SALT LAKE CITY — Leaders of the recently announced United Utah Party said Friday they intend to take the state to court to get the party's executive director, Jim Bennett, on the ballot in the special congressional election.
Bennett, a former Republican, is expected to be nominated at the party's first-ever convention on Saturday to run for the 3rd District seat being vacated at the end of the month by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
But elections officials rejected Bennett's filing on the May 26 deadline for candidates affiliated with a political party because United Utah has yet to be recognized by the state. Bennett chose not to file as an unaffilated candidate by the June 12 deadline.
"The reason I am running is primarily to introduce this party and its principles to the state," Bennett said. "I want to run as a representative of a new party that is going to be competitive in the state of Utah and is going to challenge the one party state."
Bennett, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, said the state is "forcing us to take this action because they won't allow any other discussion" about accepting his candidacy.
The party's chairman, former Democrat Richard Davis, said a lawsuit is being drafted and should be filed early next week. Davis said United Utah must be seen as "quite a threat" for the state not to find a way to include Bennett on the ballot.
He said the party not being officially recognized in time for Bennett to file as a United Utah candidate is "not something that is our fault. We should have been certified by now. They kept telling us they would finish the process."
United Utah officials announced the formation of the new party and submitted the necessary voter signatures on May 25, the day before the candidate filing deadline, in the hopes the process could happen quickly.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees the state Elections Office, said the state has 30 days to process a request by a new political party. He said rules are in place to avoid "this very type of shenanigans."
The lieutenant governor said there has to be a process for any candidate to get in a race as a member of a political party. The law allows candidates to bypass a party convention by gathering voter signatures for a place on the primary election ballot.
"If other people wanted to run, with all due respect to Mr. Bennett, they deserve just as much chance as he does," Cox said. He said he expected Bennett to run as an unaffiliated candidate to ensure he was in the race.
"That was a mistake. I wish he would have done that," Cox said. "It's definitely his choice. We'll see how this plays out."
The United Utah Party is holding its convention at Corner Canyon High School in Draper, from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. In addition to nominating Bennett, Davis said officers will be elected, and a platform, constitution and bylaws adopted.
Republicans and Democrats are also holding conventions Saturday to nominate candidates to run for Chaffetz's seat. Chaffetz is set to step down June 30 for a position in the private sector, believed to be with Fox News.