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Utah Rep. Phil Lyman launches bid for governor

Lyman announced a gubernatorial campaign Monday, becoming Gov. Spencer Cox’s first primary challenger.

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Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, testifies about his bill that would have returned Utah to in-person voting.

Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, testifies about his bill, HB371, in the House Government Operations Standing Committee at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah State Rep. Phil Lyman officially announced his campaign against Gov. Spencer Cox on Monday.

The three-term Republican lawmaker has represented House District 69 in southeastern Utah since 2019 and was a San Juan County Commissioner for eight years prior to that.

Lyman’s campaign announcement comes weeks after rumors first broke that he was considering a run. In declaring his candidacy for governor, Lyman becomes the first potential primary challenger to Cox, who has served in the position since 2021 and has said he plans on seeking reelection.

As a former chair of the Utah House of Representatives Conservative Caucus, Lyman has made a name for himself opposing mask mandates, alleging election fraud and denouncing the federal management of public lands.

In 2014, Lyman led an illegal ATV ride in a closed southern Utah canyon to protest federal land management practices. A jury convicted him on misdemeanor charges of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles, and operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles. He spent 10 days in jail and was ordered to pay $95,955 in restitution to the Bureau of Land Management. He paid off the restitution in 2020.

A month before he left office, President Donald Trump pardoned Lyman. A White House statement said Lyman has been subjected to “selective prosecution.”

In his campaign press release, Lyman noted that he was the only state legislator ever elected in Utah who was assigned a parole officer at the time of his election. His sentence included three years probation.

Lyman, who tried to get rid of Utah’s mail-in voting system after making claims of anomalies in the 2020 presidential election, raised a question about voter fraud in the 2022 Utah GOP primary election. He posted on Facebook that he had received “reports” from people claiming a voting machine changed their in-person vote for Sen. Mike Lee to challenger Becky Edwards. The state elections office said only eight voters had used the machine and were able to cast a ballot for their preferred candidates.

In the Legislature, Lyman also pushed for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 presidential election.

In his announcement sent out Monday evening, Lyman framed himself as a public official with a history of standing up for the rights of his constituents, sometimes at great personal cost.

“Sometimes you pick your fights, and sometimes the fights pick you,” the statement reads. “If we find ourselves with a government that conjures emergencies to trample our rights, then in our republic, we have the right to choose new leaders. I believe we have better roads ahead, and I’m asking my fellow Utahns for your vote.”

With a campaign slogan of “Better Roads Ahead,” Lyman says it is the Beehive State’s “lofty ideals of devotion to family and community that make Utah such a great place to live and work, to have children, to start a business, to buy a home, to work, and to play.”

But Lyman says that under current leadership, these values are under threat of erosion.

“It is wrong for the State to criminalize people for their values. People are free to choose, free to associate, free to protect themselves and their property, free to venture, free to pursue the course they believe most likely to guarantee their safety and happiness.”

Cox issued a statement through his campaign spokesman, Matt Lusty, in response to Lyman’s announcement.

“Gov. Cox was one of the very first people to contribute money to Phil’s legal defense, and he’s grateful that President Trump pardoned him,” Cox’s statement read. “The Governor is proud of his record leading the best managed state in the nation by delivering the largest tax cut in Utah history, protecting the sanctity of life, and empowering Utah parents to protect their children from the abuses of social media.”