State election officials have given an initial OK to a new centrist political party called the United Utah Party — though a lawsuit over its ability to run a candidate in the 3rd Congressional District special election is still pending.
Utah’s director of elections says his office verified the 2,000 signatures the United Utah Party submitted to them last month. Pending some more paperwork, they can begin fielding candidates for office in 2018.
The problem is that the party’s executive director, Jim Bennett, wants to run this year in the 3rd Congressional race to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who’ll resign on Friday.
“We kind of anticipated that there would be resistance from the state," said Bennett. "We didn't anticipate the level of hostility. They seem to have taken this personally and are really quite angry with us.”
Bennett tried to file last month as a provisional United Utah Party candidate but was rejected because officials said the group turned in the signatures too close to the filing deadline.
Bennett, the son of the late Republican Sen. Bob Bennett, filed an injunction against the state, arguing it had intentionally dragged its feet in certifying the party.
“It’s demonstrating what happens when you have a one-party state and the one party doesn’t feel like it has to answer to anybody,” he said.
Although Bennett could still run as a write-in candidate, he says he should have access to the ballot like any other certified party. Beyond this election, organizers want to build a movement that offers a viable alternative to Republicans, who Bennett said had become too closely aligned with President Trump.
A federal judge has set a court hearing for July 14 and is expected to issue a decision on Bennett’s eligibility for the ballot soon after.
“We started this party before the special election was even on the radar, and we intend to continue this party long after the special election is over,” said Bennett.