Utah GOP to trim packed field running for Chaffetz seat


SALT LAKE CITY –  About 1,000 Utah Republicans will gather for a special convention Saturday to cut down a field 12 candidates vying to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz and advance one candidate to an August primary election. •

Chaffetz announced earlier this year he’s resigning at the end of June, leaving an enticing open seat for Republicans in what’s considered one of the most conservative congressional districts in the country.

The candidates in the packed GOP field, including three state lawmakers, a mayor and several lawyers and political activists, have touted their conservative credentials. Eleven of the candidates participated in debates Friday night, where they called for deep cuts to U.S. government spending and a repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The debates, organized by a group of GOP delegates in Chaffetz’s 3rd Congressional District, included a top-tier debate of five candidates who polled highest in an automated telephone poll of delegates.

Those candidates included former state lawmaker Chris Herrod, Provo Mayor John Curtis, state Sens. Deidre Henderson and Margaret Dayton, and Salt Lake City lawyer Stewart Peay.

A debate earlier in the evening involved six other candidates who didn’t poll as well with delegates: state Rep. Brad Daw, lawyer Damian Kidd, defense contractor Paul Fife, political activist Debbie Aldrich, Murray resident Shayne Row and Keith Kuder, an emergency roadside assistance advocate.

During the top-tier debate, the candidates spoke of wanting to repeal Utah’s new Bears Ears National Monument or curb the law that Obama used to declare the 1.3-million acre (5,300 square kilometers) monument in December.

Environmental groups and a coalition of tribal leaders say it gives needed protections to ancient ruins and sacred tribal lands, but many Utah Republicans consider the monument an overly broad, unnecessary layer of federal control that will hurt local economies by closing the area to new energy development.

Henderson said the monument declaration was “outrageous” and an “egregious land grab.”

Dayton said the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows presidents to declare monuments, has been abused by presidents and locked up too much land, including another southern Utah monument, the 1.9 million acre (7,700 square kilometers) Grand Staircase-Escalante.

That monument, created in 1996, closed off too much land that could have helped the local economy, including one of the country’s largest known coal reserves, Dayton said.

Peay said if he was elected, one of his first moves would be to introduce a bill giving Utah an exemption from the Antiquities Act similar to carve-outs requiring Congress to approve any new monuments in Alaska or Wyoming.

The candidates were all asked which federal programs they’d cut and gave very similar answers, describing deep cuts to or the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education and reforms to Social Security.

Republicans will trim the packed field at Saturday’s convention, where delegates will settle on one candidate. That person will advance to an August primary election, where they’ll compete against candidates who opted to gather voter signatures. • Curtis took both routes.

Tanner Ainge, a son of Boston Celtics general manager and former Brigham Young University basketball standout Danny Ainge, is skipping the convention but competing in the primary election.

Because Tanner Ainge is skipping the delegate convention, he wasn’t invited to participate in Friday night’s debates. •

Utah Democrats will narrow their field of three candidates at their own convention Saturday. •