PROVO Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. will select the replacement for former Rep. Jeff Alexander in the state Legislature after Republican delegates in Alexander's Provo House district winnowed 10 candidates to two Tuesday night but failed to give either a supermajority.
Huntsman will meet today with the two finalists, gun-range manufacturer John Curtis and entrepreneur Chris Herrod. Huntsman's chief of staff, Mike Mower, said the governor's goal is to make a decision soon to give the new legislator as much time as possible to prepare for the 2007 session that begins Jan. 15.
Curtis and Herrod finished in a virtual dead heat, 37-36, on the final ballot Tuesday night at Rock Canyon Elementary School, but the finalists were the biggest surprise, not the closeness of the race.
The owner of Action Target, a Provo business, Curtis ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in 2000 against state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, but a far more recent act clearly miffed some delegates Tuesday night: Curtis didn't register as a Republican until Nov. 30, nearly two months after Alexander announced he would give up his seat in the Utah House and the same day news reports announced the process to replace him.
Alexander's resignation came a month before the November election, too late to replace him on the ballot, and he won what would have been a ninth term because he was unopposed. The process to replace him mirrored a county Republican convention, where a pool of candidates is whittled down to two through multiple ballots.
If neither of the two final candidates at a convention manages to win 60 percent of the vote, the result is a primary. In this case, the decision goes to the governor's desk.
Curtis said he disclosed his past to the delegates of House District 62 and told them he was a lifelong Republican who only switched parties in an effort to give Utah County voters more choices at the ballot box.
"I've been a Republican my whole life," he said. "I joined a dramatic attempt to align the Utah County Democratic Party with Utah County values, and we changed the county party platform to reflect personal responsibility and to a pro-life position. My values have never changed. My beliefs have never changed."
Curtis had switched his voter registration to unaffiliated last spring, county GOP chair Marian Monnahan said.
Herrod was a political unknown who was stunned at making the last ballot in a race that included former state Sen. Chuck Stewart, well-known attorney and rare books collector Brent Ashworth and former Provo City Councilman Paul Warner.
"It's shock and awe," said Herrod, who admitted in his opening speech that other candidates were more polished and, displaying his nerves, momentarily referred to Alexander as Jeff Valentine.
Herrod graduated from Brigham Young University with degrees in international relations and family living and earned a master's from BYU in organizational behavior. He taught free markets at Eastern European universities for three years and is involved now in real estate development.
Stewart said Herrod, Curtis and David Starling the last of the other candidates to be eliminated earned the votes with their work.
"I did not go out and campaign as hard as the five who survived the longest in the voting, and even some I beat," Stewart said. "I have no illusions about what it's like up there (in the Legislature). It took a toll on my family, and it took a toll on me personally."
Rulon Garfield did not attend the election but said the effort made by most of the candidates monopolized the time of delegates.
"I got 10 phone calls a day for two weeks," delegate Doug Lund said. "I spent an hour a day reading e-mails. It made me feel really powerful, but I think it was harder on the delegates than on the candidates."
Among the District 62 delegates were Bramble, Provo Mayor Lewis Billings, Utah County Commissioner Steve White and Utah County Sheriff James Tracey. Steven R. Covey and Janice Kapp Perry nominated Warner, Congressman Chris Cannon, R-Utah, spoke and Utah Senate President John Valentine acted as rules chairman. A total of 73 of 86 eligible delegates, or 85 percent, attended and voted.
The first ballot created a bizarre comedic scene when three candidates tied for the last spot to advance to the next round. Two needed to be eliminated, and Valentine announced that party bylaws called for a coin toss.
The three candidates and the Senate president crouched together to toss the coins on the stairs in the front of the gym. Nine times in a row, all three tosses were the same, either all heads or all tails. Finally, on the 10th toss, one was different, and the other two were eliminated.Laughing afterward, Valentine said, "That's why we don't allow gambling in Utah County."
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