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Utah House race between Lee, Handy takes turn with other hopefuls

By Tim Vandenack - | Sep 30, 2022
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From left, two of the lesser-known candidates for the District 16 Utah House seat: write-in hopeful Steve Fershtut and Libertarian Brent Zimmerman. The two higher-profile candidates are Trevor Lee, the Davis County Republican Party pick, and Republican Steve Handy, the incumbent who's waging a write-in bid to hold onto the seat.
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This combination photo shows Trevor Lee, left, the Republican candidate for the District 16 Utah House seat in the 2022 cycle, and Rep. Stephen Handy, who currently holds the post and is waging a write-in bid to keep it.

LAYTON — The race for the District 16 seat in the Utah House — featuring the official Republican Party pick Trevor Lee and write-in hopeful Stephen Handy, the incumbent and also a GOPer — keeps taking twists and turns.

A second write-in hopeful, also a Republican, has entered the race, Steve Fershtut. His primary focus, though, isn’t on the District 16 contest but rather, the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Mike Lee, a GOPer, and independent challenger Evan McMullin. Worried McMullin could defeat the incumbent, Fershtut hopes to use the bully pulpit of his Utah House candidacy to promote Lee’s bid for a third term.

He’s been trying to get word out about the Senate race as an average Joe “and I’m just not getting anywhere,” said Fershtut, who describes himself as “really conservative.” Mike Lee and Trevor Lee are not related.

At the same time, Libertarian Brent Zimmerman is waging his fourth bid in a row for the District 16 post, centered in Layton, aiming to spread the word about the liberty-minded party. He trailed far behind Handy — now in his sixth term — and the Democratic contenders in the District 16 races in 2020, 2018 and 2016.

The aim of his candidacy, Zimmerman said, is “to spread the idea of liberty” because he doesn’t think Democrats or Republicans are effectively doing so. Plus, he wants voters to have more choices. “I feel like more options on the ballot is better,” said Zimmerman, making his fourth bid for the District 16 post.

The District 16 race has been a wild one. Election Day is Nov. 8 while ballots go out starting around Oct. 18.

Trevor Lee, a political newcomer, defeated Handy, a six-term incumbent, in the Davis County Republican Party convention last March, 59 votes to 35. Though just 94 GOPers voted, it was a wide enough margin to deny Handy a place on the GOP primary ballot last June, ostensibly paving the way for a Lee victory in the district given Republican Party dominance in Davis County.

News later emerged of disparaging comments by Lee about the transgender community during a podcast. That prompted a rebuke of Lee by the Davis County Republican Party, which deemed Lee’s comments “transphobic.” It also got Handy mulling the idea of waging a write-in bid to hold onto the seat, concerned with Lee’s demeanor.

Late last month, Handy announced that, indeed, he would be running as a write-in hopeful. Backers have to fill in the names of write-in hopefuls on lines provided in ballots, making write-in candidacies difficult prospects, while Lee and Zimmerman, as official candidates of their respective parties, will have their names printed on the ballots.

And now comes news that Lee had operated a secret Twitter account, mostly before he launched his Utah House bid. In it, he swiped at the LGBTQ community, transgender people in particular, among other things.

About the same time, just last week, news publicly trickled out that Fershtut had filed the paperwork to run a write-in bid. Interestingly, Fershtut doesn’t have any bad words for Handy.

“Stephen Handy is a good friend of mine,” Fershtut said. “I think he’s done a good job. There are a couple things I don’t like.” He doesn’t know Lee that well, but, at the same time, didn’t have any ill words for him.

Zimmerman, who said he’ll be running “a minimal campaign,” cited what he said was Lee’s “lack of transparency” in operating a private Twitter account. His main objective though, is to spread the word about the Libertarian Party, which, very broadly, puts a focus on letting individuals run their lives as they see fit and scaling back government power.

School choice is a big issue for Zimmerman — more specifically, creating a school voucher program in Utah and bolstering parental involvement in the lives of their kids.

Meantime, with three Republicans in the District 16 race — Lee, Handy and Fershtut — the Davis County Republican Party continues its backing of Lee in light of the support he got from party delegates at the GOP convention last March. The party also gave Lee $5,000.

Asked about the party’s take on Lee in light of the Twitter account, now deleted, and the content of some of his tweets, Daniela Harding, the Davis County Republican Party chairperson, seemed to choose her words carefully.

“The DCRP bylaws require the county party to recognize the will of the delegates and the party will continue to support our nominee, Trevor Lee, in the general election,” Harding said.

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