SALT LAKE CITY, July 14, 2017 – Congressman Jason Chaffetz shocked the political world when he announced he was resigning prior to the end of his term, and the move was widely seen as preparatory for a run for Governor in 2020.
In this heavily Republican district, several candidates have jumped into the primary. Away from the major-party shuffling, several third-party candidates have also sought to enter the race. Joe Buchman, chair of the state’s Libertarian Party, is representing the nation’s third-largest political party. Jason Christensen is representing the ultra-conservative American Independent Party, which traces its existence back to George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign. Jim Bennett, son of the late U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, is seeking to offer a centrist alternative under the “United Utah” label. United Utah candidate Jim Bennett is a senior writer for The Jack News.
As previously reported on June 25, the new United Utah party has struggled with an impossible catch-22 in the manner that the state has interpreted its ballot access laws. Even though the party submitted enough signatures to qualify as a party, the office of the lieutenant governor, which manages Utah elections, refused to verify them in time for Bennett to submit his candidacy in the special election as the United Utah nominee.
Operating without any legislative specifics, the office of the governor and the lieutenant governor crafted a timeline that made it effectively impossible for any newly-qualifying party to participate.
In holding an open debate for the seat, the conservative free-market group Americans for Prosperity initially insisted that they would only invite the Republican and Democratic candidates “in the interest of time.”
Libertarians, including national party chair Nicholas Sarwark, noted on Twitter that this was an apparent violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which prohibits debate sponsors from picking parties to include without a “pre-established objective criteria.” AFP’s social media accounts for their Utah chapter were flooded with demands to include the Libertarian candidate.
These efforts paid off in that, on the morning of the debate, the candidates for the two established third parties participated, and received steady applause lines.
Third party candidates across the country continue to face hurdles, not only from voters, but in getting their message before voters and on ballots. (Most other developed nations have nothing like America’s restrictive and burdensome ballot access laws.)
Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign helped Libertarians secure ballot access in many states in 2016, but it’s a fight for the nation’s third-largest political party. Attempts at a centrist or middle-of-the-road third-parties often find it even more difficult, with efforts including Americans Elect, the Reform Party and others sputtering out despite polling showing voters are perpetually dissatisfied with the choice of only Republicans and Democrats.