clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Presidential election 'Trumps' biggest stories of 2016 in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn't looking good for Donald Trump.

The Republican presidential nominee acknowledged in August that he was having a "tremendous problem" in Utah, labeling it "a different place." Roughly five months earlier, he had finished third among GOP voters behind Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the state's presidential preference caucus vote.

Then came the October release of a damning 2005 video in which Trump could be heard bragging to pseudo-celebrity Billy Bush about the perks of actual celebrity, specifically as it relates to women.

"I just start kissing them. … And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," Trump is heard saying, followed by a vulgar description of sexually assaulting women — comments he later dismissed as "locker room talk."

The fallout in Utah was strong and swift. The Deseret News called for Trump to "step down" from the presidential race in an editorial that gained national attention.

Utah political leaders jumped off the billionaire businessman's bandwagon, too, though most returned to their reserved seats when it became clear that either Trump or Democrat Hillary Clinton would become the 45th president of the United States.

It was a strange election year to be sure, one that saw reliably red Utah sneak into the spotlight as a swing state — if only momentarily — along the path to the presidency.

And that's why the 2016 presidential election and the role Utah played in it ranks as the top story of the year, as selected by editors of the Deseret News.

By the time the votes were counted — and that, too, came with a slew of challenges in Utah — Trump had secured 45.5 percent of the vote to win the state, followed by Clinton with 27.5 percent. In third place, with 21.5 percent of the vote, was, in Trump's words, "some guy I had never even heard of."

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

That guy is Evan McMullin, a BYU graduate and former CIA counterterrorism officer who ran an independent campaign as a conservative alternative to Trump. McMullin got into the race in August, and by October was polling as a credible threat to Trump in Utah before losing momentum.

Clinton, too, saw an opportunity in Utah, and though she didn't visit the state during her campaign, she set up an office in Salt Lake City and sent surrogates to the state to rally support. She also penned an editorial in the Deseret News, quoting and referencing leaders of the LDS Church, as well as citing values she shares with the state's predominant faith.

Trump submitted an op-ed to the Deseret News, too, though it was a more generic plea for support from conservative voters that Boyd Matheson, president of the Sutherland Institute, called a "hodgepodge" of stump speeches.

The now-president-elect made one of those stump speeches in March at the Infinity Event Center, the same venue where Trump's vice presidential pick, Mike Pence, later urged Utah Republicans to "come home" to the GOP during an October visit.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Other presidential candidates who made stops in Utah in 2016 included Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who attracted thousands of Utahns at a pair of rallies in March and just days later trounced Clinton in Utah's presidential preference caucus with 79 percent of the vote; Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson ended up with just 3.5 percent of the vote in Utah; and Republicans Cruz and Kasich get 68 percent and 17 percent of the vote, respectively.

Trump, Cruz and Kasich also were scheduled to debate in Salt Lake City in March, but Trump and Kasich pulled out less than a week before what would have been the 13th debate among the Republicans running for the White House since August 2015.

Earlier in March, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, trashed Trump during a speech at the University of Utah, labeling the then-GOP front-runner "a phony" and "a fraud."

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Romney took a much different tone following the November election, when he was being considered as Trump's secretary of state, a position that ultimately went to Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

Official results showed that slightly more Utah voters cast ballots in the 2016 election than in 2012, when Romney was on the ballot. State elections officials said 80.4 percent of active registered voters cast ballots this November, compared with a little less than 80.2 percent in 2012.

Despite the impressive turnout, some counties holding vote-by-mail elections struggled to collect those ballots because officials underestimated how many people preferred to vote at polling stations on Election Day. That resulted in long lines and wait times of as much as four hours at some polling places.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

2. Fallen heroes

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Three men lost their lives in 2016 while honoring their commitment to protect and serve their fellow Utahns.

In January, Unified police officer Doug Barney, 45, an 18-year law enforcement veteran and a cancer survivor, was working a Sunday morning overtime shift to help pay for medical expenses when he was shot and killed.

Barney was shot in Holladay while checking on a man who left the scene of a traffic accident. His parter, Jon Richey, also was shot — with one bullet going through both his legs — but survived.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

"He was a master of his trade," retired Unified Police Lt. Chris Bertram said during the funeral for his fallen colleague and longtime friend. "He dedicated his life to this department and to his brothers and sisters in blue."

Two more of Utah's finest were taken from their families and communities in November.

West Valley police officer Cody Brotherson was killed in the line of duty on Nov. 6 while attempting to help other officers stop a fleeing stolen vehicle.

On Nov. 18, Utah Highway Patrol trooper Eric Ellsworth was hit by a car while trying to direct other vehicles around a traffic hazard along a rural stretch of state Route 13 in Box Elder County. He died four days later.

Brotherson, 25, was outside his patrol car, which was parked nearby with its emergency lights flashing, at the intersection of 4100 South and 2200 West when he was hit by three juveniles fleeing from pursuing officers.

Brotherson fulfilled a childhood dream when he became a member of the city's police department, family and friends said.

"When Cody put on his uniform, he had pride in it," former West Valley police officer Joseph Fedak, one of Brotherson's closest friends, said during the officer's funeral. "He was an officer in the city that he loved, the city he grew up in, and I believe that's where the pride came from."

Ellsworth, 32, was with UHP for seven years, following in the footsteps of his father, Ron Ellsworth, who joined the UHP in 1972 and served until his retirement in 2001.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

"The Utah Highway Patrol has suffered a tremendous blow," Utah Department of Public Safety Col. Michael Rapich said. "He was one of our heroes."

3. Homelessness

Photo credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Significant steps were taken this year in the state's ongoing efforts to address the symptoms of homelessness and its associated problems, particularly in Utah's capital city.

Salt Lake leaders earlier this month announced the sites of four homeless resource centers, the result of a two-year process to reform and realign the system of homeless services.

The locations — 653 E. Simpson Ave., 275 W. High Ave., 131 E. 700 South and 648 W. 100 South — will provide shelter and services to no more than 150 people each.

The new focus for addressing homelessness also includes plans to close the Road Home shelter in the Rio Grande neighborhood, which in recent years has been marred by unsanitary conditions, drug trafficking and other crime, and overall safety concerns.

Salt Lake City Councilman Derek Kitchen, who represents the downtown area, said the shelter's closure will be a "huge relief" to Rio Grande.

Resource centers are planned to provide emergency shelter but also offer a wide array of services on-site.

In addition to developing new homeless resource centers, work is underway among the city, Salt Lake County and state to encourage development of affordable housing.

Other efforts this year to get to the root of the problems associated with homelessness included Operation Diversion, a coordinated endeavor between the county, city and drug treatment providers to strategically attack the drug market that has permeated the downtown homeless population.

Rather than a centralized crackdown on crime, law enforcement took what Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder called "a smarter approach" to separate down-on-their-luck Utahns from the criminals who prey on them.

Under the program, those arrested in spillover areas near the downtown shelter — mostly for drug-related or public intoxication offenses — were taken to a receiving center.

There, public defenders, criminal justice officials and social workers waited at the ready. Each person underwent an assessment, and many were given a choice: Accept immediate treatment or go to jail.

Salt Lake County committed $1.2 million and Salt Lake City added $150,000 to fund drug treatment for about 150 people for six months and at least 18 months of criminal prosecutions as part of Operation Diversion.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has said he plans to ask the Utah Legislature to help the county continue that $1.2 million investment in the program.

Earlier this year, the Legislature appropriated the first of what state lawmakers envision as a three-year, $27 million commitment to the state’s services for people experiencing homelessness.

4. Teenage violence

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Incidents of violence by teenagers also made headlines in 2016, and at least three people — including a police officer — lost their lives and several others were injured due to reckless, excessive and even criminal actions.

In June, two people — Maddison Haan, 20, of West Point, and Tyler Christianson, 19, of Ogden — were killed when police say a 16-year-old girl attempting to commit suicide purposely slammed her Chevy Tahoe into the victims' Hyundai Accent. Marilee Patricia Gardner had stolen the Tahoe from her parents' home in Layton and was on her way to meet a 17-year-old friend in Roy, police said.

Gardner was planning on "purchasing drugs, taking the drugs and then crashing her mother's car with both of them inside in an attempt to kill themselves," according to charging documents. She was allegedly fleeing from an officer who tried to pull her over when she slammed into the back of the Hyundai while going almost 100 mph.

Three teen boys — ages 14, 15 and 15 — each have been charged in juvenile court with murder in officer Brotherson's death. The boys were allegedly fleeing from police in a stolen vehicle on Nov. 6 when they hit and killed Brotherson as he attempted to lay out a tire spike strip.

In October, a 16-year-old boy was critically injured and a 14-year-old boy was arrested following a shooting outside Union Middle School in Sandy. The 14-year-old boy has been charged with attempted murder after police say he shot Joshua Cordova, a 16-year-old Hillcrest High student, during a planned after-school fight allegedly over a girl.

In November, a Mountain View High student went to school with five knives and a wooden stick and randomly stabbed or cut four students in the boys locker room and hit a fifth over the head with a bo staff, according to police. None of the injuries were life-threatening.

In December, a 15-year-old Mueller Park Junior High student took two guns — a 12-gauge shotgun and a 9 mm handgun, as well as ammunition for both weapons — to the Bountiful school. The teen fired one blast from the shotgun into the ceiling of a classroom in front of 26 students and a teacher, witnesses reported. A teacher and a student in the class, who was a friend of the boy, spoke to him, urging him not to do anything else, according to police. While the boy hesitated, his parents — who had followed the boy to school and heard the shot — came running in to disarm and restrain him.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

And in April, Darwin Christopher Bagshaw, who was 14 when he violently beat his 15-year-old girlfriend Anne Grace Kasprzak in an isolated area of the Jordan Parkway and left her lifeless body in the Jordan River, was ordered to serve 15 years to life at the Utah State Prison.

5. Bears Ears

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

In case you missed it, President Barack Obama this week declared the region of southeast Utah known as Bears Ears as a national monument, attaching to it the protections and restrictions of the federal designation.

The question of will he or won't he lingered throughout 2016, and voices on both sides of the issue grew louder as the year went on.

With a stroke of a pen while vacationing in Hawaii, Obama angered Utah elected officials and thrilled a group of Native American leaders with the 1.35 million-acre designation.

The region is viewed as a sacred area to the tribes, boasting more than 100,000 cultural relics. It is also home to world-renowned rock climbing, potash deposits, uranium, and potential oil and gas development. With the monument designation in place, any new oil and gas development is now off-limits, as is any new mining.

Over the years, those on both sides of the monument debate agreed the remote and rugged region needed additional protection. How that should be done, however, was the source of much contention.

Utah elected officials already are calling on the Trump administration to reverse the proclamation and have vowed to file a lawsuit challenging Obama's use of the Antiquities Act in this case.

Some have pointed to the failure of Utah Rep. Rob Bishop's massive Public Lands Initiative to move forward as a reason Obama took action in the waning days of his administration.

Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the designation ensures the Utah land will be protected where legislation has failed.

Goldfuss also noted that the designation comes with a first-of-its-kind tribal commission with elected leaders from each of the five Native American tribes who will serve as commission members.

Utah's fight over control of federal lands in 2016 wasn't limited to Bears Ears. State lawmakers in March committed $4.5 million to a lawsuit in the fight to get ownership of 30 million acres of federal lands.

Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi, sponsored HB287 during the 2016 Legislature to establish a special public lands litigation account for a $14 million fight against the U.S. Department of the Interior to get control of lands that proponents say were promised at statehood.

6. Growth and prosperity

Photo credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in December showed that Utah is the fastest-growing state in the nation, with its population increasing by 2.03 percent from July 2015 to July 2016.

Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, said economic opportunity is driving the growth in Utah's population, which this year topped 3 million.

Though Utah continues to boast the nation's highest birth rate, lowest death rate and youngest population, only about 60 percent of the state's population growth in the past year came from such natural increases.

The rest came from net migration — the number of people moving to Utah versus the number moving out. Perlich called the proportion of net migration in Utah "pretty amazing."

The Kem C. Gardner Institute and Gov. Gary Herbert celebrated Utah's 3 million population milestone in October, but December's estimates marked the first time the U.S. Census Bureau has confirmed that benchmark.

Meanwhile, the state's economy has continued to thrive in 2016, financial experts said. The volume of office buildings and commercial projects under construction as the year comes to an end is at a near record pace along the southern Wasatch Front — much of that in the heart of Utah's tech hub known as the Silicon Slopes.

The planned relocation of the Utah State Prison opens the area for even more development at Point of the Mountain. In all, there's roughly 20,000 acres of undeveloped land between Main Street in Lehi and 9000 South in Sandy.

Earlier this month, Envision Utah launched an intense study process to collect the best ideas from local leaders for how to build out those 20,000 acres in the coming decades.

7. Gary Ott

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Questions surrounding Salt Lake County Recorder Gary Ott's health first came to light after the Deseret News published an investigative report in February.

The investigation was sparked by a bizarre January night incident when police found a shivering and incoherent Ott stranded on a rural highway west of Tooele in freezing temperatures. Body-camera footage showed Ott confused, unable to answer simple questions or unable to perform simple tasks, such as hand his ID to a police officer.

Following the incident, interviews with Salt Lake County workers — coupled with police reports and a past investigation into Ott's office — raised concerns about the 64-year-old recorder's health and whether he was actually running his office or had the capability to do so. Some claimed worries about Ott's health have lingered for years, even before his 2014 re-election.

Ott has declined to comment to the Deseret News about his health, saying in a February interview, "There's reasons I can't do things, so that's what it's going to be."

County employees and some Salt Lake County Council members alleged that Ott's top staff — his deputy, Julie Dole, and his governmental affairs liaison, Karmen Sanone — have been doing Ott's job for him, perhaps covering for him and downplaying his condition.

Dole and Sanone consistently have denied such allegations, but the women routinely answer questions on his behalf — sometimes when he is directly asked a question.

Throughout 2016, questions surrounding Ott’s health intensified, and the council ordered an audit into his office. The audit found Ott has "very little oversight or involvement" in the office and that his duties were "almost exclusively delegated to the chief deputy recorder and senior management."

Soon after, the council attempted to question Ott about the audit, but during the meeting, the recorder seemed confused and unable to answer questions coherently.

Since then, Ott has remained in his position, but elected officials and some state lawmakers have pondered whether state law should be changed because there is no mechanism in place for elected officials' capabilities to be evaluated, other than by voters during election years.

Meanwhile, a County Council member told the Deseret News at least two state investigations regarding Ott's well-being have been underway. While the Utah Department of Human Services hasn't confirmed its investigation citing privacy concerns, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said his office has been working with the Utah Attorney General's Office on an investigation regarding Ott. ​

8. Brussels bombing

Charlie Ehlert

Four missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were among those wounded during a terrorist attack in the Brussels airport in March.

Richard Norby, 66, of Lehi, suffered the most serious injuries in the attack and spent 64 days recovering in hospitals on two continents. The two bombs pelted him with shrapnel, broke his left leg and burned 35 percent of his body.

Two other injured missionaries also hailed from Utah — Mason Wells, 19, of Sandy, and Joseph Dresden Empey, 20, of Santa Clara. Frenchwoman and sister missionary Fanny Clain, 20, also was injured.

LDS Church

Wells spent more than five weeks and underwent multiple surgeries in Belgian and Utah hospitals before returning home; Empey spent about two weeks in hospitals; and Clain needed more than three weeks in Belgian hospitals to recover.

Norby was serving in the Brussels area on a mission with his wife, Pam. All of the missionaries involved had been serving in the church's France Paris Mission.

9. Shurtleff cleared

Francisco Kjolseth

Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was cleared of public corruption charges in July, marking the end to a prolonged legal saga that sullied Shurtleff's reputation and tarnished Utahns' trust in the state's top law enforcement office.

Shurtleff's successor and former co-defendant John Swallow still faces criminal charges.

"For three years now, I have been absolutely proclaiming my innocence that these charges were misfiled, that they're based on false information, that what people have been reading and hearing in the news media is all a false narrative," Shurtleff said in July.

The former three-term Republican attorney general faced five felonies — three counts of accepting gifts, and one each of bribery to dismiss a criminal proceeding and obstruction of justice — and two misdemeanors accusing him of obstructing justice and official misconduct. A trial was scheduled for late October. He faced up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Charges against Shurtleff had alleged, among other things, that he made two trips to the Pelican Hill Resort near Newport Beach, California, paid for by Marc Sessions Jenson, who was being prosecuted by the attorney general's office for selling unregistered securities.

Shurtleff was also accused of staying at a home and flying on a corporate jet owned by now-convicted St. George businessman Jeremy Johnson.

10. Harrison crime spree

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Dereck James "DJ" Harrison and his father, Flint Wayne Harrison, left a wake of destruction after police say they attempted to take a woman and her daughters hostage, then fled across state lines with a Utah Transit Authority worker in tow, eventually killing him.

The Harrisons' almost five-day alleged crime spree began May 10 when the men lured a Clinton woman and her daughters — ages 13, 15, 17 and 18 — to a Centerville home, where they bound and assaulted them until the younger girls broke free and ran for help.

The men fled and the next day kidnapped UTA employee Kay Ricks from a Salt Lake TRAX stop where he was working and drove him in his UTA vehicle to Wyoming, where they brutally killed him and left his body on a rural road, police said.

Flint Harrison killed himself in a Davis County Jail cell on July 25.

DJ Harrison took a plea deal in the Utah kidnapping case, admitting to five counts of aggravated kidnapping, while 11 additional charges were dismissed. He was sentenced to at least 30 years and potentially life in prison.

The younger Harrison is currently awaiting extradition to Wyoming, where he is charged with murder in the first degree for Ricks' death, a charge carrying a potential death sentence.

Contributing: Katie McKellar, McKenzie Romero