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Governor Fires Back At Critics Of Special Election Process

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Gov. Gary Herbert looks at his notes before his monthly news conference at KUED on June 22, 2017.

Gov. Gary Herbert is defending his authority to organize a special election to fill the upcoming vacancy in the 3rd Congressional District, after lawmakers accused the governor of a power grab.


Herbert said he believes his administration is on solid legal footing when it comes to the special election they’ve scheduled to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who’ll be resigning from Congress next week.


“This, again, is kind of a unique circumstance, probably emotions are a little bit high here, and we need to count to 10 and think methodically about what is good policy, and drift towards that direction,” said Herbert on Thursday, responding to questions during his monthly news conference on KUED.


Current state law is vague on the specifics for filling a congressional vacancy, but leaders of the Utah Legislature say the governor was negligent in not calling a special session to allow lawmakers to weigh in on the process.


Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes called a rare joint caucus meeting earlier this week to discuss concerns that the governor’s actions had left the state vulnerable to lawsuits.


But Gov. Herbert said if the Republican majority in the legislature had their way, there would be no GOP primary or runoff, transferring all the decision making power to a narrow pool of party delegates.


“I was very concerned that in doing that, which I thought was bad policy, that we would disenfranchise in the 3rd Congressional District about 190,000 registered Republicans, who would like to have a say in who their next Congress person is going to be,” he said.


Three Republicans are currently running in the primary, scheduled for August 15. The general election will be held November 7.


The governor also denied allegations that he or someone in his office had threatened the Attorney General’s staff with disbarment if they released their own legal opinion on the special election process.


“That’s patently false,” said Herbert. “There’s not been any threat to anybody; there’s not been anybody’s license threatened.”


Herbert said he hadn’t even seen the legal opinion, but will continue to block its release, citing attorney-client privilege.




Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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