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Utah County voters oust Republican commissioner who came out as gay

Council incumbents in Salt Lake, Tooele counties falter in primaries

Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie speaks at a 2018 press conference in Salt Lake City. Ivie lost in Tuesday’s primary to former Marine Lt. Col. Tom Sakievich.
Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie speaks at a 2018 press conference in Salt Lake City. Ivie lost in Tuesday’s primary to former Marine Lt. Col. Tom Sakievich.
Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News

PROVO — Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie — who came out as Utah’s first openly gay elected Republican last year — was one of several local government incumbents voters booted from office in this week’s election.

Ivie lost with 39.5% of the vote to former Marine Lt. Col. Tom Sakievich, who got over 60% of the vote.

Ivie said his sexuality was “absolutely” one of the reasons why he lost support in one of Utah’s most conservative counties. He said some of his critics “ran a very false narrative about me, my family, and particularly my stance on abortion.”

“It’s hard to combat those things,” he said.

Though Sakievich said Ivie being openly gay was “not an issue” in his race against him and was “never a part of the debate” in his campaign, Ivie said he experienced hate.

“Do you know what it’s like to almost daily get messages or calls telling you you’re a perversion, sinful, bringing the destruction of our society, that it’s too bad you didn’t succeed on your suicide attempt as it would have been better than to live authentic?” Ivie posted on Twitter on Thursday. “I do. ...”

Before he announced he was gay last year, sharing struggles including a suicide attempt at age 22, Ivie won the Republican nomination for the Utah County Commission seat with nearly 59% of the vote in 2016. That general election, he won the seat with 81%.

Other issues likely contributed to his downfall, Ivie said, including his support last year for the county’s first property tax hike in 23 years. Ivie and County Commissioner Tanner Ainge supported the 67.4% increase to put the county on a more sustainable financial path and address what Ainge called years of “irresponsible management” by previous county leaders who let the tax rate decrease year after year and chip into the county’s purchasing power.

Ivie also supported an effort to put the question of whether Utah County should ask voters to weigh in on a change of its form of government, which Sakievich said is something “a lot of people didn’t want.”

Ivie, however, stands by his record as one that prioritized the county’s future.

“I can leave office with a clean conscience, knowing what I did was right,” Ivie said.

Ainge on Thursday backed Ivie and denounced any hate directed at him.

“On the toughest decisions, (Ivie) chose what was best for Utah County — not his own re-election,” Ainge tweeted. “The dishonesty of those opposing him deserves to be called out and the hate mail is appalling.”

Sakievich, Ivie said, is in for a “rude awakening,” accusing him of running “a campaign based on false information.”

“He claims he can increase services, reduce taxes and pay for it all by (tourism dollars) that you can’t legally use,” Ivie said.

Sakievich, who brushed off that criticism, said he intends to explore innovative ways to retool the county’s budget, including going to the Legislature to make changes to ways the county can spend tourism dollars.

Sakievich also pledged to aim to “roll back” at least a portion, if not all, of the tax hike in January.

Ivie said he still plans to be involved in the community, particularly to combat youth LGBTQ suicide rates.

“I’ve got things I want to help with,” Ivie said. “I was taught to serve. And, in the end, God’s in control, and I’ll serve where I can.”

Salt Lake County

In Salt Lake County, another Republican councilman is on track to lose his seat.

Salt Lake County Councilman Max Burdick on Thursday was trailing Dea Theodore, with 46% of the vote to Theodore’s 54%. Burdick also lost to Theodore at the Republican convention, though he still got enough votes to make it on the ballot.

Burdick supported a property tax hike last year, which Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson proposed to address what she called a “structural imbalance” in the county’s budget as inflation has outpaced growth after six years of no tax hikes.

Burdick didn’t return a request for comment, but Theodore attributed her support for a desire for “new leadership” and frustration with the tax hike.

“The tax increase wasn’t very popular with residents in this district because nobody, obviously, likes a tax increase, and this is a hard time to get a tax increase right now,” Theodore said.

Theodore pitches herself as a “budget watchdog” who will prioritize cutting “wasteful spending.”

Theodore will likely face Democrat Terri Tapp Hrechkosy — who beat Aaron Dekeyzer with 57% of the vote — in the November general election for Burdick’s District 6 seat, which includes Midvale, Draper and Sandy areas, a well as Big and Little Cottonwood canyons.

There will also be another new face on the County Council next year, since Councilman Michael Jensen left his District 2 seat up for grabs.

Former South Jordan Mayor Dave Alvord leads former state Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, 53% to 47% for the Republican nomination in the race for the seat representing Magna, West Valley, Herriman and South Jordan areas.

If Alvord, who campaigned on a platform of “fighting for the west side” of Salt Lake County, lowering taxes and local control over development and transportation projects, keeps his lead, he’ll advance to face Democrat Deborah Gatrell in the general election.

Currently, Republicans hold a slight majority on the nine member County Council, but that could change depending on the outcome of these races in the general election.

Tooele County

Angst over growth and development in Tooele County likely contributed to the ousting of Commissioner Shawn Milne.

“I think it’s well-known that I’ve been a part of some controversial growth that our county has faced,” Milne said. “I might be able to discern that folks are unhappy with votes related to development. But I worry that if the interpretation is ‘growth is bad’ and that colors the perspective of the council going forward, that could set us back.”

Milne lost the Republican primary to Tooele City Councilman Scott Wardle by a 48% to 29% margin. A third Republican, Sarah Patino, trailed with 23% of the vote.

Milne won’t advance to the general election, when Tooele County residents will pick their first elected officials to serve on their new form of government, the Tooele County Council.

Acknowledging county residents have been resistant to housing development, Milne said he was still puzzled why they would choose Wardle, pointing out he has also played a part in development of Tooele and voted in favor of a property tax hike last year.

“Sometimes folks make a vote to say, ‘I’m unhappy and I want a change,’” Milne said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they researched it enough to know how the change would be better or not, but I don’t know.”

Wardle, who has served four terms on the Tooele City Council, has also served as chairman of the Tooele City Redevelopment Agency, and an as advisory member to the Tooele City Planning Commission, along with other roles.

Wardle said he and Milne have “approached growth from very different viewpoints,” saying he’s someone who listens to all sides of an issue and tries to find a middle ground between all parties. He said as a Tooele County councilman, he’d like to develop short- and long-range plans for development of the county as a whole, as well as plan for “better water resource development” so that doesn’t limit future growth.

“There’s a way to plan smart growth,” Wardle said. “If you don’t plan it early, it will plan itself for you. So we really have to sit down and address what this looks like. ... I’d love to say we’re going to have farms in the Tooele Valley for the next 100 years, but I don’t know what the next generation will do, or the next.”

Milne said he doesn’t know what he’ll do next, but he said he plans on staying involved in economic development, tourism or public policy. He said he leaves office feeling “honored” to serve.

“Not everybody gets the chance,” he said. “It’s not always fun. If somebody goes into this job expecting it to be rose-colored glasses, they’ve gotten in for the wrong reason.”