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Utah County Republicans pick Mike Kennedy to fill open state Senate seat



SALT LAKE CITY — A former state lawmaker who ran unsuccessfully against now Sen. Mitt Romney in the 2018 GOP U.S. Senate primary is returning to the Utah Legislature — this time as a state senator.

Republican Mike Kennedy won the Utah County Republican Party’s special election Tuesday night to fill the vacant seat left behind by Senate Majority Whip Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, who resigned to serve as Gov.-elect Spencer Cox’s director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Kennedy previously served in the Utah House when he was first elected in 2012 to fill a seat left vacant by John Dougall when he resigned to run for state auditor. He won reelection twice, but announced he would not seek reelection in 2018 in order to run for U.S. Senate. He lost to Romney in the GOP primary.

But Kennedy handily won over Utah County GOP delegates in Tuesday night’s online special election, consistently beating five other candidates vying for the Senate District 14 seat in all five rounds of voting. In the final round, Kennedy won with 186 votes over 91 votes for Utah Valley Magazine publisher Jeanette Bennett, according to the party’s election results. He also beat candidates David Shallenberger, Staci Valentine Carroll, Jon Anderson and John St. Clair.

“I’m humbled by the amount of support my campaign received,” Kennedy said in a prepared statement issued Wednesday. “I want to thank the voters who entrusted me to represent and advocate for our district, the many people who volunteered, and of course my loving wife who managed my campaign. I love to serve and I’m ready to get to work for the people.”

Kennedy promised to be an “accessible” senator for District 14, which encompasses parts of Alpine, Highland, Cedar Hills, American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Lindon and Orem. He committed to balancing “the health-related needs of citizens with protecting our constitutional rights.

“We have to make sure businesses can function while promoting health and well-being,” Kennedy said. “A lot of people are hurting from the government’s response to COVID-19, and I hope to help our state navigate through this difficult time.”

Kennedy, of Alpine, is an attorney with a law degree from Brigham Young University and doctor with a medical degree from Michigan State University. He campaigned using his medical background, telling delegates in a candidate video “there are currently no medical doctors in the state Senate. And yet one of the top issues the Senate will deal with is the effects of COVID-19.”

“My unique and diverse experience in this race sets me apart,” Kennedy said in the video. “As a physician, I’m a trained listener. As an attorney, I’m a trained advocate. And as a legislator, I learned the best way to find solutions is by working together. The legislative session is just weeks away. Now is not the time for story telling or on-the-job training.”

“I’m the only candidate who can speak with credibility on addressing a public health crisis,” he said. “I’ll ensure we use experience, data and sound practices to find solutions that protect public health and our constitutional freedoms.”

Kennedy also promised to help “clear the path for economic recovery,” starting with cutting taxes, removing unnecessary regulations and rolling back excessive government spending. He told delegates he has a “trusted record of supporting education.”

“Everyone in this race will talk about defending religious liberty, the right to life, parental rights, free speech, our Second Amendment, our property rights and more,” he said. “But I’m the only one running with a proven conservative voting record you can trust under pressure.”

Kennedy’s election fills a final vacancy left by former lawmakers who left to work for Cox’s administration. The seat left behind by Lt. Gov.-elect Deidre Henderson was filled by Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, in the November election. McKell’s empty House District 66 seat was filled by retired Maj. Gen. Jefferson Burton, who helped lead day-to-day operations of the Utah Department of Health through the first five months of the pandemic.

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