Owens knocks out Jarrett in Utah Legislature race

Utah Rep. Derrin Owens, addresses the delegates at the Sanpete County Republican Convention. The next day he cinched nomination at the Utah Republican convention.


Owens knocks out Jarrett

in Utah Legislature race


Even though Sunderland swamps Atkinson
in county GOP convention, both go to primary


By James Tilson

Staff writer

Apr. 26, 2018


WEST VALLEY CITY—Claudia Jarrett, who has announced her retirement after four terms on the Sanpete County Commission, lost out in her bid to step up to the Utah Legislature last weekend and, at least for now, appears to be out of local politics.

In balloting at the Republican State Convention last Saturday, April 21 in West Valley City, incumbent Derrin Owens got 36 delegate votes, while Jarrett got 16. That gave Owens 69 percent of the votes in Utah House District 58, which takes in most of Sanpete and populated parts of Juab County.

Owens only needed 60 percent to avoid a primary and go on the final election ballot as the Republican nominee. Both counties are overwhelmingly Republican. In Sanpete County, fewer than 10 percent of voters are registered Democrats. Generally, the candidate who gets the Republican nomination easily wins the final election.

Most years, the Republican candidate has no Democratic Party opposition. But this year, Democrat Lynn Zaritsky of Mt. Pleasant, a retired educator and disability advocate, has filed for the seat.

It was the second time Jarrett and Owens have faced off. But in 2015, when Jarrett and Owens competed at a special Republican caucus to replace Rep. Jon Cox, who had resigned from office, the race was much closer. On a second ballot, Owens got 29 votes, while Jarrett got 26. That gave Owens the majority of the 55 delegate votes cast.

Retiring County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett speaks to the Sanpete County Republican Convention last Friday April 20.

A Republican Party leader suggested Jarrett’s long service on the county may have hurt more than helped her. “The longer you’re in a position, the more people you can offend,” he said.

And, the party leader said, Owens has a reputation for doing a good job. He has worked with Rep. Mia Love of Utah’s 4th Congressional District. The fact she mentioned his name during her speech at the Sanpete County Republican Convention the day before the state convention might have helped Owens.

At the county convention Thursday, April 19 at Manti High School, Edwin Sunderland, a retired dairy farmer and long-time chairman of the Sanpete Water Conservancy District, got 72 percent of the 240 delegate votes in a race against Justin Atkinson, a Mt. Pleasant councilman, for county commission.

In past years, a candidate winning 70 percent in a Republican county convention became the party nominee and other candidates were knocked out of the race.

However, Atkinson took advantage of a measure passed by the Utah Legislature a few years ago that provides an alternative route to nomination. Because the Utah Republican Party was challenging the law in court for several years, this is the first year the measure has been in effect.

Under the law, a candidate in Sanpete County who gathers 288 signatures automatically goes on the primary election ballot. Atkinson got the signatures, so he and Sunderland will run against each other in the primary election June 26. The winner will go on the final election ballot as the Republican nominee for county commission. There is no Democratic opposition in the race.

In speeches at the county commission, Sunderland and Atkinson both addressed whether candidates should have the option to seek signatures instead of having delegates decide who should represent the party in an election.

Sunderland came out for the caucus process and against allowing signatures for candidates. He said signatures “open the door to special interest groups.”

Atkinson said he had his own reasons for gathering signatures that go beyond politics. “I would be happy to share them at another time,” he said.

He added that gathering signatures would honor the commitment of his volunteers, would signal his own commitment, and he felt that a candidate should pursue all legal means of running for office.

Sunderland talked about his experience as a farmer, as a member of the Utah Farm Bureau Board of Directors for 10 years, as chair of the Sanpete Water Conservancy District for 20 years, and his recent appointment to the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

His most important issues were taxation, calling it “a double edged sword,” and growth in Sanpete County. “We want quality people to come here and be part of this county,” he said.

Atkinson spoke of his faith as an important part of his daily life, and how he felt inspired to run for office. He told the audience he had been attending the mayors-and-commissioners meeting in January when Jarrett announced her intention not to seek re-election.

“It was at this moment where it struck me like a bolt of lightning that I should consider this singular opportunity.”

Atkinson said his biggest concerns were public safety functions for the county, the drug problems in the county, and continued economic development through tourism and agriculture.

In her talk, Rep. Love, R-Eagle Mountain, stressed the importance of voting this fall. “This race should be personal (for voters in Sanpete County). When we get out and vote, we cancel out the liberal votes in Salt Lake County.”

The 4th Utah Congressional District, which Love represents, stretches from southern Salt Lake County to northern Sanpete County.

Love does not face a Republican challenger, but several hopefuls are vying for the Democratic nomination. She called out Ben McAdams, the former mayor of Salt Lake County, who is considered the Democratic front runner, and told delegates, “Nancy Pelosi wants the gavel, and she wants this seat.”