SALT LAKE CITY — One of Utah's top tea party leaders is throwing his at into the gubernatorial ring to challenge Gov. Gary Herbert in November — well, sort of.
Speaking before a debate on the University of Utah campus, David Kirkham — organizer of the Utah tea party movement — said, "It is almost virtually assured that I'll enter into the race." He added that a formal decision would likely come by week's end.
Kirkham said he is forming an exploratory committee this week to determine if a run for governor would be feasible. His intention, he said, would be to take on the governor and bring improved leadership and business savvy to the state.
"Fiscal responsibility is what I would hope to bring to the state," Kirkham said. "We're great people here in Utah … and there are great things that can come from us."
He also said, "There are better ways that the state can be run, with better leadership."
Kirkham, whose company manufactures custom sports cars, said too much of the state's budget comes from federal government funding, which presents a problem considering the spending and deficit issues that currently plague Washington, D.C.
"At some point in time, we know that they will cut those funds," he said. "It's going to take a lot of responsibility and leadership to lead the state through those times."
Kirkham also said Herbert has not done enough to make government more transparent to Utahns. If elected, his administration would make open government a top priority, he said.
He cited an issue from early last year, when state lawmakers took on Utah's open-records laws, passing and then repealing sweeping changes to the Government Records Access and Management Act after the media and the public rallied against the bill, HB477.
Herbert and GOP leaders eventually agreed to appoint a working group made up of government, media and public representatives, including lawyers and technology experts, to examine the 20-year-old act.
"The best government is the most open and most transparent government," Kirkham said.
He participated in a debate Saturday at the U., along with fellow GOP challengers Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, and former state lawmaker and congressional candidate Morgan Philpot.
Kirkham said he believes his qualifications and vision make him a better potential replacement than his counterparts.
"I believe we can do better," he said. "We have a really bright future. … (Utahns) are a tough people. No matter the crisis that we might face, we can get out of it. And it's going to take strong leadership to do that."