The 2020 Republican Candidates for Governor, Ranked

By Jesse Harris

The Republican field for governor is more crowded than an audition for America’s Got Talent. There’s not a lot to differentiate on policy-wise, so most of this race is going to come down to personality. Here’s a run-down of each of them from best to worst (with a dishonorable mention).

The Good Ones

Spencer Cox

I’ve known Spencer for a number of years. He’s smart. He’s honest. He’s genuine. Above all, he’s someone who spends time thinking and evaluating before speaking. That’s a rarity in general, but especially so for someone who’s as active on social media as he is. That activity translates into accessibility too. He’s willing to jump in and help when people have questions. Having served in city, county, and state government, plus work experience in the private sector at the family business, I think Spencer knows how government works and when it doesn’t. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s more prepared and qualified to just do the work.

Aimee Winder-Newton

Aimee has an impressive history of her own. She’s worked for decades in local government at the city and county level. She’s been involved in businesses of her own. And like Spencer, she’s someone who just goes out there and does the work. Aimee started serving on the Salt Lake County Council shortly before I made my move from Sandy to Cedar City. I didn’t have much time to watch her at work directly, but I’ve been able to watch the work she’s done from a distance. She’s always taking the long view of solving issues, spending a dollar today to save ten tomorrow. Utah would be well-served with her at the helm.

Thomas Wright

I first got to know Thomas when he was chair of the Utah Republican Party. He had asked me to run the state party’s Twitter account during the eventful 2012 nominating convention. You won’t find many who were dissatisfied with the way he ran the party either. I appreciate his early efforts to head off the Count My Vote threat by raising the threshold to get out of convention, and the finances were always in order. He then served admirably on the Republican National Committee representing Utah. He’s also a successful realtor, but I try not to hold that against him. If you’re looking for an “outsider” candidate, Thomas fits that bill. While he has experience running in political circles, he’s never held public elected office before. Unlike many who claim outsider status, he actually understands how government works and isn’t just looking to burn it all down.

The Mediocre Ones

Jon Huntsman Jr.

Jon is the Jay Leno of Utah politics. He really excites your Boomer parents because he’s a bland, boring, and “safe” choice. He’s also trying to come back to a job he left to the detriment of younger, fresher candidates who have been doing the work while he’s been gone. He’s a default choice when you can and should take a shot on something far, far better. It’s a complete mystery to me while there’s few people who date to go on the attack against him.

I get the feeling that he has “bored rich kid syndrome” and can’t figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. He left his governorship in the middle of the last recession to be an ambassador, quit that to run for president, went over to No Labels to accomplish nothing (as far as I can tell), picked up another ambassador gig under a new president, and then left that job to come full circle back to the one he had in the first place. It feels like Jon can’t finish what he starts, at least not when some shiny new object shows up in front of him. And let’s not forget the oozing sense of entitlement. He stamped his feet angrily when he wasn’t anointed at the GOP nominee in 2012. He pulled the same petulant move when his campaign completely face-planted on signatures and had to be more-or-less bailed out by Gary Herbert’s last-minute rule changes on gathering signatures. That entire episode seemed to communicate that the campaign was so certain of their obvious superior choice status that they didn’t have to do the work. Is that the guy you want running the state? Really?

Let’s be clear, though. Jon would be a fine governor. Thoroughly mediocre, but fine. He won’t blow up the state and it will continue to be managed competently. I just see no reason to go with the “safe” choice when much better options exist.

Jeff Burningham

You know that guy who doesn’t understand how something works but he’s absolutely certain he can make it work better? Jeff is that walking Dunning-Kruger Effect. Listening to his interviews with Silicon Slopes and Utah Policy makes it clear that he’s incapable of doing more than spewing hyped-up buzzwords. Given his tech bro background, I can’t say I’m shocked in the least. Whatever competence he has from starting and running businesses definitely doesn’t translate well to running for office. I have little reason to believe it would be any different if he somehow managed to get the job. On the plus side, there’s plenty of safety scaffolding to keep him from being a total dumpster fire, but a Burningham governorship would be him bumbling his way ineptly through the political process.

The Bad Ones

Greg Hughes

Greg makes my skin crawl. I’ve seen nothing about him that makes me think he’s anything but super sketchy and skeezy. His middle name might as well be “conflict of interest”. From multiple incidents of apparent self-dealing with UTA development and his questionable self-appointment to the inland port board (which he later had to resign), Greg always appears to be putting himself in self-enriching positions without feeling like he has to explain himself at any point to anyone. It’s no shock that he was an early passenger on the Trump Train, a fellow grifter who saw party politics as a way to line his own pockets. It’s a shame that Greg has all the appearance of a major sleazeball because he has policy chops. Unfortunately, he’s spent his political life using them to make a buck.

Jason Christensen

Any crowded field is going to attract a crank or two. Jason is that crank. After multiple failed Quixotic attempts at public office, mostly under various third party banners, he finds himself running as a Republican because nobody was going to pay any attention to him otherwise. I honestly hesitated to bring him up because he’s that non-serious. If you want the first QAnon governor, Jason is your guy. If you’re serious about politics and don’t see a tin foil hat as a required fashion accessory, please keep moving along.

The Dishonorable Mention

Jan Garbett

You know that kid who always shows up to class late and unprepared, then complains that the rules they knew about are totally unfair and they shouldn’t have to follow them because reasons? That’s Jan. By the time she filed, the field was already very crowded. Many of the campaigns had been gathering signatures (from a rapidly shrinking pool) for months. Somehow she had to gall to complain that the rules were unfair despite knowing them and watching other campaigns follow them. Now she’s suing to get on the ballot without doing any of the signature or convention work. Whatever sense of entitlement Jon Huntsman has he must be sharing with her. Don’t like the rules? Fine, lobby to change them. But don’t show up at the last minute and expect to get special treatment.

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