Assuming that Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson realizes he can't win re-election and wants out of this year's race, fellow Democrats face major obstacles in replacing him.
"I don't see any way they can replace him," said Deputy Lt. Gov. David Hansen who is in charge of elections for the state.Democratic leaders are caught in a strange trap. The April 15 filing deadline for candidates is past. The Salt Lake County Democratic Convention, where the party will pick its commission candidates, is Saturday.
Watson was clearly the nominee before his arrest Sunday for investigation of driving under the influence and possession of a controlled substance, believed cocaine.
But Watson isn't the only Democratic candidate.
Perennial candidate B.T. Price has filed as a Democratic candidate for Watson's seat. If Watson withdraws before Saturday's convention, Price will be the Democratic Party's candidate for Watson's two-year seat.
But Price, who calls himself the mayor of west Second South, is not an acceptable candidate for the Democratic hierarchy. He has run for Salt Lake mayor several times and not even received 1 percent of the vote.
Even if Watson stays in the race to win the nomination Saturday and eliminates Price, then gets out, the Democrats can't just pick a new candidate, said Hansen.
"The old election law used to allow someone to file, change his mind later, and then the party central committee would choose a new candidate," he said. "But that process was abused, many believed, and the law was changed several years ago."
Now, any candidate can withdraw after the April 15 filing deadline, but the party officials can only replace him within strict guidelines. "The candidate must either die, be too physically or mental ill to continue or be `disqualified' in some manner," Hansen said. If those restrictions aren't met, the party simply has no candidate on the ballot and must conduct a write-in campaign. "Disqualified" isn't defined in the law, Hansen said, and the Watson case will likely go to court to find out what that means.
"I only see two alternatives," said Hansen. In both, Watson has to survive Saturday's convention and be the Democratic nominee.
Under one alternative, Watson could legally get off the ballot and be replaced by his party if he is picked for another office. The only office for which a candidate is picked by someone else is lieutenant governor.
That means Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson would have to choose Watson to be his lieutenant governor running mate. But Watson would still have to win his party's nomination for county commission Saturday, then step down and allow party leaders to select a replacement commission candidate.
After being picked by Wilson, Watson would then get out of the gubernatorial race and Wilson would pick someone else. "I don't see them doing that," said Hansen.
Second, Watson could be nominated Saturday, eliminating Price, and then move out of Salt Lake County, thus disqualifying himself on the residency requirement. "But even then, I think the Democrats would have to go to court to get a new candidate of their choice on the ballot," Hansen said.