The last time an incumbent Utah County commissioner faced an independent-turned-Republican in a primary race, the incumbent lost. Gary Herbert doesn't want history to repeat itself, but Jim Larsen hopes it does.
In the 1994 Republican primary, Jerry Grover, a relative political newcomer who earlier had made a bid for a commission seat as an independent, defeated Commissioner Malcolm Beck.Beck made an issue of Grover's party switch and mounted a write-in candidacy in the November general election. But Grover won the seat and now serves as the County Commission's chairman.
This year's primary - to the dismay of Herbert and the delight of Larsen - somewhat resembles the 1994 election. Larsen ran for commission as an independent two years ago but now has joined the Republican ranks in an attempt to unseat Herbert from within his own party.
Since no Democrats have filed, the Republican primary between Herbert and Larsen will likely determine who occupies commission seat C for the next four years.
Primary elections haven't been kind to Utah County commissioners in recent years. Besides Beck, fellow incumbent Richard Johnson also lost the Republican nomination in the 1994 primary. As Beck did two years ago, Herbert questions his primary election opponent's motives for jumping on the Republican bandwagon after failing as an independent.
Larsen, however, contends he has always believed in conservative Republican principles and should be welcomed into the party by those with political philosophies similar to his own. Larsen often refers to a statement he says Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch made at the county convention this year about being the party of inclusion and not exclusion.
Besides the topic of party affiliation, the two candidates agree on most of the issues in the race. Both men say Utah County's growth is one of the most important issues the County Commission must deal with. Both say the county must protect its remaining agricultural areas while shielding residents in incorporated areas from higher taxes resulting from development in unincorporated areas.
Both candidates say the Environmental Protection Agency's demands concerning air-quality standards are a menace to the county. While Herbert says he opposes the EPA's IM/240 plan and helped author the county's new Nine Point Plan instead, Larsen accuses Herbert of actually supporting the IM/240 plan.
"I think he's trying to distort my position," Herbert said. The incumbent said he did vote for an ordinance that allowed the county to avoid the EPA's wrath, but he says he has never backed IM/240.
Another charge Larsen brings against Herbert is the failed special election last year that would have allowed the county to bond in order to staff its new jail. Now, Larsen says, the jail may stand empty even after its construction is finished.
"Unlike my opponent, understand that when you ask the people for tens of millions of dollars in bonding for a new jail you should have some plan to staff it."
Larsen says he wants to explore the possibility of privatizing the jail. Counties in Texas have enacted similar measures and saved themselves thousands of dollars, he says.
Meanwhile Herbert says county officials did everything they possibly could to accurately project their budget situation with respect to the jail in the planning stages several years ago. He said despite the setback of last year's failed election, the jail will begin operating once construction is finished this fall.
Larsen said the county needs a new perspective - particularly his - on the commission. He said his business background will help him effectively plan and manage the county's budget.
Herbert, however, calls Larsen inexperienced when it comes to political, government and civic affairs. He says even Larsen's two brothers are backing Herbert because they don't want the county to operate the way their family business did with Larsen at the helm.
Herbert said his experience in county government is valuable and something the voters should remember when they go to the polls.
"I'm proven leadership, I'm steady and I'm experienced," he said.