Republican Rep. Chris Stewart on Wednesday officially informed Gov. Spencer Cox that he would “irrevocably resign” effective the evening of Sept. 15. Later that same day, Cox announced that he would delay the state's regularly scheduled municipal elections so that a special election for Stewart's 2nd Congressional District can be held this year rather than next.
Cox’s proclamation sets the primary for Sept. 5―a full 10 days before Stewart is to leave office―and the general election for Nov. 21. The primaries and general elections for municipal races will also take place on those same days, several weeks later than the respective Aug. 15 and Nov. 7 dates they'd originally been set for.
The largest contest impacted by the change is the nonpartisan race for mayor of Salt Lake City, where Democratic incumbent Erin Mendenhall’s main foe is former Mayor Rocky Anderson of the left-wing Justice Party. (About two-thirds of the city is located in the 2nd District, with the balance in the 1st.) All of these dates are contingent on the approval of the GOP-dominated legislature in a special session next Wednesday, but there’s no indication that Cox’s plan won't pass.
Anyone who wants to run to replace Stewart needs to file by June 14, though not everyone who submits their name might end up on the ballot. Contenders have two routes to compete in the primary. The first option is to turn in 7,000 valid signatures by July 5, an expensive and time-consuming task that often causes headaches even for well-funded candidates. The other alternative is to win their party’s convention, an event that also must take place by July 5. Under the state’s special election law, though, only one person can advance out of the convention instead of the maximum of two that are normally allowed.
All of this means that, while numerous Republicans may file to campaign for this gerrymandered 57-40 Trump seat, only a few might still be in the running after Independence Day. In the 2017 special election to succeed Republican Jason Chaffetz in the old 3rd District, for instance, former state Rep. Chris Herrod’s convention victory ended the campaigns of nine different rivals.
Herrod ultimately only faced two opponents in the primary, each of whom had gathered signatures: Provo Mayor John Curtis, who also competed at the convention, and consultant Tanner Ainge, who skipped the gathering. Herrod's dominant showing among GOP delegates ultimately didn't matter, though: He lost the primary 43-33 to Curtis, who still holds the seat today.
Even before Cox had set the schedule for the special, a few Republicans had already started to prepare bids. Former state Rep. Becky Edwards, who badly lost the 2022 Senate primary to incumbent Mike Lee, set up a fundraising committee with the FEC earlier this week, and former state House Speaker Greg Hughes followed suit Thursday. RNC committeeman Bruce Hough has also submitted paperwork, while state party official Jordan Hess tells KSLN he “intends to file.”
P.S. Cox was able to schedule the special election for a not-yet vacant seat thanks to a state law that permits him to do so if a member of the House “submits an irrevocable letter of resignation.” Oklahoma has a similar provision on the books, which allowed state officials to hold a 2022 special election for the final four years of GOP Sen. Jim Inhofe’s term even though his own resignation wasn’t set to take effect until early January of this year.
Attorney Stephen Jones challenged the Oklahoma law allowing a special to be scheduled prior to an actual vacancy, arguing that there was nothing to prevent Inhofe from backtracking, but a federal court ultimately rejected his claims. The judge who heard the matter acknowledged that it was possible for an Oklahoma senator to rescind a supposedly "irrevocable" letter of resignation, noting that "it may well be that there is no other authority which might limit a senator’s ability to revoke an 'irrevocable' resignation" aside from the Senate itself.
But even though such a revocation could nullify an entire special election, the court dismissed such fears, concluding that "the possibility that the statutory process might be abused in certain circumstances does not make it unconstitutional.” Jones appealed after the general election, which saw Rep. Markwayne Mullin hold the seat for the GOP, but he was again rejected.
This week on "The Downballot," we're joined by guest host Joe Sudbay and law professor Quinn Yeargain for a deep dive into major political developments in three states. First up is Arizona, where a key GOP retirement on the Board of Supervisors in jumbo Maricopa County gives Democrats an excellent chance to win their first majority since the 1960s. Then it's on to Arkansas, where citizens are working to overturn a Republican bill that purports to ban "critical race theory" in public schools by qualifying a referendum for the ballot. Finally, we hit Michigan, where Democrats just advanced a measure to have the state add its Electoral College votes to a multistate compact that would elect the president by the national popular vote.