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Commissioner who signed controversial mask mandate resigns to join governor’s board

SHARE Commissioner who signed controversial mask mandate resigns to join governor’s board

Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge poses for a portrait in his office in Provo last July. Ainge is stepping down from the commission.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge, who faced political fallout last year due to a mask mandate amid the pandemic, announced he will resign from the commission as he accepted a position on the Governor’s Economic Development Board.

“It has been a great privilege to serve on the board of commissioners. Our community’s strong values and families, our vibrant economy and beautiful outdoors will make Utah County a source of strength in our state and nation for decades to come,” Ainge said in a letter to other county commissioners this week.

He promised to remain involved in the community “as a parent, neighbor, voter and investor.”

Ainge, a member of the Utah National Guard, was recently sent to training in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he will remain until May 14. Ainge planned to stay on the commission remotely until then but “the level of responsibility on both fronts has been quite high,” he said.

Utah law requires elected officials who plan to continue performing their role while on active, full-time military duty to provide a written confirmation of their intentions within 10 days after arriving at their place of deployment.

Because he did not submit such a notice, Ainge said a temporary vacancy for his position “already exists” and needs to be filled through special election.

“Because my wife, Heidi, and I decided several months ago that I would not seek another term, having the county party hold an election in my absence — only for me to return and vacate the seat again — does not feel like the right path forward,” Ainge said in the letter.

“Instead, I am offering my notice of resignation and pledge to make myself available for a smooth and orderly transition,” he sad.

Utah County Republican Party Chairman Stewart Peay said Wednesday the party has between 30 and 40 days to give the County Commission the name of Ainge’s replacement. Within the next week or so, the party will open a filing period for potential candidates, he said.

“We’re really grateful for the work Tanner did for the county, for his engagement with a lot of different issues, for his leadership, and we wish him well in his new adventures,” Peay said.

The party has a convention already scheduled for April 24. Peay said leaders will likely hold a central committee vote on the replacement during the convention in order to save money.

Ainge, a business consultant and son of Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge, finished last in a three-way GOP primary to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, in 2017. He ran for county commissioner the following year.

During the pandemic, Ainge was at odds with some community members and fellow County Commissioner Bill Lee over mask mandates. Ainge and then-Commissioner Nathan Ivie, along with the county health director, signed a mask mandate in September as the county was largely driving the state’s COVID-19 spike.

Despite political fallout, including Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith announcing he would not enforce the mandate, Ainge described the mandate as a “call to action” to residents to “step up and do their part” in fighting the pandemic.

“My hope is that all Utah County residents would have a similar reaction when they hear state health officials start indicating there is a statewide spike and Utah County is a primary driver,” Ainge said in September.

“My hope is that the reaction is that doesn’t reflect well on our community, and we want to protect our community’s (health) ... and keep businesses open.”

Ainge said in his letter to the other commissioners that he looks forward to returning home in May to his family, to accept his appointment by Gov. Spencer Cox, to continue his service in the Utah National Guard, and to return to his private equity and venture capital business.


Utah County residents pack into the Utah County Commission chambers in Provo last July 15 to voice their opinions on state mandate that students in grades K-12 wear masks in schools. Commissioner Tanner Ainge, who supported mask mandates amid the pandemic, is resigning from the job.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News