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Utah Democrats want 3rd District GOP candidates disqualified from special election

Republican Chia-Chi Teng won't appeal court ruling rejecting his candidacy

Chia-Chi Teng
Chia-Chi Teng
Teng campaign

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Democratic Party wants all the Republicans running in the 3rd Congressional District to be disqualified from the special election to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon filed an objection with the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office Monday, claiming the 15 GOP candidates broke their own party rules. Corroon contends they didn't sign the Utah Republican Party's "harsh loyalty oath" within three days of the May 26 deadline for declaring their candidacies with the state.

"The candidates and the new Republican Party leadership have been caught in their own tangled political web. Under their party rules, the Republican Party and the lieutenant governor's office have no option but to disqualify the candidates from running as Republicans," Corroon said.

The Utah GOP requires candidates to file a certification and disclosure statement declaring they will abide by the party platform.

While those statements were due May 31 for the special election, the party's new leadership apparently extended the deadline until June 2. The party lists 14 candidates on its website as having filed the certification and disclosure statements.

"There's nothing nefarious going on here. It's a simple oversight," said Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson, who was elected at the state GOP convention May 20. "They're just trying to give their candidates a little bit of a boost."

Party delegates at the convention voted to extend the deadline for the statements and for other paperwork. They denoted the changes in another section of its rules, instead of in its bylaws, Anderson said Monday.

"It was one of those things where we could have done better," he said.

Mark Thomas, state elections director, said his office will review the objection. He said candidate declarations with the state can be challenged within five days of the filing deadline and that time has passed.

Meantime, one Republican will not be on the ballot.

Chia-Chi Teng has decided not to appeal a court ruling last week rejecting his attempt to remotely file as a 3rd District candidate.

Teng said in an open letter Monday to 3rd District residents that he decided to drop the case because he doesn't want to delay the special election and cost taxpayers more money. He said he also believes he's shed enough light on the issue that it's now on the Utah Legislature's radar.

"If I appeal the decision, I’m confident the Utah Supreme Court would take up the case and rule in my favor on the grounds that the Utah Constitution declares that all of us have the right to uniform operation of laws," the Provo Republican wrote.

Teng, a BYU professor and former Microsoft software engineer, apparently has also decided to not run at all, though he could get on the ballot as an unaffilated or write-in candidate if he chose to.

Teng was teaching in China during the weeklong candidate filing period in May for the special election. Utah law requires candidates to file in person at the state elections office. He sent his son on his behalf and appeared via video conference. Teng's teaching stint abroad ends June 17.

After the lieutenant governor's office, which oversees state elections, rejected his filing, Teng sued in 3rd District Court, claiming his free speech and equal protection rights were violated.

Judge Barry Lawrence last Friday ruled that Utah's in-person filing law is constitutional and reasonable. The state, however, makes an exception for federal and state employees working outside of Utah on official business.

Lawrence commented that he understood if people like Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, or then-Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. were away and weren't able to file in person to run for an office.

Teng said he "strongly" disagrees with that position.

"Clearly, a special law that gives politicians more flexibility in how they can file as candidates, but that burdens regular citizens, is not a law that is uniform in operation," he wrote.

Gov. Gary Herbert called the special election after Chaffetz announced that June 30 would be his last day in office. State election officials scheduled the election to piggyback the 2017 municipal primary and general elections. Mark Thomas, state elections director, estimated a separate election would cost about $2 million.

Teng said if he were to appeal and win, the election might be delayed and cost more money. He said he wants Chaffetz's replacement to be elected as soon as possible.

"I’d rather forego running for office than make the taxpayers foot the bill for another election," Teng wrote.

Teng took on Chaffetz in last year's GOP primary but lost by a 4-to-1 margin. He spent more than $500,000 of his own money on the campaign.