Utah's tough election law makes if difficult for embattled Salt Lake County Mayor Nancy Workman to be removed from the ballot, but it will be changed come the 2005 Legislature, House Speaker Marty Stephens predicted Wednesday.
"But nothing will be done to it in time to affect (Workman's) situation," said Stephens, R-Farr West.
Utah's 104 part-time lawmakers gathered Wednesday for a special legislative session and in their monthly study committees. Workman's problem was not officially before lawmakers but her "very difficult situation," as Stephens put it, was the buzz in the hallways.
"I think (the restrictive law) will be changed, but only after some discussion, thought and public hearings" afforded in a more leisurely 45-day general session, said Stephens, who retires from public office at the end of the year.
A new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted last week by Dan Jones & Associates found Workman, who has been charged with two felony counts of misusing of public funds, has only 12 percent support to Democrat Peter Corroon's 43 percent. Independent candidate Merrill Cook has 20 percent support, Jones found.
Stephens said he has been in brainstorming sessions with other Republicans where it was discussed (without Workman being present) what options were open to Workman and/or GOP leaders to get her out of the race and replace her on the Nov. 2 ballot all assuming she would agree to do that. He declined to say what options may have been discussed.
Current law allows a candidate to be replaced under three conditions: The candidate either dies, is certified by a physician as mentally or physically unable to continue in the race or becomes a candidate for president of the United States.
The latter provision, added in 2000 so U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, could run for president and seek re-election to his Senate seat at the same time, has been discussed in the Workman case, confirms Amy Naccarato, state elections executive director.
Naccarato said she's had calls from people asking if Workman could file as a write-in candidate for president and then get out of the county mayor's race. The write-in deadline is not until 14 days before the general election.
While state election law does not specifically address how a presidential write-in candidate is handled, Naccarato said it is her informal opinion that such a process wouldn't be allowed. "The law seems to say there must be some kind of nomination process (by a recognized political party) to the president" post, she said. And that certainly hasn't happened in Workman's case.
A presidential candidate would have had to file for the presidency in Utah at the mid-March candidate filing deadline (and at the same time filed for the other Utah office they were running in) and then have to make a choice of races after actually winning their party's presidential nomination, said Naccarato.
Workman was never running for president, only county mayor.
And so far, Workman says she's continuing her re-election effort. She launched a television-ad campaign last week. The ad obliquely refers to the charges against her, with various people saying "it's just politics" and "they should just let her do her job."
Stephens said, "We (Republicans) do care about her race. The county budget is like the second largest in the state, behind the state budget. And it is an important post."
He added that a number of Republicans are worried a politically-crippled Workman could drag down some other GOP candidates on the ballot.
"It all depends on the voters' minds" come Election Day, Stephens said.
Sixteen GOP House members face re-election this year in Salt Lake County. And a few, like Reps. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, and Chad Bennion, R-Murray, narrowly won in 2002 and are targeted by the Democratic Party this year.