The Week in Politics: Business Tycoon Upsets Utah Governor's Race, Where Veterans Are Serving in Legislatures and More

The most important election news and political dynamics at the state and local levels.
by | April 29, 2016
Overtstock.com executive Jonathan Johnson, left, will challenge Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, right, in the state's June 28 GOP primary. (AP/Rick Bowmer)

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Business Tycoon Upsets Utah Governor's Race

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who's had his job since 2009, is having a more difficult than expected time trying to keep it.

Last weekend, he came in second place at the state's Republican convention, failing to secure the nomination and sending him into a June 28 primary. He'll face Overstock.com Chairman Jonathan Johnson, who won 55 percent of the delegate vote at the convention, while Herbert finished with just 44 percent.

Herbert, however, starts the primary race with several advantages over Johnson. He has plenty of name recognition; $805,000 in campaign cash, compared to Johnson's $11,500; and a huge lead in the polls, 58 percent of GOP voters to Johnson's 20 percent.

Johnson criticized Herbert at last weekend’s gathering for raising taxes, for not doing enough to gain state control over federal land and for supporting Common Core curriculum standards in schools.

Herbert, meanwhile, defended his record by touting Utah’s robust economy and high graduation rates.

Johnson has also repeatedly faulted Herbert for his role with the National Governors Association (NGA), which Herbert currently chairs.

The business executive called the NGA “a left-of-center Washington D.C.-based group, led by its staff of bureaucrats.” Johnson specifically took issue with the NGA’s role in developing Common Core; lobbying Congress to let states collect online sales taxes; and helping states negotiate with the federal government to expand Medicaid to more low-income people. (All governors are invited to join the NGA, and Republicans currently hold a large majority of gubernatorial seats.)

“Utah needs to stop looking to Washington bureaucracies to solve Utah’s problems," Johnson said, according to his campaign website. "In general, I oppose increasing Utah reliance on the federal government."

The Overstock executive also pointed out that Herbert was the only Republican governor to support federal efforts to settle Syrian refugees in his state.

The winner of the GOP primary will go into the November contest with Democratic candidate Mike Weinholtz as the heavy favorite. Utah, however, hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1980.

Where Veterans Are Serving in State Legislatures

Roughly 14 percent of all state lawmakers in America have some military experience, according to a new analysis from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute.

The legislatures with the highest percentage of lawmakers who are veterans are New Hampshire (23%), Nevada (22%), Alabama (22%), North Dakota (21%) and Tennessee (21%).

Utah claimed the lowest percentage of veterans, with just 5 percent of lawmakers, followed by California (6%), Minnesota (6%), Massachusetts (7%) and Illinois (7%).

Nationally, nearly two-thirds of the state lawmakers with military backgrounds are Republicans. But Democratic veterans outnumber their GOP counterparts in Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon and Rhode Island.

Virginia Governor Gives Ex-Felons the Vote

In time for them to participate in the upcoming presidential election, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an order last week restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons in the state.

The governor, who previously restored voting rights for 18,000 residents, said his action comes in response to the fact that Virginia has one of the most restrictive laws against felons voting in the country.

“This action … means that these Virginians, who have served their sentences and returned to live in our communities, will no longer be second-class citizens who must jump through onerous hoops to have a voice in our society,” he said.

Republicans balked at the move, noting that McAuliffe did it to help Hillary Clinton in November. Most of the people who will regain their voting rights are African-Americans, a group that overwhelmingly tends to favor Democrats.

“It is hard to describe how transparent the governor’s motives are,” said William Howell, the Republican speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, in a statement.

Howell and other Republicans also argue that McAuliffe's action, which is based on the governor's authority to grant pardons, violated the state constitution. The charter requires governors to report those actions on a case-by-case basis to the state legislature.

The issue of restoring felons’ voting rights is often tinged with partisan accusations. As The New York Times reported, Matt Bevin, the newly elected Republican governor of Kentucky recently rescinded an order from his Democratic predecessor much like the one McAuliffe issued last week. And in Maryland, the new GOP governor vetoed a measure passed earlier this year by the state’s Democratic legislature to restore voting rights -- but the legislature overturned that veto.

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