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Jon Huntsman Jr. qualifies for primary ballot in Utah governor’s race

So does 4th Congressional District candidate, Jay Mcfarland

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Former U.S. Ambassador to China, Utah Governor and current Chevron board of directors member Jon Huntsman Jr. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., visits Rose Park Elementary School in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014.

Jon Huntsman Jr.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. qualified Monday for the June primary election ballot in the crowded Republican race for governor, just hours before the state deadline for turning in voter signatures.

Huntsman, who served as Utah’s governor from 2004-09, hit the 28,000 verified voter signature threshold shortly before noon Monday, according to the lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections. The deadline for submitting signatures was 5 p.m. Monday.

There are seven GOP candidates in the race to succeed fellow Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not seeking reelection after more than a decade in office. Huntsman joins Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright in guaranteeing a spot for himself on the primary ballot by gathering signatures.

Others — former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton and businessman Jeff Burningham — are competing for their party’s nomination only at the upcoming state GOP convention, which will be held virtually on April 25.

Jan Garbett is the only Republican candidate for governor who is not vying for party delegate support at the convention. Monday, she attempted to turn in fewer signatures by her own estimate than the number required, so her submission was rejected, state Elections Director Justin Lee said.

She has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Herbert and Cox, claiming that under the present circumstances, Utah’s ballot-access requirements violate her constitutional rights.

“But for the unprecedented limitations imposed by the government in response to the coronavirus crisis, Garbett would have met the signature threshold by the deadline,” her lawsuit says.

Garbett wants a federal judge to prohibit the state from enforcing its 28,000-signature requirement and to direct Cox to place her on the Republican primary election ballot.

Short of that, she is seeking an injunction preventing the lieutenant governor from certifying which candidates will appear on the ballot and from printing and mailing the ballots. At the same time, she wants the governor to extend the deadline for submitting signatures until four weeks after his “stay home, stay safe” directive and all local stay-at-home orders expire.

State GOP delegates can advance up to two candidates to the primary ballot, meaning there could be at least five candidates for Republican voters to choose from in June.

In the 4th Congressional District race for the seat held by Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, Republican Jay Mcfarland, a former KSL Newsradio host, also qualified for the primary ballot Monday by reaching the 7,000 signature threshold required.

Other GOP candidates in the race who already made the ballot by gathering voter signatures are Trent Christensen, a former Zions Bank vice president, and former NFL player Burgess Owens.

Former Utah GOP communications adviser Kathleen Anderson; state Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan; nurse practitioner Chris Biesinger; and businesswoman Cindy Thompson are competing for the GOP nomination only at the party’s state convention, where up to two candidates will be advanced.

Mcfarland thanked his supporters for their efforts “especially during these times of uncertainty” in an email. “We had a huge swell of support in the last week, and it has been humbling to see so many people support me and my ideals and are ready for a change.”

Huntsman had collected more than 60,000 signatures, according to his campaign spokeswoman, his daughter Abby. However, many of the signatures submitted by the Huntsman campaign were rejected, mainly for coming from Utahns who are not registered Republicans.

Abby Huntsman said in a statement, “The response by the people of Utah these past few weeks has been incredibly heartening and motivating, especially after COVID-19 made an arduous process even more challenging,” adding that “strong support shows Republican voters across the state want Jon Huntsman to be the governor.”

She said, “We play by the rules and finish by the rules, even as the events of recent weeks have made it evident that the process is in desperate need of reform. Our goal will always be to help as many people as possible be a part of the election process. We look forward to continuing that effort into the primary and beyond.”

After the new coronavirus pandemic put an end to door-to-door canvassing by campaigns, Herbert allowed Utahns to download the required form, sign it and then return it via electronic or regular mail. Huntsman had called for electronic signatures to also be allowed.

Now, Abby Huntsman said the campaign looks “forward to solidifying their support and engaging undecided voters by presenting a plan for Utah’s recovery from the state government’s shutdown of much of the state economy.”

Wright welcomed Huntsman to the primary race.

“I know how much energy and effort it takes to gather 28,000 signatures,” Wright said. “I’m looking forward to our state convention and a competitive primary, one where I can show Utah voters that it’s time for new leadership, a fresh perspective, and the business experience to get Utah moving forward again.”

Hughes said he expected Huntsman to get on the ballot, even if it had meant taking legal action.

“I was pretty sure he’d get on one way or another, signatures, delegates or judges,” Hughes said. “I’d heard all three strategies or scenarios. So I figured Gov. Huntsman would be on that ballot.”

Although there was a push to move the largely by-mail primary from June 30 to Aug. 4, lawmakers are not expected to delay the election when they meet in special session later this week. However, they will make changes to the primary intended to make the election safer.