SALT LAKE CITY — Early election returns Tuesday indicated most incumbent lawmakers will return to their respective seats in the Utah Legislature, but there will also be plenty of new faces in House and Senate chambers come January 2019.
In what many believed to be the most competitive House race, incumbent Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, appeared to be returning to another term representing District 36, leading Republican challenger Todd Zenger, a Granite School Board member.
Arent led Zenger by 64 percent to 36 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
The race took a nasty turn earlier this week after Zenger issued a controversial, scripture-quoting mailer that suggested only he backed religious freedom. The move was met by fierce pushback, including a scriptural challenge on Twitter from Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, who strongly defended Arent.
Zenger apologized Monday evening but on Tuesday issued a response to voters in the House district noting Arent's votes on bills passed in 2011 and 2015 on abortion and religious freedom-related issues.
"Ms. Arent's voting record is the best witness of where she stands. She and I do not stand together on these freedoms of exercise of religious and moral beliefs. I entered this race to give you an opportunity to decide for yourself who best represents your values. You choose," he wrote.
Meanwhile, Democrats appeared to be en route to capturing some seats in the House and Senate previously held by Republicans.
In the Senate District 8 race, Democrat Kathleen Riebe, a State School Board member, led in early returns — 55 percent to 41 percent — over Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Holladay, who was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Sen. Brian Shiozawa. A moderate, Shiozawa resigned to accept a job out of state.
In House District 32, Democrat Suzanne Harrison was ahead of Republican challenger Brad Bonham and United Utah candidate Bjorn Jones.
Harrison lost by a handful of votes two years ago. Her Republican opponent, then-incumbent Rep. Lavar Christensen, R-Draper, gave up the seat when he opted to run for state Senate.
Former Democratic Rep. Lawanna "Lou" Shurtliff appears to be headed back to the House representing District 10. In early results, she was leading Republican challenger Lorraine Brown.
The winner will succeed retiring GOP Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden.
In Senate District 2, Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen, a Democrat, led Republican challenger Chase Winder in early returns by a margin of 77 percent to 22 percent. The winner succeeds Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who decided not to run again.
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, had a sizable lead over Democratic challenger Christian Burridge for the Senate 11 seat. GOP Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, decided not to seek re-election to the seat.
State Rep. Becky Edwards, North Salt Lake, also did not seek re-election to the House District 20 race. At press time, GOP candidate Melissa Garff Ballard was leading Democrat Ryan Jones by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent.
One other thing is certain: There will be new leadership in the Senate and House.Comment on this story
Neither House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, nor Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, sought re-election to their respective chambers. Hughes has served in the House since 2002, while Niederhauser took office in the Senate in 2007.
House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, was leading his Democratic opponent Rich Miller, 77 percent to 23 percent. He is likely seek the House speaker's position.
In Senate District 28, Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, was well ahead of Democratic challenger Mark Chambers by a margin of 77 percent to 22 percent.
In all, Utah had 90 legislative races — all 75 House seats, and 15 Senate seats — including 68 incumbents seeking re-election.