SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Jim Bennett, the son of the late U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, sued the state of Utah Wednesday to be allowed on the ballot with his new political party in the November special election to fill the seat of outgoing U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah.
Bennett’s lawsuit claimed Utah state officials violated his constitutional rights when they ruled last month they did not have time to verify the 2,600 or so signatures that were gathered to establish the new United Utah Party and refused Bennett’s request for the party to be included on the ballot.
The lawsuit is not expected to derail the special election because Bennett said he is not challenging the validity of the rest of the process. United Utah Party chairman Richard Davis said the party is not asking for the election process to be halted while the lawsuit is heard.
State attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit and will lay out their position in court in hopes of finding a quick resolution, Utah state elections director Mark Thomas said in a statement.
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“Clearly, there are differences as to the interpretation of the statute and the court is the best place to resolve those differences,” Thomas said.
Chaffetz made a surprise announcement in April that he would not run for re-election and later said he would leave office June 30 to spend more time with his family.
While dozens of candidates scrambled to get enough signatures to compete for the Republican and Democratic nominations, Bennett and allies moved up their plans to launch their new party.
But the state said they did not get their signatures submitted in time for state officials to be able to review and certify them to comply with state law to get the party established for the special election.
Bennett said he knows he could have made it on the ballot as a candidate unaffiliated with any party but he wants his party’s name on ballots.
“I’m not unaffiliated and I don’t want to run and pretend that I am,” Bennett said. “One of the reasons I’m running is to introduce this party and its principles to the state of Utah.”
The new party is aiming to stake out a centrist position in a Mormon-dominated state where the entire congressional delegation is Republican and GOP voters outnumber Democrats 4-to-1.
Bennett’s father served 18 years in the Senate as a Republican before losing a re-election bid in 2010, becoming one of the first of a number of Republican incumbents booted out by a rise in tea party-fueled anger.
The party’s platform calls for more public education funding, a simplified tax system and opposition to abortion with a few exceptions, such as rape and incest.
Bennett’s lawsuit comes one day after Utah state lawmakers said that that they will not interfere with the special election despite their concerns that Gov. Gary Herbert stepped outside of his constitutional role and into the Legislature’s by deciding the election’s timing and process.
Bennett’s attorney Jordan Toone said the lawmakers’ complaints are a separate issue and will not be raised in the lawsuit.
Herbert, a Republican, contends that he has the legal authority when calling for an election to spell out the process.
Republicans and Democrats held their conventions last weekend to choose their candidates.
Former state legislator Chris Herrod won the GOP nomination will advance to a primary election in August, where he will face two candidates who gathered voter signatures to get on the ballot: Provo Mayor John Curtis and Tanner Ainge, a consulting firm owner and son of Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge.
Democrats selected physician Kathie Allen, who raised more than $500,000 earlier this year by tapping into anger over Chaffetz’s comment suggesting people should spend their money on health insurance instead of iPhones. She will not have to compete in a primary election.
Bennett said his party held its convention last weekend to select him and prove that party members are taking the necessary steps for him to run for the seat. He thinks he is being singled out because he is not Republican, the political party that dominates Utah state politics.
“There is no legal reason why won’t be willing to work with us and put my name on the ballot,” Bennett said. “Are they worried that our party can represent a legitimate challenge to the one-party state?”