LAYTON — It’ll be Republican versus Republican versus Libertarian in the race for the District 16 Utah House seat.
As he had previously said was a possibility, Rep. Stephen Handy — the six-term incumbent defeated by Trevor Lee in the Davis County Republican Party convention last March — will wage a write-in bid to hold onto the Davis County post. That makes the race a three-way contest heading to Nov. 8 — Handy, Lee and Libertarian Brent Zimmerman duking it out.
Handy held a formal kick-off event to his write-in bid in Layton, his hometown, on Tuesday. He told the Standard-Examiner on Wednesday that his decision stemmed in part from feedback from constituents. He initially indicated he was mulling a write-in bid last May after news emerged that Lee had used language in an April podcast subsequently deemed “transphobic” by the Davis County Republican Party, which Lee later apologized for.
“I want to give the people the opportunity to vote,” Handy said. “Even though it’s a write-in, that’s the option that’s before me. I’m listening to the voters who feel disenfranchised.”
Lee, seeking election to office for the first time, defeated Handy 59 votes to 35 at the March 26 Davis County GOP convention, which Handy maintains isn’t reflective of broader GOP sentiment in District 16. Nearly 12,000 registered Republicans live in the district, which has 21,000 registered voters in all.
Lee, for his part, rebuffed Handy’s move and focused on his status as newcomer to the political scene. Lee is a more conservative Republican while Handy is more moderate and the situation seems to have unleashed some of the tensions between the varied party factions.
“I don’t think Steve has accepted the results of our convention race,” Lee told the Standard-Examiner. “We need a new, fresh perspective on things.”
Write-in candidacies typically have a tough row to hoe. Voters favoring Handy — who registered his intent to wage a write-in bid with election officials — will have to actually write his name on a line on the ballot section corresponding to the District 16 race. District 16 covers north Layton and small parts of South Weber and Clearfield.
Still, Handy thinks the mail-in balloting system will help him. Registered voters will get ballots mailed to their homes three weeks or so before Election Day, Nov. 8, and, he said, they’ll have time to get to know the intricacies of how to vote for a write-in hopeful.
Plus, Handy has a financial edge, at least for now. Handy said he’s received some $50,000 in donations, with more coming in since he announced his write-in plans on Tuesday. Lee reported $3,482 on his latest financial disclosure statement filed last June with state election officials.
As for messaging, Lee, operator of a finance company that handles “wealth management,” said he sides with families fighting to get by as inflation pushes prices up. “I want to help struggling families. … I’m just like they are. I’m an average citizen,” he said.
Handy, a marketing consultant, put a focus on his service to the Layton area and connections to the people of District 16. Aside from his tenure in the Utah House, he served two terms on the Layton City Council.
“My message is that I have a long, long history of tremendous service to the legislative district,” said Handy. He called himself “a considerate conservative.”
Lee sparked headlines last May after it emerged he had used a disparaging word in referencing transgender people as a guest on a conservative podcast. He also expressed a measure of aversion in the podcast to the LGBTQ community. “I wouldn’t want to be associated with those people,” he said.
In a statement at the time, the Davis County Republican Party said it “unequivocally condemns the transphobic comments” by Lee. Lee’s comments were also the spur that got Handy mulling a write-in campaign.
Lee posted a statement on Facebook soon after the April podcast saying he hadn’t known the term he used referencing transgender people was derogatory and that he’d stop using it. He told the Standard-Examiner at the time that he was sorry for the flare-up over the comment.
That wasn’t the end of things. Lee subsequently condemned Handy for his statement to KSL Radio at the time that Lee’s commentary during the podcast in question “comes off to me as almost white supremacy.”
Handy subsequently offered an apology for his white supremacy comments. “I walk that back and I apologize for saying that. I do not think he’s a white supremacist or racist,” Handy told the Standard-Examiner at the time.
‘SUPPORT OUR NOMINEE’
As winner of the Davis County Republican Party convention last June, Lee gets party backing. “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,” reads a message posted Tuesday on the party Facebook page.
Whatever the case, responses to the Facebook post indicate the Lee-Handy situation has spurred sharp discord among Republicans.
Andrew Badger, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP nomination in the 1st District U.S. House primary last June, took aim at Daniela Harding, chairperson of the Davis County Republican Party. Harding was forced to make the message of support for Lee “against her will,” Badger wrote in the Facebook message string.
The party rebuffed the charge, saying Harding had been the force behind release of the statement of support for Lee. “We will not tolerate personal attacks or baseless accusations. We are focusing on helping Trevor and other Republicans win this November,” reads the Facebook response.
Another poster alluded to social media messaging from Harding in support of Handy in his successful 2018 Utah House campaign. Harding responded, saying she has had no role in Handy’s write-in bid and won’t play any part going forward.
“Steve Handy has honored my request and has deleted all the videos off his website and social media I did in 2018 in support of his campaign when I served as the (House District) 16 Legislative Chair on the DCRP Executive Committee,” Harding wrote in response.