Utah Department of Natural Resources appointee sparks uproar among Democrats

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Democratic Party is threatening legal action if Representative Joel Ferry does not resign his seat and is withdrawn from the 2022 ballot after his nomination to the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

On June 24, Governor Spencer Cox announced that Ferry would join his administration as the new executive director of Utah’s DNR, citing Ferry’s experience in agriculture before being elected as an active representative for District 1 of Utah. Utah House in 2019.

“From water conservation to air quality to public lands, Joel has been an effective voice for wise stewardship of our state’s rich natural resources,” read Cox’s statement on Ferry’s appointment. “His legislative experience, as well as his foundation as a farmer and rancher, will help shape our vision for natural resources and I am grateful that he is ready to take on this new challenge.”

However, the district’s Democratic candidate, Joshua Hardy, has called on Ferry to resign his seat in the Legislative Assembly and remove his name from the ballot or they will ask Lieutenant Governor Diedre Henderson to do it for them.

“Currently, Mr. Ferry is the acting director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources and a state representative,” the Democratic party said. “This is a flagrant violation of the Utah Constitution.”

The Democratic Party refers to Article V of the Utah Constitution, which states:

“The powers of the government of the State of Utah shall be divided into three distinct departments, the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judiciary; and no person entrusted with the exercise of the powers belonging properly to one of these departments, shall exercise any function belonging to any of the others, except as expressly stated or authorized herein.

In a letter to Henderson and Chief Electoral Officer Ryan Cowley, the party cites a 1976 informal opinion from the Utah Assistant Attorney General where Senator Edison Stephens accepted the position of Director of the Weights and Measures Division and should not not be a candidate for re-election. .

“It also seems clear from this article that when Senator Stephens accepted the position of Director of the Weights and Measures Division, his position as State Senator became vacant, since he could not occupy his new position and be also a member of the Legislative Assembly,” states the informal opinion of Assistant Attorney General H. Wright Volker.

The Utah Democat letter asserts that Ferry cannot serve in both executive roles while playing an active role in the Utah legislature.

Ferry responded to Democrats, saying he wouldn’t take his name off the ballot until he was confirmed as DNR’s executive director, telling KSL Newsradio that his confirmation was a bad time since lawmakers didn’t could not meet in July.

Joel Ferry refuses to withdraw his name from the ballot

“It’s kind of like this perfect storm of bad timing to delay it like he did,” Ferry said. “But I look forward to confirmation from the Senate in [the] September meeting and I will resign at that time.

Ferry said he wasn’t taking a statutory salary while working with the DNR and didn’t want to find himself in “limbo” waiting for his confirmation.

“I feel like I’ve done a really good job representing the people of Box Elder County,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure my confirmation was going to happen before I quit.”

On Wednesday, Henderson responded to the Democrat’s letter saying she would take no action regarding Ferry’s status in the ballet.

“While I recognize the uncertainty of Mr. Ferry’s current situation, I draw no conclusions as to the constitutionality of his status as a lawmaker or an active director of the Department of Natural Resources,” Henderson said. “Mr. Ferry’s status as a current or former lawmaker does not affect his status as a candidate or require me to remove him from the November ballot.

Henderson references Utah’s election code in her statement that she only has the authority to remove a candidate in certain situations like death, physical or mental incapacity or disclosure of financial reports.

For now, Ferry is listed as a candidate for Utah House District 1 along with Hardy along with two other Utah Republican writings, according to the Box Elder County website.

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