Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert announced Friday he's postponing action on an elections complaint filed by GOP state treasurer candidate Richard Ellis against his primary opponent, Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy.
Herbert said in a statement that he's going to wait until after the June 24 primary election before deciding whether Ellis' allegation that he was offered a job by Walker to drop out of the race should be turned over to prosecutors for further investigation.
"While I have gathered information to help me determine whether a special investigation is warranted, I am concerned that any action on my part at this time could influence participation in or the outcome of the June 24, 2008, primary election," Herbert said.
Ellis called Herbert's inaction "outrageous" and said he'll consult with his attorney about his next move. That could include taking his complaint directly to the attorney general or the district attorney, or going to court to force Herbert to act, he said.
"I think the voters have a right to know what his determination is," Ellis said, expressing concern he would be hurt in the primary unless his complaint goes forward. "He's frustrating the process from moving ahead."
Walker, though, said Herbert's decision not to take action before the primary is "the prudent thing to do as far as having a fair election. I think it's a good move." Walker has denied the allegation.
The complaint stemmed from a conversation Walker and Ellis had sometime in March, in which Walker said he would not replace retiring state treasurer Ed Alter's staff if elected, including Ellis, who serves as Alter's chief deputy.
"We had a conversation. There's no question," Walker said. "Maybe he thought because I was telling him he wasn't going to be fired, that was a job offer. ... My intention was not at all for him to drop out of the race."
But Ellis said he believed Walker was offering him "an opportunity here, a spot in his administration if I were to drop out of the race." Ellis said he was told later by a supporter that such an offer is illegal.
Ellis said he didn't decide to file a complaint with the lieutenant governor's office until last week, after he was questioned by media about the conversation. "I know the timing looks horrible," Ellis said. "Politically, I don't expect it to play out very well."
Walker narrowly missed defeating Ellis at the state Republican Party Convention last month with just over 58 percent of the vote to Ellis' nearly 42 percent. Candidates need 60 percent of the vote to secure the party's nomination at convention.
Ellis is backed by Alter, who will have served as state treasurer for 28 years when his term ends in January. But Walker has many high-ranking GOP supporters, including Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
The lieutenant governor said he takes all complaints of potential election code violations seriously, including this one. But he also said that, "in particular, I do not want my actions to become a commentary or a statement of opinion on any candidate or other involved party."
Herbert's chief of staff, Joe Demma, said the lieutenant governor doesn't have a deadline for dealing with the complaint. "As chief elections officer he can hold it open as long as he needs or wants," Demma said.Demma said Herbert would not elaborate on the statement, which did not name the candidates or the nature of the complaint.