Ellis Ivory is getting the chance to be his party's official standard-bearer sooner than he and just about everyone else thought.
In a surprise move Wednesday, Salt Lake County Republican Party chairwoman Tiani Coleman certified Ellis — a write-in county mayoral candidate — as the party's official candidate, two weeks before a scheduled GOP central committee meeting in which members were to vote on whether to do just that.
"Time is of the essence," state GOP chairman Joe Cannon said. "Normally in political situations, it's form over substance. This is substance over form."
The central committee voted last week to throw its support behind Ivory, but GOP incumbent Nancy Workman was still in the race at that time, so it couldn't vote to make Ivory its official candidate.
Now that Workman has withdrawn, that vote is close enough, Coleman said.
"The vote on Oct. 5 clearly reflected the central committee's view," she said.
County Clerk Sherrie Swensen has said several times throughout the long Workman legal and political saga — which has continually threatened to impact the form of the ballot books that people will be using to vote — that she is worried about how to handle changes as the Nov. 2 general election looms.
While she didn't advocate anything specific, Swensen told Coleman Wednesday morning to do everything she could to expedite the party's process of choosing a candidate. The central committee meeting scheduled for Oct. 26 would give her only a few days to change more than 4,000 ballot books.
Regarding the propriety of Coleman's solution to the problem, Swensen said she only looks to see who the party certifies, not how it went about doing it.
"That's not up for me to say," she said.
Even Democratic Councilman Joe Hatch, who joined other Democrats Tuesday in saying they may legally challenge any attempt by the Republicans to replace Workman on the ballot, grudgingly said Wednesday that it's a party matter.
"That is not how the Democratic Party would have done it . . . (but) the state cannot control how they do it," he said.
Coleman submitted Ivory's name to county elections chief Julio Garcia Wednesday.
There is still some process to go through before Ivory's name appears on the ballot. Swensen said she will put the matter before the county district attorney's office and the state lieutenant governor's office to see if it passes legal muster before printing stickers with Ivory's name on them and pasting them over Workman's name on the ballot books.
The ballots themselves have no names on them — they are inserted in the voting machines next to the ballot books, which contain the explanations and candidate names.
While the county and state legal experts may look at how Ivory was certified, the bigger question is whether Workman's withdrawal was sufficient under state law to allow the Republicans to replace her.
Workman accompanied her withdrawal affidavit with a letter from her physician saying she was "disabled" and unable to continue the race without endangering her health. That on its face is sufficient to satisfy the statute, but there is some question, particularly among Democrats, whether as a legal matter Workman is "disabled" or not.
Given the situation, as a practical matter Swensen may not be able to put Ivory's name on the ballot until after the central committee meeting anyway. Hatch said no suit would be filed unless and until government lawyers say the physician note was sufficient, and Swensen, for her part, said she would not put Ivory's name on the ballot until all legal matters, including potential litigation, are resolved.
As for the central committee meeting, Coleman said it would likely go forward as planned "as an extra precaution."
Meanwhile, the three mayoral candidates for Salt Lake County squared off Wednesday night in a KSL-TV debate, just prior to the final presidential debate.
The three candidates were quizzed by KSL anchor Bruce Lindsay on a 30-minute "Decision 2004: Conversation with the Candidates."
The two most contested issues centered on Ivory. At least one of his opponents isn't comfortable with both Ivory's new prospect of being listed on the ballot, as well as his platform of not taking a salary or contributions.
"It's unlawful, dishonest," independent candidate Merrill Cook said of the ballot process, explaining he'll check public opinion first before he decides if he'll officially challenge it.
Democratic mayoral candidate Peter Corroon said he has no intention of challenging it because the public is sick of tabloid politics.
Ivory said he would definitely be better off on the ballot instead of a write-in.
"I'm extremely grateful for this unexpected event," he said.
Cook said John F. Kennedy never took a salary but that was never part of his campaign platform.
"It's fine to do but not to campaign on it," he said.
Ivory believes money is the root of the problem in county government and a no-salaried mayor is the best position to be in to fix that.
Corroon does believe wiser spending of county money is a big concern. He feels he can cut the mayor's office budget by some 30 percent because that office should set the example.
"I'm a workhorse, not a show horse," he said.
Ivory said his expertise in running a successful business — Ivory Homes — is one of his strongest points. He believes he can operate the county better than it has ever been managed.
Cook said drawing on both his congressional and business experience is his biggest advantage, saying that background "qualify him uniquely." He would take a salary but said it would be well worth the dollars.
Corroon wants to bring back trust to the office, saying ethical reforms would be his strong point.
Cook spoke firmly of hoping to consolidate Salt Lake County and city governments — even merging cities — to save tens of millions of dollars.
Ivory said he would leave the cities the way they are and simply get government closer to the people. Corroon favors coordinating growth. He believes aligning all the county planning, instead of consolidating the different government planners, would work just as well.
Regarding economic development, Ivory believes he understands development. Corroon wants the sales tax system reformed, while Cook feels consolidating cities would lead to less turf battles over economic development.
"I hope I'm the fix," Ivory said of unethical practices in county government. He feels the abuses have been around a long time.
Corroon said county employees are decent people and that the problem is with the administration.
"We need a set of easily understood guidelines for ethics," Cook said. He also wants to control developers who lean on elected officials.
In closing, Corroon said his varied background (planning, real estate, attorney) is perfect for a county mayor. Cook said he also wants to get better control over county budgets.
Ivory added he doesn't want his many campaign volunteers to relax, saying, "We're going out there into the neighborhoods."