Five Guys Without Burgers and Fries: An In-Depth Look At Upcoming 2020 Utah Governor Race

Welcome to a journey into the underbelly of Utah politics. Don't panic, we'll get through this together. You, dear reader, have stumbled upon the first piece in an ongoing series delving into the upcoming race to decide Utah's next governor. I've been asked (by myself) to compile a pros and cons list for each of the five potential candidates who registered in a recent poll. In the second installment of this series, I will submit the names of five Utahns who haven't shown up in any sort of poll but are worth consideration. The series will go on and on until I no longer find it amusing, or until I feel compelled to write Garth Brooks another 3,000 word love letter.

Let's begin at the beginning.

In November 2004, with Jason Chaffetz as his campaign manager and Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert as his running mate, Jon Huntsman Jr. was elected governor of Utah. The three Nephites of Utah politics have been at the center of power in our beloved Deseret from that point forward.

Huntsman served a full term as governor with sky-high approval ratings, got re-elected in a landslide, and then quickly resigned once President Obama appointed him Ambassador to China. He also endorsed the late Sen. John McCain over his rival Mitt Romney; delivered the nominating speech for Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican Convention; resigned his China post to run for president against his rival Mitt Romney; lost to his rival Mitt Romney; co-founded something called No Labels; contemplated running for U.S. Senate in Utah to keep his rival Mitt Romney out of power; and then, unlike his rival Mitt Romney, got a job in the Trump administration. Basically, we've witnessed the most boring political rivalry in recorded history. We should organize a contest to see which one of these machismos can chug the most Martinelli's sparkling apple juice without messing up their hair.

Herbert has been Utah's governor since August 11, 2009. That's more than nine years and counting for those keeping track at home. During his tenure, in case you haven't heard, Utah's economy has been doing a Larry David-esque pretty, pretty, pretty good. Forbes Magazine has called Utah the greatest state ever created nine years in a row. As the old saying goes, "If you've got the support of Forbes Magazine, you've got the support of the people." And boy does Herbert have the support of Forbes Magazine.

Chaffetz became the first member of Congress to represent both a congressional district (UT-3) and a foreign city (Benghazi, Libya). He then resigned halfway through a two-year term to spend more time with his Utah-based family in New York City at Fox News.

The next contest for Utah governor could bring the Huntsman-Herbert-Chaffetz era to an end, or see its continuation for many years to come. A recent poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the Hinckley Institute of Politics showed the early contenders in the upcoming 2020 race:

 
 

It's five guys without burgers and fries. Let's put them in the deep fryer and see how they handle the heat.


Jason Chaffetz

Coming in at second place behind "other/don't know," Chaffetz is leading the rest of the pack in this poll. Currently a contributor at Fox News, Chaffetz told the Salt Lake Tribune that he was a "definite maybe" when it came to entering the race. No two words better describe his political career. In fact, it's the perfect campaign slogan: "Chaffetz 2020: A Definite Maybe"

Chaffetz was a definite maybe when he asked Utahns to elect him to another full term in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016; he was a definite maybe when he floated his name to replace John Boehner as Speaker; he was a definite maybe when he emphatically said he was "out" on Donald Trump after the Access Hollywood tape, only to be all-in on Trump just days later; and he was a definite maybe when he told Stephen Colbert he could beat him in a leg wrestle (he lost).

Pros

Cons

  • Chaffetz would make leg wrestling the official sport of Utah. We'd look so dumb on our backs lifting our legs up and down while counting to three until we inevitably get entangled and more than our pride is hurt when we topple over each other.
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  • Chaffetz would let Trey Gowdy hold hearings on Obama and the Clintons on Capitol Hill.
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  • Chaffetz wants to be president. He’d be the Utah version of Chris Christie, spending most of his time on Fox News and raising money out-of-state.

Spencer Cox

The Fairview Farmer has risen to the upper-echelon of Utah politics by sheer force of personality, moving public speeches, leading on controversial issues (i.e., Operation Rio Grande), and running a Utah Jazz fan account on Twitter. The Salt Lake Tribune published an in-depth profile on Lt. Gov. Cox a while back that's still worth reading, and there's a recent interview with Cox on a podcast outside The Beehive network you may want to check out.

No one gets handed the governorship, and these five burgerless guys featured in this one poll will not be the only contenders. We should expect serious candidates to emerge who no one is talking about. But as it stands today, nevermind this poll showing results based on name ID, Spencer Cox is the frontrunner.

Pros

  • Cox is a farmer from Sanpete County, of which he is loud and proud: “Cox 2020: We Grew Extra Tomatoes This Year If You Want Some”
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  • Cox seems to genuinely care about serving other people without care for personal gain or recognition.
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  • Cox doesn’t seem to be all that impressed with politics and politicians.

Cons

  • Cox is a farmer from Sanpete County. Do farmers from Sanpete County get elected governor? And isn’t being a farmer in Sanpete County better than being governor?
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  • Cox seems to genuinely care about serving other people without care for personal gain or recognition. Who trusts that kind of guy? (The answer is everyone. I’m still keeping it as a con because I believe in the rule of threes.)
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  • Cox doesn’t seem to be all that impressed with politics and politicians. The next governor of Utah needs to be able to lead on education, housing, the LGBTQ+ youth suicide epidemic, transportation, the opioid crisis, diversity, air quality, equal pay, and the challenges associated with unprecedented economic growth. As a politician, can Cox lead other politicos and the rest of the state to achieve political outcomes that will affect the lives of millions for decades to come? As Herbert’s lieutenant governor, Cox is in danger of being painted as a continuation of the Huntsman-Herbert-Chaffetz era. Can he convince voters and leaders in his own party that he’s the guy to lead Utah onto the national stage and into a new era, focused on tackling the above issues and fighting to level the playing field for all? The answer may very well decide this whole ballgame.

Sean Reyes

Sean Reyes is Utah's 21st Attorney General and the first ethnic minority to hold that office. When this poll, which I've now devoted my life to, was released, a campaign advisor for Reyes said, "We don't give a flip about a Salt Lake Tribune poll." Now this has all the makings of a perfect political quote: unwarranted hostility, refusing to acknowledge being tied for third, and Utah's favorite euphemism, "flip."

Could Sean Reyes be Utah's next governor? I have no flippin' idea. He might just flip around later and pull this thing off. Just don't ever show him a Salt Lake Tribune poll, or he'll tell you to go flip yourself.

Pros

  • The word ‘flip’ will be IN. That’s no small thing. In fact, Reyes is already working it into his campaign: “Reyes 2020: It’s About Flippin’ Time”
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  • One of the best things Reyes has done in office is launch the SafeUT app. Someone willing to find and implement innovative solutions to keep our kids safe at school should always be part of the leadership conversation.
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  • Reyes is a charismatic figure with a die-hard following that could find some momentum in the caucus system, propelling him into the primary as a serious contender.

Cons

  • It’s hard to campaign for governor from the office of attorney general. That office has controversial issues come across its desk that don’t have easy solutions. Political opponents can seize on those issues and the decisions made to solve them.
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  • I don’t like anything Reyes has done with respect to the LGBTQ+ community. Consider this an invite to come on The Beehive Podcast to have a discussion on these issues, Attorney General Reyes.
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  • Reyes needs to improve his rapping skills if he’s going to take that act on the campaign trail.

Rob Bishop

Rob Bishop has been serving in the U.S. House of Representatives on behalf of Utah's 1st congressional district since 2003. He's currently the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Bishop has been involved in Utah politics for a long time, having served as the state's majority leader, Speaker of the Utah House, and the two-time chair of the state Republican Party. He spent 28 years as a Utah high school history teacher before turning to politics full-time.

Pros

  • Bishop is a big proponent of Space Force. He recently told the Deseret News, “The fact that Utah has been a prime player in space and the aerospace industry and space exploration for so long simply means we have a lot of expertise here in the state that I'm pretty sure will probably be exploited and used.” Has Utah been a prime player in space and space exploration for a long time? Is that even a sentence? I have no idea, but it’s now the best campaign slogan of the group: “Bishop 2020: Space Force!”
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  • Bishop is the most experienced and accomplished politician in the group.
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  • Anyone willing to devote 28 years teaching history to kids worried about hair in new places and awkward voice changes deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.

Cons

  • I can’t get over the Space Force quote. What unique connection does Utah have with space? Is he trying to pull a fast one on us and, if so, what the H-E-L-L is he up to? Why can’t politicians speak in normal sentences? Why does that quote make me feel weird? Why do any of us even get up in the morning when quotes like this exist? What the F-U-D-G-E is going on?
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  • High school history is a drag, man.
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  • Why be governor of Utah when you can join Space Force?

Greg Hughes

Greg Hughes is the current Speaker of the Utah House. The Deseret News ran a feature on Hughes in early 2017 titled "Greg Hughes might be the most powerful man in Utah politics, if he could just stay out of trouble." They compared him to Donald Trump, showed pictures of him boxing, and talked about his expensive suits and shirts that he has monogrammed with the letters LB, which stands for "Lucky Bastard," a nickname he gave himself.

Hughes is stepping down as speaker at the end of the year. This guy has all the energy, talent, and connections to be the next governor of Utah. He's also in the middle of a lot of controversial headlines and investigations.

Pros

  • Hughes owns his ridiculousness to the point of making it charming.
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  • Hughes grew up in poverty and uses that upbringing as motivation to make a difference in the world.
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  • He’s brash, larger-than-life, and wears expensive suits.

Cons

  • He’s brash, larger-than-life, and wears expensive suits. I don’t know how his campaign slogan will play with the general public: “Hughes 2020: Vote For The Guy In The $6,300 Suit, Come On!”
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  • What happened during his tenure as chairman of the Utah Transit Authority?
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  • Why did he appoint himself to the Inland Port Authority board and then have to resign?

That's my take on the five guys without burgers and fries. Now, who should be the next governor of Utah? Forget the polls, the folks with name recognition, political parties, and the current slate of contenders. If we can pick any Utahn in 2020, and we can, who should we pick? That will be the focus of the second installment in this series. If you'd like to make a suggestion, please email me at clint@thebeehive.com.

(Design: Josh Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)