As your political watchdogs the Foxley & Pignanelli team has created a summary of the 2018 elections for you. The increase in voting compared to past years was overwhelming. With over a 75% voter turnout in Utah (unprecedented for a nonpresidential election year) poll offices across the state had lines out the door past 11:30 PM, with some voters waiting in line for up to three hours to exercise their rights. Early voting for Republicans was up over 149% from 2014; Democrats over 278%. We saw many changes in the Utah Legislature -third of which will be freshmen next year. This was undoubtedly one of the most historic elections in memory.
For the first time since 1976 Utah voters did not see the familiar name of Orrin Hatch on their ballots. The longest-serving Republican Senator in the history of the United States leaves behind a great legacy with his retirement and has opened the door for more aspiring politicians. Senator-elect Romney had an unsurprising win on Tuesday to replace the retired senator, sending his supporters at his watch party home by 10:30 PM and grabbing his seat with 62.43% support from voters. Utahns look forward to having the new junior senator in Washington.
Congressional seats for districts one, two, and three all had expected wins for their republican incumbents. Representative Rob Bishop took his seat with 62.81%, Representative Chris Stewart with 57.93%, and Representative John Curtis with 66.92%.
Battle for District Four
Utah politicos got their fix this election season from Utah 4th Congressional District race. Election night ended with challenger Ben Mcadams leading by a narrow margin against incumbent Mia Love who narrowed the gap as more Utah county ballots rolled in throughout the week. But unfortunately for the Representative the final vote count would end against her with a 694 margin victory for McAdams.
This outcome would have been more surprising when the Representative-elect first announced his campaign in 2017. However a quick analysis of the road to his win makes the results a bit less surprising. The race was known for back and forth attack-ads, funded by out-of-state dollars. Unfortunately for Love the messages selected by the opposition resonated with voters and did not disappear. The most damaging to her campaign were the ads that accused her of ‘illegally’ fundraising. These broad allegations were speaking to a very nuanced accounting requirement that was difficult for the Love campaign to explain in a short sound bite.
Another unfortunate misfavor for the Love campaign was the chaos in both Salt Lake and Utah counties on election day. The voter turnout at Utah county poll centers was severely underestimated because of the mail in ballots this year. It was rumored there were no more than 5 poll machines to be found in the entire county at the beginning of the day and lines were backed up over 4 hours in certain locations. As an effort to get voters through the lines, provisional ballots were passed out like candy, even to long time registered voters.
The narrow margin between the opponents, the election day chaos fostering mistrust, and the excess of provisional ballots all contributed to the delayed announcement of the results. 18 days after election day Mia Love conceded to McAdams.
McAdams victory creates a vacancy in the position of Salt Lake County Mayor. Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Jenny Wilson, currently a council member, is already laying plans to succeed him. This appointment will be made by the Salt Lake County Democratic Central Committee. Others are considering this, but Wilson has the advantage.
The state senate saw one Republican seat flipped with appointed Senator Zehnder losing to his democratic challenger, Senator-elect Riebe in district 8. Riebe is a member of the State School Board and won 55% to 41%.
Although there was no expectation for the Democrats to take the State House, three Republican seats flipped to blue. In District 10 incumbent Representative Pitcher retired and was replaced by Democrat LaWanna Shurtliff. Incumbent Representative Cutler had an unexpected loss to democratic challenger Andrew Stoddard in District 44.
The race that was perhaps the most neck-and-neck in the entire election cycle was for the seat in District 8. The seat has been held for years by Representative Gage Froerer who stepped down from serving in the legislature to take a seat on the Weber County Commission. Gage’s sister-in-law Democrat Deana Froerer had a nail biting race for the seat against Republican Steve Waldrip. At the end of election night, Steve was in the lead by only 25 votes. While the rest of the votes trickled in the margin between candidates would leanger around 50.1 and 49.9 percent.
Harrison vs. Bonham District 32
In 2016 incumbent LaVar Christensen won the House seat in District 32 by 3 votes against Democratic challenger Suzanne Harrison. This election cycle Christensen stepped away from the House to make an unsuccessful run for the Senate. Suzanne came back to fight for the unoccupied seat with a tenacity all prospective politicians should admire. Suzanne is rumored to have knocked on just about every door in the district and her resilience paid off with a 56% win against republican challenger Brad Bonham.
Non-binding Question 1 on Utahns ballet saw a quick death Tuesday evening with 66% opposition. Voters were asked whether or not to implement a 10-cents-per-gallon tax increase to fund public education and local roads. The increase was projected to give an additional $100 million a year to classrooms. But schools in Utah will still see an increase in budgets since the legislator negotiated in spring with Our Schools Now, the group behind the question, by passing a property-tax bill that with allott approximately $200 million annually to education.
Utah voters affirmed the most controversial initiative on the ballot by 52.75%. Proposition 2 allows Utah patients legal access to medical marijuana. But the actual outcome of this is dependent upon the discussions that have been occurring for the last two months.
The group behind the initiative, opponents, and lawmakers have been negotiating a compromise. Critics of the original language found it too broad. Law enforcement was opposed due to the concern that it allowed more than just patients access for recreational uses.
The most noteworthy of the controversial language was the inclusion of affirmative defense, allowing any individual caught in possession with any form of the plant the legal right to dispute that they have a medical condition and are ‘confident’ a healthcare professional would write them a prescription and whatever amount in their possession would be considered the dosage they would ‘likely’ be prescribed.
The Governor has called a Special Session to implement changes that will tighten the language. Corrections are expected to eliminate the affirmative defense, limit the amount of pharmacies that can be built throughout the state to (5-10), and restrict the form of consumption to just capsule. But, Utah patients will have access to marijuana.
Utahns voted in favor of a 0.15 percent sales tax increase that will provide full Medicaid expansion. By enacting Proposition 3, an estimated $90 million in state revenue in addition to federal funding will provide approximately 150,000 Utahns medical coverage. There is major concern among legislators as to the feasibility of the state funding in the long term, especially when they look to other states which fully expanded. Everyone is enduring enrollments that exceeded projections. At this point it is unknown whether legislators will step in to repeal or make any changes.
The proposition to create an advisory commission for redistricting eaked a win with 50.27% of the vote. This commission’s stated purpose is to advise the legislature as they draw boundaries for congressional, legislative, and school board districts. The caveat is they have the authority to sue the legislature for not adhering to their recommendations and block or delay implementation of these boundaries. Also, membership requirements limits potential members’ past and future political activity. As our own Frank Pignanelli pointed out in his Deseret News column, even his sainted mother, a well respected former city councilwoman would be prohibited from participation.
Constitutional Amendment C
A tug-of-war of power between the Utah legislature and Governor Herbert was decided by a 63% win for Constitutional Amendment C. The amendment will allow the Legislature to call themselves into special session, something that up until November 6th only the governor was allowed to do in the state. The genesis of this amendment stems from 2017 when U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz resigned from office and Governor Herbert refuted a legislative request for a special session to clarify the process for a replacement.
With the retirement from the legislature of both Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, both chambers selected new leadership teams after the election.
Sen. Stuart Adams from Davis County will serve as the new President of the Senate. Sen. Evan Vickers from Cedar City will be the Majority Leader. Sen Dan Hemmert from Utah County will be whip and Sen. Ann Millner from Weber County will be assistant Whip. Sen. Jerry Stevenson will continue as Appropriations Chair.
In the House, Rep. Brad Wilson has been selected as the new Speaker of the House with Rep. Francis Gibson as Majority Leader, Rep. Mike Schultz as Whip and Rep. Val Peterson as Assistant Whip. Rep. Brad Last will still serve as Appropriations Chair.
The Democrats in both chambers also retained and selected new leaders. Rep. Brian King remains House Minority Leader, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss will be the House Minority Whip, Rep. Angela Romero will continue as the Minority Assistant Whip and Rep. Karen Kwan was selected to serve as the Minority Caucus Manager. Sen. Karen Mayne will take over as Senate Minority Leader with Sen. Escamilla serving as the Minority Whip, Sen. Jani Iwamoto as the Assistant Minority Whip, and Sen.-elect Derek Kitchen will be the Minority Caucus Manager.
Final committee assignments will be announced by the end of November.