Utah tea party founder Kirkham takes on Herbert
Politics • He vows a more business-friendly Utah and seeks repeal of guest-worker law.
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Provo • Packing tea party credentials and touting his business background, David Kirkham jumped into the governor's race Wednesday with plans to boost Utah business and bust a controversial guest-worker law.

"I will do everything in my power so the people of Utah can arise and be that shining light on the hill for all of the United States," said Kirkham, invoking the rhetoric of Republican icon Ronald Reagan.

Kirkham, a custom auto builder and Utah tea party founder, becomes the third Republican to challenge Gov. Gary Herbert.

Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, and former state lawmaker Morgan Philpot of Orem are also chasing the state's top job this year.

Surrounded by family and dolled-up vehicles at his Kirkham Motorsports in Provo, the newest candidate said he could do better at making the Beehive State business-friendly.

"I'm the only one in the race with business experience and international experience," said Kirkham, noting his partnership with a factory in Poland that makes parts for his cars.

As for the state's education system, Kirkham said the problem Utah faces isn't so much a lack of funding as it is getting that money into classrooms.

Quin Monson, associate director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, said Kirkham comes to the GOP race with built-in backing, thanks to the tea party.

But that may not be enough, said Monson, given Herbert's still-high approval ratings among Republicans.

Although HB116 — the legislation Herbert signed creating a guest-worker program — may rankle some in the GOP ranks, it may not be enough to topple the incumbent. Monson said LDS Church support for the measure provides some cover and puts opponents in the awkward position of fighting the state's predominant faith.

Still, Kirkham, who emblazoned one of his sports cars with anti-HB116 logos, pledged to push for HB116's repeal if he becomes governor.

He also promised a more open government, pointing to HB477, the abandoned measure that would have gutted the state's Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA).

"Things should not be hidden in bills, and bills should not be passed in the dark of night," Kirkham said, referring to how HB477 swept through the Legislature and onto Herbert's desk. "I would not allow those things."

Kirkham, who served on a GRAMA task force, said he would ensure records be as open as possible and that the public have opportunities to lobby legislators. But he declined to say whether text messages should be subject to GRAMA, saying he required more information on the complex issue.

While HB477 may still sting for many Utahns, Monson said, Herbert could point out that he successfully pushed for its repeal.

dmeyers@sltrib.com

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