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Rep. Phil Lyman is running for Utah governor, challenging Spencer Cox next year

Gov. Spencer Cox has his first 2024 challenger, and the bid is coming from inside his own party. Republican Rep. Phil Lyman has officially thrown his hat in the ring.

The Blanding resident has served three terms in the state House. He overwhelmingly won reelection in 2022 over his Democratic opponent. Now, he wants to lead the state.

In his video campaign announcement, Lyman flashed the mugshot from his 2015 arrest for leading an ATV protest on restricted federal lands. He framed the illegal demonstration as a resistance to “federal overreach and the radical liberal agenda.”

Former President Donald Trump pardoned Lyman in 2020. Trump referred to Lyman, a fierce supporter of his, as a “man of integrity and character” who was “subjected to selective prosecution.”

But Lyman, much like Trump, is making the most of his arrest.

“Yes, he has a mugshot too,” Lyman’s campaign website reads. “Now he wants you to elect him governor.”

Trump is facing numerous criminal charges, including his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. He was indicted by a Georgia grand jury for meddling in the election, which resulted in a mugshot of his own. Trump remains the frontrunner GOP nominee for president in 2024.

On Utah’s Capitol Hill, Lyman sponsored a failed bill that would have eliminated automatic mail-in voting. It died in committee, but Lyman told KUER in 2022 that he has “serious concerns” about how Utah conducts elections.

“Let's clean up the voter rolls and let's do away with the universal mail-in ballot and allow people to vote by mail if they can prove that they actually exist,” he said at the time.

The Utah Elections Office stands by its process, arguing the state is a national leader when it comes to voting by mail. The state has also opted into the Electronic Registration Information Center, a national nonprofit organization that helps states maintain accurate voter rolls. Ryan Cowley, Utah’s elections director, is on the board.

Lyman’s campaign video also features images of a drag queen reading a story to children, a sign that reads “no men in women’s restrooms” and the FBI pounding on a residential door. All things Lyman said he’ll fight if elected governor.

“You didn't elect a governor to politely negotiate the terms of our surrender,” Lyman intones in the video. “We elected a governor to stand up for us, to be a steward for the lands and the resources and for the people of Utah. That's exactly what I intend to do.”

As the chair of the National Governors Association, Cox has made a name for himself nationally with his Disagree Better campaign. The goal of the initiative is to defuse aggressive partisanship.

In a statement to KUER, Cox campaign spokesperson Matt Lusty said the governor donated to Lyman’s legal defense when he was arrested and is “grateful that President Trump pardoned him.” On the campaign trail, Cox plans to emphasize his successes as governor.

“The governor is proud of his record leading the best-managed state in the nation by delivering the largest tax cut in Utah history, protecting the sanctity of life, and empowering Utah parents to protect their children from the abuses of social media,” Lusty said.

The Utah Republican Party will vote for their nominees on April 27, 2024, with the general election following Nov. 5. Lyman did not return KUER’s interview request.

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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