State Rep. Brian King, the Democratic candidate for governor, unveiled his pick for lieutenant governor at the Utah Capitol on Monday afternoon.

“I, Brian King, am writing to name Rebekah Cummings as my running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor,” he said at a press conference. “A mom. A public servant. A librarian. A defender against book banning and censorship. Utahns will be well served by Rebekah’s leadership through her advocacy for intellectual freedom and commitment to empowering families.”

Cummings is the director of digital matters at the University of Utah and is a board chair of the Utah State Library Board. She has been a fierce advocate against book banning. These qualifications “are very relevant to the issues that we’re facing,” King said in his reasoning for picking her.

“Utahns are tired of the chaos and control. Together, Rebekah and I are building a coalition of pragmatists, not purists — those who want the government to get back to doing its job. Join us for the better,” he added.

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Cummings lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, Robert, and their three children. She told reporters she is “honored and humbled” to be King’s running mate and is thrilled to campaign with him.

“I’ve actually been Brian’s constituent for the past 11 years,” she said, adding she has felt impressed by his ability to focus on “common sense solutions and working across the aisle to get things done.” She said their priorities align on preserving the Great Salt Lake, advocating for clean air and water and adequately funding schools. “I think we also care a great deal about individual freedoms,” she added, whether that’s reproductive rights or book choices in school.

After giving their staffers high-fives following the press conference, King and Cummings walked to the state auditor’s office. King opened the door for his newly announced running mate and they spent 15 or so minutes inside the office, filling out the candidacy paperwork, before submitting it to the lieutenant governor’s chambers.

A divided GOP is an advantage for Brian King’s campaign for governor

King, D-Salt Lake City, who was uncontested and won the Democratic state convention Saturday, said while he and Cummings are working hard “to get this campaign off the ground immediately,” the Republican Party is splintering. He noted the GOP convention over the weekend, where delegates didn’t support the sitting Republican governor, Spencer Cox.

Of the convention, he said, “The governor had stood up and said, ‘I’ve signed all these extreme MAGA bills. Isn’t that enough for you?’ And the answer was obviously, no, that’s not enough.”

King said he thinks his campaign will give Utahns an option that isn’t tethered to “an extreme ideology.”

State Rep. Brian King, Democratic candidate for governor, and his choice for lieutenant governor, Rebekah Cummings, walk toward the lieutenant governor's office as they come to the Capitol to fill out candidacy forms with the state auditors office in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 29, 2024. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“We’re gonna be working hard to make sure that Utahns understand exactly what our values and priorities are, and talking about why they align to a greater extent than some of the extreme legislation, MAGA bills, that you’re seeing coming up,” he said.

According to a Noble Predictive Insights survey, Cox has 81% of support among registered Republican voters while Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, who won the GOP convention over the weekend, garnered 6%.

Cummings also noted the “deeply divided” Republican conference. “While we watch Spencer Cox and Phil Lyman battle it out over the next two months over who can be the most extreme, Brian and I are just looking forward to building a broad coalition of Utahns who care more about just good government and common sense solutions and focusing on real solutions to real problems that affect their lives,” she said.

Gubernatorial candidate Phil Lyman and the controversy around his running mate

Since the convention on Saturday, concerns over the eligibility of Lyman’s newly announced running mate, Layne Bangerter, have emerged. The Utah Constitution requires a candidate to be at least 30 years old, and retain status as a registered voter and “a resident citizen of the state for five years next preceding the election.”

In response by memo, Greg Bell, an independent adviser for any complaints related to the 2024 election, said the lieutenant governor’s office has decided to decline their candidacy paperwork “based on the interpretation of the residency qualifications” and “Bangerter’s acknowledgment that he has not been a resident of Utah for the five years immediately preceding the 2024 election.” This memo noted Lyman’s running mate has lived in the Beehive State since November 2019.

“Mr. Bangerter and the Lyman campaign have stated that they disagree with this interpretation and demand that the lieutenant governor accept the submission of declaration of candidacy,” he said and recommended the lieutenant governor’s office decline Bangerter’s candidacy and notify his campaign.

As state Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, pointed out on X, Bangerter resided in Idaho in recent years.

Weiler told the Deseret News his criticism of Lyman’s running mate “isn’t personal,” adding he considers Lyman a friend. But he wants the gubernatorial candidate to “simply follow the Constitution” and own up to his mistakes, which, according to Weiler, is what being a leader is about.

The Lyman campaign issued a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying they are honored to have Bangerter on board for the campaign before defending their pick’s eligibility, starting with the fact that he has lived in Utah for 30 years, having also spent time in Washington, D.C., and Idaho.

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The statement touted the lieutenant governor candidate’s highly relevant experience as a Senate staffer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a deputy director of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Donald Trump, for whom he also served as a campaign state director in 2016, and the campaign chair in 2020.

“The Utah Constitution states that a candidate for lieutenant governor must be a ‘resident citizen of the state for five years next preceding the election,’” the statement added. “This ambiguous language is often thought to mean the residency requirement must be immediately preceding the election for a consecutive number of years.”

But their defense is based on a decision made by the Ohio Supreme Court that ruled the language in the conditional text can “mean any period of the required number of years preceding the election.” It’s unclear if this ruling would apply in Utah.

“In other words, the legal interpretation of the term ‘next’ in this context would require any period of five years preceding the 2024 election,” the statement said. “Layne Bangerter easily meets this requirement and is a fully qualified candidate for lieutenant governor.”

Weiler said Lyman’s statement failed to substantially address concerns, especially since Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, in a 2012 opinion, upheld the constitutional text requiring a candidate to be a resident “preceding” five years from the election. Although he hasn’t filed a complaint, Weiler said he looked forward to the Utah GOP’s State Central Committee’s investigation into “Bangerter’s qualifications,” according to one post.

“Sounds like a special meeting or two is in order,” the state senator added.