Important down-ticket races for Salt Lake County Council, clerk and the state school board deserve voters attention, too.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Robert Gehrke.

Mike Lee and Evan McMullin.

It’s the one race on the November ballot that has people talking, drawing national attention and millions of dollars in television ads.

But further down Utahn’s ballots are a number of races that deserve more attention than they’ll get, so I wanted to take a little space to highlight a few that I will be watching closely in the next few weeks.

Richard Snelgrove vs. Suzanne Harrison

Snelgrove has served as an at-large member of the Salt Lake County Council (meaning he represents the entirety of the county) since his election in 2010.

Harrison is a doctor and currently a state representative in the Sandy/Draper area, but opted to jump into the county council race after her district was largely absorbed into neighboring Republican districts.

Republicans currently hold a 6-3 advantage on the council, which is likely to be even more conservative next year if Snelgrove wins. That’s because Sheldon Stewart beat current council member Steve DeBry in the Republican primary with the backing of Councilman Dave Alvord, who considered Stewart to be much more conservative than DeBry.

Alvord, you’ll remember, has a history of making inflammatory and flat-out boneheaded statements about minorities and women.

Snelgrove has the advantage of incumbency, but Harrison, who has a reputation as a tenacious campaigner, has smoked Snelgrove in fundraising, bringing in more than $360,000 compared to just under $40,000 for Snelgrove, as of the most recent filing in mid-September.

Lannie Chapman vs. Goud Maragani

For the past 32 years, Sherrie Swensen has been a fixture in the Salt Lake County Clerk’s office, but her retirement now creates an open seat and, Republicans hope, an opening to take over the office responsible for running elections.

The contest also comes amid a flood of unfounded conspiracies about election fraud — theories that GOP nominee Goud Maragani had claimed not to perpetuate, but his denials unraveled when my colleague Bryan Schott uncovered a series of social media posts that showed that he had.

In his Telegram posts, Maragani claimed that “Democrats cheated and stole the election” and called for the impeachment of judges presiding in the criminal cases of the Jan. 6 Capitol rioters. He also referred to Democrats as “commies,” and “Marxists,” and said the party is “full of mental cases,” and its members involved in child trafficking.

Chapman is currently Swensen’s chief deputy and is committed to following in her predecessor’s footsteps, expanding voting access and defending vote-by-mail.

It makes for an important contest, because, while election law is written by state lawmakers, it’s the county clerk who is responsible for administering the contests, and there is a clear distinction between the two candidates.

Two state school board races

Often overlooked, our school boards have become a battleground in the culture wars, handling thorny issues like how race is taught in schools and what books are allowed in libraries.

Two, in particular, are worth watching this election.

In District 5, which covers the north end of Salt Lake County, Democrat Sarah Reale is facing Republican Laurel Fetzer. Reale is critical of the “political theater” distracting from the educational mission, while Fetzer is critical of “academic elites in the federal government and other academic institutions … promoting cultural change in our schools.”

And in District 8, the central portion of Salt Lake County, Democrat Audryn Damron, a special education teacher, is going against Christina Boggess, a music teacher who says she will resist encroachment from the federal government.

We run the risk in this state of having our school system taken over by the intensely focused and well-organized culture warriors like Natalie Cline and Utah Parents United. We don’t need any more of them on the school board.

It’s why voters can’t afford to sleep on these school board races — or any of these down-ticket contests.