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Former Utah GOP chair Carson Jorgensen is running for governor

AP — Utah GOP state party chair, Carson Jorgensen, election night 2022, June 28, 202
George Frey
Utah Republican Party Chair Carson Jorgensen speaks during a Utah Republican primary election night party on June 28, 2022, in South Jordan, Utah.

When Carson Jorgensen decided against campaigning for a second term as the chair of the Utah Republican Party, he knew his political career wasn’t ending. However, he wasn’t convinced challenging the seemingly well-liked Gov. Spencer Cox should be his next political battle until a friend caught Jorgensen leaving an event in June 2022.

“He said, ‘This is going to come from nowhere. But I feel like I should tell you that you need to run for governor,’” Jorgensen recalled. “It was just one of those things that was like a reassurance or something that I felt like I knew that I needed to do.”

After mulling over the idea for a year and a half, he has joined the governor’s race alongside Cox, Republican state Rep. Phil Lyman and Democratic state Rep. Brian King. Jorgensen considers himself a “right-side-of-the-spectrum conservative” who has the ability to “appeal more towards a broader audience.”

He is one of the only people running for governor who has not been a lawmaker, but believes “being an everyday Utahn” is what sets him apart from the other candidates.

Jorgensen’s family roots in Utah stretch more than 170 years. He’s a sixth-generation sheep rancher in Mount Pleasant, a small town in Sanpete County, in the same slice of rural central Utah that Cox hails from. He has five young daughters and wants to ensure their and everyone else's future in Utah “is as good as it can be.”

“The fiscal spending and the path that we're going down now is making it a dangerous place and a hard dream to realize for our children and their future,” he said.

His top concerns are pushing back against excessive spending, improving Utah’s water storage and bolstering vocational training in schools.

Jorgensen prides himself on digging the Utah Republican Party out of debt when he was chair.

He believes Utah is participating in a “dangerous spending habit” by consistently increasing the annual budget more than the population has grown and he pointed to the Legislature’s latest funding package that allocated more than $28 billion to various projects as an example.

“In politics, we tend to judge success on how much money we're throwing — $500 million at water infrastructure, $128 million towards housing, $178 million towards homelessness,” he said. “That's fine. But show the Utah population what they got for that money. We haven’t seen results.”

This year, the state is projected to see a $130 million budget shortfall. Jorgensen said he would identify ways to cut spending, like halting the creation of state-funded programs and minimizing the state’s role in the private sector. He would also like to bolster the manufacturing, energy and agricultural industries in Utah. For energy, Jorgensen said he would “expand upon” the extraction of fossil fuels.

He believes the state could generate greater revenues from areas it has traditionally shied away from, like alcohol and the lottery, but he has reservations about these ideas because “there are a lot of nuances,” he said.

“Let people live their lives. Let them do their thing. We have the laws for a reason, but we don't need to be in every facet of it,” Jorgensen said.

On the topic of water, Jorgensen wants to make sure there is enough to support Utah’s growing population. He wants to improve how Utah stores groundwater rather than surface water. As a rancher, he feels a lot of the pressure to conserve water has been put on the farming communities' shoulders, but he said they are the ones helping recharge aquifers. Without robust groundwater storage and infrastructure, “municipalities can't continue to grow.”

Jorgensen would also like to see schools ramp up their vocational curriculum. He said trade work classes “have taken a back seat” enough — even though carpenters, electricians and plumbers “are sorely needed.”

“We have basically told an entire generation of children that those things don't matter because we've taken them out of education. We've told them that those are second-rate jobs,” he said.

Jorgensen, like many of his Republican colleagues, thinks topics of sexuality “don’t belong” in the classroom and believes Utah is in a position to “push back against the federal government” on mandated curriculum.

“At some point we need to evaluate where we are with the federal government and start talking about moving control more toward the state,” Jorgensen said. “And many people have talked about it, but few have ever dared to tackle it.”

Corrected: January 4, 2024 at 10:08 AM MST
An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted that Jorgenson was from Fairview rather than Mount Pleasant in Sanpete County, Utah.
Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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