This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune on June 4, 2017.
My name is Jim Bennett, and I'm running as a candidate in the special election to replace Jason Chaffetz as the congressman in Utah's 3rd District. I'm running as the candidate for the newly formed United Utah Party, which is committed to providing political home to those who are uncomfortable with the extremism that has overtaken both the Republicans and the Democrats.
And I couldn't ask for a better real-life illustration for why Utah needs our party than my experience at the state election office on Friday, May 26.
A day earlier, my party submitted 2,700 signatures of registered voters in order to become a qualified political party in Utah. (Only 2,000 were required.) Elections Director Mark Thomas told us he'd do everything in his power to make sure the signatures were certified the following day so I could file as a candidate with the state.
Thomas met with us the next day and told us that there was no way the party would be certified by the end of the day, which meant I wouldn't be able to file as a partisan candidate. I asked how far along they were in the process. They wouldn't tell me. I suggested they allow me to file provisionally, pending certification of the party. They wouldn't do it. I then suggested they extend my deadline to June 12, which is the deadline for unaffiliated candidates to file. No, they said, they wouldn't do that, either.
Why not? They had no answer. They just refused.
The fact is that there is no statute or law that would prevent them from allowing me to run as a candidate for my party. The elections office is well within its rights to accept my filing papers provisionally, but they simply didn't want to do it. The 2,700 people who signed petitions saying they wanted a new party on the ballot deserve that option, but the elections office has arbitrarily decided to deny additional choices to Utah voters.
We're working with a lawyer to challenge this decision, and he advised me to go up to the elections office and attempt to file to demonstrate that I was doing everything in my power to comply with the governor's special election calendar. So I walked into the elections office late Friday afternoon, and I was immediately confronted by a wall of news cameras, along with Thomas, his chief deputy, and several other officials, who were standing at the front desk, waiting for me to arrive.
The tension in the room was almost palpable as I requested the filing papers. Initially, Thomas refused to give them to me, but he relented when I pointed out these papers, by law, were required to be publicly available. As I filled them out, I came to a part where I had to initial that the elections office had read some rules aloud to me. I asked that someone read me the rules, and Thomas refused.
"We're not playing your games," he said.
"I'm not trying to play games," I said. "I'm trying to do everything I can to comply with the law."
It didn't matter; Thomas refused to read it, and nobody else would, either. So I told him I would make a note on my papers that they had refused to read it. I filled out the rest of the papers, wrote out a check, placed the papers on the front desk, and thanked them for their time.
It was an entirely surreal experience.
As I look back on it now, I'm curious as to why Thomas seemed so insistent on staging a dramatic confrontation. If he knew he was going to reject my filing, then why not do it away from the cameras? Why not have the clerk at the front desk hand me the papers pleasantly, let me fill them out, and then quietly toss them in the trash after I left? Why did he go out of his way to make my experience as hostile as possible?
The fact of the matter is that Utah is one-party state, and that officials from that party aren't used to being challenged. I'm convinced Thomas wanted to provoke me in order to send a clear message: we're in charge, and we don't have to listen to you. And if you don't like it, we don't care.
The good news is that we have good reason to believe the law is on our side, and that our challenge will be successful. But if you're looking for proof that Utah needs a political party that will stand up to the establishment, look no further than my tense run-in with the elections office.
Last Friday, United Utah Party candidate Jim Bennett attempted to file for office and was denied by Utah Elections Director Mark Thomas. Jim and the party are preparing a challenge to this decision. We are confident that the law is on our side, and that Jim will be on the ballot as a candidate for the United Utah Party.
People have been asking questions about what happened at the elections office on that occasion, so we thought it would be appropriate to share some video footage of the exchange between Jim Bennett and Mark Thomas that took place at the elections office one week ago today.
By Vaughn R. Cook. Originally published in the Deseret News on June 1, 2017
Last week marked a milestone in Utah politics — the organization of a new political party, the United Utah Party.
The United Utah Party began forming in October of last year. A group of concerned Utah voters — Republicans, Democrats and independents (unaffiliated with either party) — conducted research polling and focus groups and learned that the majority of Utah voters are ready for an alternative to the dominant Republican Party and the also-ran Democrats.
What is wanted is a home for moderate voters, who, as it turns out, make up the majority of voters in the state.
Over the years Utah has become a one-party state. As that has happened, the Republican establishment, the people who control the Republican Party, have become more and more rigid in their political ideology. They have moved away and continue to move away from Utah voters. At the same time, the Democrats, as they continue to live in the margins, follow this same ideological migration, but in the opposite direction.
So here we are my fellow Utah voters, sitting in the middle and out of control of our political destiny.
Why are we out of control? Because in Utah, elections aren’t decided at the polls; they’re decided at the Republican Conventions. Whichever candidate is selected at the Republican Convention will absolutely get elected. That’s bad for two reasons:
Prospective candidates don’t have to appeal to voters to get into office; they only have to appeal to delegates at the Republican Conventions. Voter participation over the years has become dangerously low. We used to be a state near the top in the nation in voter turnout, and now we’re near the bottom. Who can blame anyone in Utah for not voting? It just doesn’t matter.
But now we have a choice — or do we? Here’s what happened:
A few weeks ago, the United Utah Party began collecting the necessary signatures to become an official political party: 2,000 are required.
After that effort began, Jason Chaffetz announced his June 30 departure from office and Gov. Gary Herbert set Friday, May 26, as the filing deadline for anyone interested in running in the special election to fill the vacancy.
To field a candidate in the special election, the United Utah Party had to "become official" before the May 26 deadline.
On Thursday, May 25, everything was turned in to the lieutenant governor’s office, and on Friday, May 26, James Bennett filed as a United Utah Party candidate.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? The problem is that the signatures turned in had to be certified by the lieutenant governor’s office. As soon as the signatures were turned in, the lieutenant governor’s staff went right to work in hopes of completing certification by the next day, but they weren’t able to reach that goal.
When James Bennett filed, he was told he couldn’t file as a candidate for the United Utah Party because the signatures had not been certified.
OK, why not take him as a United Utah candidate, subject to the signature verification? If he runs as an independent they’ll give him a few weeks to gather the required 300 signatures to do that? What’s the difference?
For whatever reason, they weren’t willing to do that.
As it turns out, there’s no specific reason why not. There are very few hard-and-fast rules about special elections. It seems someone in charge simply made the decision that it has to be this way.
It makes me suspicious that what we’re seeing is "politics as usual." Someone at the lieutenant governor’s office, or someone who influences that office, is trying to keep the United Utah Party from fielding a candidate. Is it too threatening to the established order, our one-party government?
It seems quite reasonable to me to simply hold Bennett’s filing for a few days while the signatures are certified and then allow his candidacy. I hope someone at the lieutenant governor’s office is reading this letter.
Read SL Tribune Columnist Robert Gehrke's piece:
GOP’s plan to charge delegates $20 harkens back to days of poll taxes
The Republicans want to promote the convention system as the way to nominate candidates and then they want to charge ordinary people for participating in it. This is why the convention system needs to be changed. The point is to exclude and not to include.United Utah conventions will encourage, not discourage primaries in order to promote public involvement in the nomination process. No fees to keep people out.
The Utah Elections Office won't allow Jim to file provisionally as our candidate. They will only let him file as an unaffiliated candidate.
We have submitted our petitions (2700 instead of just the 2000 required). The only barrier is the Elections Office's administrative process of certifying the signatures.
Please help in one or more of these ways:
Write a letter to Lt. Governor Spencer Cox asking them to let Jim file.
P.O. Box 142325
Salt Lake City, Utah 84114-2325
Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or Send letters or op-eds to
Trib - letters -firstname.lastname@example.org
Des News - http://www.deseretnews.com/opinion
Herald - Letter - http://www.heraldextra.com/news/opinion/
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Don't let the Republicans keep our candidate off the ballot!
My name is Jim Bennett. Later today, I’m going to file paperwork with the state election’s office to declare my intent to run as a candidate in the upcoming special election in Utah’s third congressional district. I intend to run as the nominee of the United Utah Party. Yesterday, the United Utah Party submitted more than the required 2,000 petition signatures necessary to become a registered political party in the state of Utah.
The elections office has been working all day yesterday and today to verify those signatures. I want to express my gratitude for the good people in the election’s office who are, even as we speak, hard at work to make that certification happen.
I began working for the United Utah Party prior to Rep. Chaffetz’s announcement that he was leaving before the end of his term. This party was not founded because of this special election, and it will endure long after this election is over. At the same time, our party recognized that this special election presented a unique opportunity to introduce ourselves to the people of Utah and to provide a political home to the people who are not at home in either of the other two parties.
I have long been one of those people. For many years, I made my living managing and working on a number of Republican campaigns in Utah, but after my father’s defeat in 2010, I became less active in Republican party politics. And a few months before Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination, I changed my voter registration from “Republican” to “unaffiliated.”
I was heartbroken to watch the Grand Old Party, the party of Lincoln and the party of Reagan, become the party of Donald Trump.
At the same time, I have never viewed the Democratic Party as a real alternative, and, unfortunately, neither have Utah voters. It has been over twenty years since a Democrat won a statewide race in Utah. Common sense would suggest that this would teach Utah Democrats to find ways to become more appealing to the electorate. Instead, they have done precisely the opposite - they’ve taken a hard turn to the left in a state that national observers have frequently called the reddest of red states. As Utah Democrats become more and more extreme, they make it clear that they are more interested in making statements than winning elections.
That’s why the Utah Republican party sees no reason to look to the center to attract voters. They know that they can go as far right as they want with no real risk of losing. And the sad truth is that they’re right. Since they don’t have to compete, they have become arrogant and unresponsive. They think Utah voters will still stick with him no matter what, because even the Utahns that don’t like it have nowhere else to go.
So I’m running for Congress to give Utahns another place to go.
I’m going to be a reform-oriented congressman. I’m going to press for changes that the two parties have resisted for far too long, like congressional accountability and term limits. I’m going to work to find a middle ground in healthcare reform and insist that Congress doesn’t exempt itself from the laws they apply to the rest of us. I’m going to take an approach on immigration and support for refugees that reflects the best of who we are as a country, always remembering that I represent a state that was founded by refugees who, like many who suffer today, were driven from their homes because of what they believed.
I should note that this campaign is in its infancy, and we are still working to get things up to speed. Right now, I’m relying on my party to help me raise money, build a campaign structure, and develop specific and detailed policy positions on any number of issues. All that will come in its time. I’m more than confident that I will have the resources I’ll need to win this race.
One advantage I have is that my name will go straight to the general election ballot, so I won’t have to compete in a primary. As Republicans and Democrats are beating themselves up to secure their nominations, I plan to spend that time visiting with the people of the Third District. Since the other two parties are not responsive to the needs of the voters, I want to be the most responsive congressional candidate that Utah has ever seen.
I’m looking forward to the adventure. And, if I may say so, I think this is going to be a whole lot of fun.
The United Utah Party candidate for the special election to replace Rep. Chaffetz will announce their candidacy and file with the state elections office tomorrow in accordance with the Governor’s special election calendar.
The candidate will take questions from the press in the Presentation Room in the Visitor’s Center of the Utah State Capitol.
For more information, contact Richard Davis, United Utah Party Chair at email@example.com or Jim Bennett, United Utah Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I did enjoy Jay Evenson's Deseret News Editorial where he wonders whether a bunch of political moderates can muster enough fire to win an election.
It's true, that most of us have day jobs. We go about our business without a lot of noise. We're the ordinary moms wiping noses, and the kids in the band on the back row. We're the guys teaching shop, and the clerks behind the counter. And there are more of us than you think.
Our low key approach is exactly our strength. Moderates tend to be patient and low ego. We don't insist on having it all our own way, but we're persistent. We have the calm to bide our time, and play the long game. Zealots and demagogues make a lot of noise in the short term, but they don't last. Eventually, people get tired of slogans and rhetoric. They just want a little sanity. They want lawmakers that do their homework, work things out, and keep the country running.
Which will make a bigger hole, stick of dynamite or a stream of water? Well you'd pick the dynamite, obviously, until you remember the Grand Canyon. Remember the tortoise and the hare?
It's the moderates that clean up and carry on when the riots peter out. We outlast tea parties, countercultures, red scares, and even civil war. It's the moderate voices, in the end, that stabilize, and compromise, and hold the republic together. We're the ones with shovels after the show horses strut by. We use pitchforks, you know, for what they were made for. We moderates aren't coming for you, we've been here all along.
And our time has come. Again.
Good news! We have well over the 2,000 signatures we need, and we’re submitting them to the Lieutenant Governor’s office tomorrow at 11:00 AM.