New state manager responds to Utah Dems lawsuit to remove him from ballot

Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, speaks in the House Chamber at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City January 27. a state office is an “attempt to silence the voice of the county”. (Desert News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The new executive director of Utah’s Division of Natural Resources, former state Rep. Joel Ferry, said the Utah Democratic Party’s lawsuit to have him overturn the November ballot was an “attempt to silence the voice of the county”.

The party filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Ferry to remove him from the legislative race.

Ferry, R-Brigham City, was appointed by Governor Spencer Cox to lead the Division of Natural Resources in late June. Pending confirmation by the Legislative Assembly, which did not meet in July, he said he would retain his seat. After receiving a favorable recommendation from a Senate committee, Ferry resigned from the Legislative Assembly ahead of his scheduled September 21 confirmation.

But Ferry said on Monday – speaking to during an international trade mission with Cox – that he planned to stay on the ballot to give voters the option to vote for the party of their choice.

The majority of the Rural House in District 1 historically votes Republican. The Democratic Party lawsuit notes that when Ferry and current opponent Joshua Hardy first faced off in 2018, Ferry got 73.7% of the vote while Hardy got 17%.

The Democratic Party said in the court filing that it believed Ferry remained on the ballot despite having “no intention of serving his community in the House if re-elected.” The party called Ferry a “strawman” on the ballot who will step down and be replaced by party leaders after he is elected.

Questioning the legality of Ferry remaining on the ballot, trial attorneys pointed to the Hatch Law, a federal law that limits the political activities of federal employees and state employees who work with federally funded programs. Lawyers said Ferry’s salary came largely from federal funding.

Ferry said on Monday that was not true and that his salary at the Division of Natural Resources came from the state’s administrative budget.

Under normal circumstances, parties can replace candidates or members of the Legislative Assembly who resign, but it is now too late to do so because the Republican Party has already had its convention, Ferry noted. He said he believed a change in the law should take place to allow parties to replace candidates before an election.

If Ferry had his name removed from the ballot, Hardy would run unopposed, which Ferry said would “disqualify” many voters in the district who would prefer a Republican nominee.

Henderson, who as lieutenant governor oversees the election, declined to remove Ferry’s name from the ballot. In a letter in August, Henderson noted that none of the Utah code criteria that would require a person to be removed from a ballot – including death, resignation due to a new physical disability or mental, incorrect ranking, or listing to run as President or Vice President of the United States – apply to this situation.

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Ashley Imlay covers state politics and breaking news for A lifelong Utahn, Ashley also worked as a reporter for the Deseret News and is a graduate of Dixie State University.

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