A Salt Lake County employee running for the state Senate has been told he must either drop out of the race or find a new job - a move that could affect several other legislators who are also government employees.
Robert E. Gallegos, who monitors federal community development programs for the county Job Training Development Division, is seeking the Democratic nomination in District 2 against Senate Minority Leader Rex Black, D-Rose Park.Gallegos' job is funded largely from federal money. But the federal Hatch Act prohibits state and local government employees who work for such agencies from holding elected office, said Deputy County Attorney Gavin J. Anderson.
So Anderson has issued an opinion that Gallegos must drop out of the race or find a new job.
Gallegos said he asked a Utah Public Employees Association attorney to review Anderson's opinion. "I'll wait to see what he says before I decide what to do. But I want to know how school teachers can run for the Legislature if I can't. There are also two state employees in the House."
Anderson said Gallegos may actually have a point. He said teachers might be prohibited under the Hatch Act from running for office because schools receive federal funds. "But I have never been asked to issue an opinion on that." Sixteen legislators work for public schools or universities.
Also of note, the state Constitutional Revision Commission has been proposing legislation to better outline which state employees may serve in the Legislature - a topic that became hot when state employees Rep. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, and Rep. Janet Rose, D-Salt Lake, were elected in 1986. The commission's bill, however, went nowhere in the last session.
Anderson said Gallegos' county supervisor asked for his opinion. Gallegos said he felt his supervisor had received calls from state Democratic leaders raising questions, possibly to help his opponent - whom Gallegos calls a party "kingpin" because of his position as Senate minority leader.
State Democratic Chairman Randy Horiuchi flatly denied that. "That's absolutely false. I did meet with Bob and Sen. Black in a meeting prior to the county convention to see if we could resolve differences they had. But I do that routinely in high-profile legislative races."
At the county convention last week, Black faced in-party challenges from Gallegos and George H. Searle. Gallegos earned the right to face Black in a primary election by beating Searle by a mere three delegate votes, 15 to 12. Black received 49 delegate votes.
Gallegos said he is firmly committed to running for the Senate. He said a committee of Hispanics and others on the west side asked him to run because they felt their concerns were not being adequately represented.
"I may try to get a transfer to another county division that doesn't receive federal funding and wouldn't fall under the Hatch Act. I have to talk to my wife and the committee more," he said.
"I wish someone had told me about this before I had invested $100 in the campaign," he said. "I was ill-advised from the start by the county clerk's office. When I filed, I told them I worked for an agency that receives federal funds - but they said that was fine."