With Rep. Justin Miller, D-Salt Lake City, facing a federal investigation into allegations he stole campaign funds from Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, Democratic leaders have asked Miller's predecessor, Lynn Hemingway, to come out of retirement.
"I'm running," says Hemingway, who, in 2014, retired from the Legislature after eight years of service. "I retired because [my wife and I] were planning on moving to St. George. I thought we had a great candidate in Justin Miller, and I wouldn't feel bad about walking away. But, now, I just feel guilty."
Hemingway and his wife decided against the move, citing the summer heat in St. George. Then, Hemingway says, he was approached with the idea to run again by Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis. "Gene and I had dinner together, and he asked me to consider it," says Hemingway.
Davis' interest in Hemingway's candidacy is understandable. Not only have the two been friends "for a long, long time," but Davis resides in House District 40, which Justin Miller represents. "I supported [Hemingway] when he ran the first time, and I was disappointed when he decided not to run again," Davis says.
Hemingway will not be the only Democrat challenging Miller. Also declared is Amy Fowler, who ran against Miller in 2014 and lost at convention by only a couple of votes. Local accountant Chris Stout also has announced plans to run.
But Miller says he isn't worried about any of the challengers and is planning on running for re-election again next year. "I think Lynn was a fantastic legislator," says Miller, who was endorsed by Hemingway when he ran for the seat in 2014.
But the embattled representative may face other obstacles before the 2016 elections arise. "I think a lot of people in that district are unhappy with Justin," says House Democratic Leader Brian King.
King says he and his colleagues haven't yet ruled out officially expelling Miller from the House Democrat caucus. "It's a possibility," says King, "[but] there's a feeling among some members of the caucus that 'innocent until proven guilty' is more than just a phrase, and that we ought to let this play out a little bit more and see what information comes to light. I think that would give some more time to feel comfortable expelling him."
King has called for Miller to resign, but many Republicans and even a few Democrats on the blog Utah Politico Hub have grumbled about how long it has been taking when, in 2013, the Democrats almost immediately called for then-Attorney General John Swallow to resign after allegations of financial wrongdoings emerged.
But King insists there's a big difference. "With Swallow, there was a steady drumbeat for months with new information. With Justin, there haven't been nearly the ongoing revelations of wrongdoing that there was about Swallow. There were the initial set of stories from [City Weekly's Stephen] Dark, and there have been a story or two since then about the shoplifting stuff, but we haven't heard anything else about Justin for weeks and weeks now. But I think if Justin stays on and doesn't see fit to resign, we could very well get to a place where [expelling him from the caucus] happens." King declined to give a timetable on when that might happen.
"That's their prerogative," says Miller, "But to be honest, there hasn't been anything that's come out significantly since [the allegations] came out. Nothing's changed from the feds taking on and expanding their case. It's unfortunate the direction the House caucus has taken with this, because it seems to be entirely politically motivated."
Miller is concerned that in the face of an open investigation, his fellow Democrats have taken a one-sided "shoot-from-the-hip" approach instead of waiting for due process to play out. "It's a little bit more of a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality that I've seen come out of the leadership."
If Miller were to resign or were somehow forced from office by the ongoing federal investigation, a special election would be called within 30 days to find a replacement. Otherwise, Miller will face re-election along with every other House member in 2016, and, Miller says, that's plenty of time to make his case with the delegates.
"There's a lot going on," says Hemingway. "To be honest, I was really disappointed to hear that the Salt Lake police gave up the investigation to the FBI. But as far as I'm concerned, everything in the district is on hold. I want to be fair to Justin, but I also want to be fair to the people I represented for eight years."