Day-of primary election coverage 02

Poll worker Jenny Beal waits to give out stickers to voters at a drive-thru ballot pick-up location at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

Nils Bergeson, the United Utah Party candidate in the Utah House District 61 race, says he wants to increase transparency in state government and make local politics more accessible to the general public.

Bergeson, a Provo resident who spent about a decade working for the federal government overseas as a Foreign Service Officer, is running against incumbent Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, who took office in July 2018 after filling a vacancy left by Keith Grover.

In an interview Thursday, the third party candidate said he believes “there’s a lot of things that the Legislature could do beyond … the bare minimum of transparency as required by law” to encourage the public to participate in and observe the policy-making process.

“A lot of people really care about what’s going on, but there’s not a lot of awareness of how the processes within our state government even function,” Bergeson said.

If elected, Bergeson would advocate for other government reforms, as well, including campaign finance reform and expansion of ranked-choice voting, which was first used in Vineyard and Payson’s municipal elections in 2019.

“And so I think it’s not too far of a step at this point to get that for all of our elections,” he said. “I think the more I’ve talked about it with people, both Republicans and Democrats, it seems to be catching on as a better way.”

The candidate continued, “I don’t think it would necessarily change tons of outcomes, but it would encourage a lot more people to engage because you’re able to be a little more specific with how you vote, and you can rank people and hopefully get more people running for office for various parties.”

Judkins, who teaches applied mathematics at Utah Valley University and previously served on the Provo City Board of Education, defeated her Republican challenger, Kenneth Grover, in the GOP primary in June. Judkins received 64.4% of votes while Grover received 35.6%.

During her speech at the virtual GOP convention in April, Judkins said she has a record in the Legislature “of being open, honest, accountable, conservative, accessible, collaborative, hardworking and intelligent,” adding that the five bills she sponsored during this year’s general session “were all inspired by issues you or your neighbors brought to my attention.”

Judkins criticized the tax reform passed by the state legislature in December, which was quickly repealed, calling it “a complicated, flawed attempt to fix our structural (tax) imbalance.”

“There were portions of the bill that I support, such as the Social Security tax credit, restoring child income tax exemptions, and removing many of the sales tax exemptions that no longer serve us,” Judkins said in her convention speech. “However, much of the bill was terrible policy, and I voted against it.”

Distaste for the tax reform effort is a point of agreement in the HD 61 race.

“To me, while I had issues with specific parts of the bill, the hardest thing was seeing how it just felt like they were trying to get it done quickly behind closed doors with as minimum ... disruption from public attention as possible,” Bergeson said about the tax reform bill. “And I think that’s sort of the exact opposite of what needs to be done.”

Above all else, Bergeson said he would be focused on “coalition-building” and working in a bipartisan way with his Republican colleagues, if elected to state office.

During the general session, Judkins sponsored a bill to require county prosecutors, jails and courts in Utah to keep data on the race, ethnicity and gender of those booked into jail facilities.

The bill passed 53-19 in the House and 22-1 in the Senate and was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March.

HD 61 covers portions of central Utah County, including sections of Provo, Orem and Vineyard.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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