Kimberly Harris Wagner: Utah’s third party candidates deserve more recognition

Competition on the ballot is healthy for a democratic republic.

(Xiangyao "Axe" Tang | Pool) January Walker speaks in a 4th Congressional District debate at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Many across the state watched with interest as vote counts rolled in on the evening of the recent 2nd Congressional District Republican primary. The stakes were high and, though early returns gave Becky Edwards a sizable lead over Celeste Maloy and Bruce Hough, that lead shrunk and eventually disappeared, with Maloy going on to clinch the Republican spot on the general election ballot.

As I followed coverage throughout that evening, I saw repeated references to the fact that the victor would go on to face Democrat Kathleen Riebe in the general election. Though my reading of election coverage wasn’t exhaustive, in what I did read, I saw no mention of the other five candidates who will also be on the ballot. It may be that some of the third-party candidates don’t plan to mount an active campaign. But I know United Utah Party candidate January Walker and anticipate that her effort will match that of the Republican and Democratic Party candidates.

We have a political system that favors a political duopoly. Given the conservative bent of many Utah voters, whose voices are amplified through gerrymandered districts, we could almost call the Republican Party in Utah a monopoly. It holds the governorship and a veto-proof supermajority in our legislature. But registered Republicans and Democrats together constitute only 64% of Utah’s registered voters (roughly 50% and 14% respectively). The other 36% of voters are either unaffiliated or affiliated with a third party. Given that sizable number, it seems reasonable to think that many voters would appreciate knowing that there will be not just two, but seven candidates on the general election ballot in the 2nd Congressional District race and who they are.

Missing mentions of third-party candidates extend beyond primary election night coverage. A recent KSL.com article focused at some length on what Republicans who favored moderate candidate Becky Edwards might do now that Edwards is out of the race. It’s striking that the article didn’t even mention in passing that January Walker from the United Utah Party — which positions itself as a moderate alternative to Utah’s other parties — would be an option for Edwards supporters now looking for a moderate candidate, despite the fact that United Utah Party candidates have garnered as much as 44% of the vote in elections around the state.

I encourage those in the media to acknowledge more routinely when there are third-party candidates in a race — preferably mentioning them by name. I also encourage media consumers to ask for that information. Competition on the ballot is healthy for a democratic republic. We owe it to those who provide that competition to include them in the election narrative.

Kimberly Harris Wagner

Kimberly Harris Wagner has an M.A. in political science and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior, both from UCLA. While raising her family in Fruit Heights, she’s been actively involved in volunteer work in her community. She ran for the state legislature last year as a United Utah Party candidate and currently serves on the party’s executive board.