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David Kirkham, who organized Utah's first tea party two years ago, said he is "99.99 percent" sure he will run against Gov. Gary Herbert, and that he could make a decision "any second."

"I have been on the sidelines as a dissident for two years now," he said in an interview with The Tribune. "I have come to realize that in order to really affect the change that needs to happen you have to, at some point, become a player."

Kirkham has been contemplating a gubernatorial bid for months. He said he will participate in a debate Saturday with other declared gubernatorial candidates and that, save some loose ends he is tying up with his business — he manufactures custom roadsters — he is all but in the race.

Kirkham is the third Republican challenger to join the race for governor, with all three challenging Herbert's conservative credentials and leadership.

State Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, was first to announce his candidacy, followed by former state representative and congressional candidate Morgan Philpot. Both have said that Herbert hasn't done enough to assert Utah's rights and resist the federal government.

Last Spring, Kirkham criticized Herbert for signing two major pieces of legislation — one a first-of-its-kind immigration law that would let undocumented immigrants get a Utah work permit, the other an overhaul of Utah's public records law. That law was later repealed.

At the time, Kirkham vowed the tea party would recruit a candidate to run against Herbert. Kirkham weighed the prospects for a bid for Senate against Orrin Hatch and governor, and ultimately decided on the latter.

"The governor is not focused on any specific candidates and won't be until he files as a candidate himself in March," said Ben Horsley, a spokesman for Herbert's campaign. "The governor continues to work on leading the state as the best managed state in the nation and preparing for the important upcoming legislative session."

Quin Monson, associate director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, said that Herbert doesn't seem to have the same obstacles to his re-election as Hatch.

"There's just not the same amount of material," Monson said. The anger over the open records law seems to have subsided and immigration alone might force Herbert to a primary, Monson said, "but whoever forces him into a primary is going to have to come up with something else."

"On the other hand, I think Kirkham has instant credibility with the tea party crowd," he said. "In the end, this caucus night is enormously important in terms of who shows up and how the delegate selection goes."

Kirkham said he will focus on transparency, accountability and consensus building, not just with legislators, but with the public.

"No favors. No hidden deals. Transparency and sunshine. I think that's what my campaign will be about," Kirkham said. "Let everyone into the process and let them help make the decisions."

Kirkham said that outside of things like plans for responding to terrorist attacks, government needs to be transparent and that makes government more accountable. And getting buy-in on tough decisions from the public, he said, it will help the state navigate economic turmoil ahead.

Kirkham started Kirkham Motorsports with just a tool box and his training as an engineer. Eventually, the company began manufacturing aluminum replicas of the Shelby Cobra sports car and bought a defunct Polish jet fighter factory to manufacture the vehicles, as well.

Today, the business is run out of a garage and workshop near Provo, but Kirkham said that he fears the economic suffering that he saw in Poland at the end of the Cold War may be in the United States' future.

"I feel like our state needs leadership. We're heading into very troubled waters," Kirkham said. "I've been there before. I've seen it all over the world playing itself out over and over again, and it's going to take real leadership and determination to get us through the financial crisis we're facing."

He said the federal government, facing $16 trillion in debt and an annual deficit of more than $1 trillion, can't keep spending the way it has and when the cuts come they will be felt in Utah, which relies on more than $3.3 billion in federal dollars to balance its $12 billion budget.

"Will it go to zero? Probably not. But what happens if they cut a billion? … The math simply does not work and you're going to have to have the people on board," Kirkham said. "It's going to take some very hard decisions that need to be open."

He said that, thus far, Herbert has failed to lead on the crucial issues. Twitter: @RobertGehrke