Shea’s Statehouse bid challenged
March 22, 2006
Summit County Democrats on Monday challenged the Statehouse candidacy of Republican Jim Shea Jr., the 2002 Winter Olympic skeleton champion, claiming that he lived in Lake Placid, N.Y., as recently as 2003.
If election officials in Summit County find that Shea resided in Lake Placid at that time, he would be ineligible to run for state House of Representatives. Utah election rules require that a person live in the state for three consecutive years and live six consecutive months in the district before filing.
Shea said he was told by the Summit County Clerk’s Office when he filed that he was eligible to run in District 53 of the House. Sue Follett, the Democratic county clerk, said Shea registered to vote on Friday at her office. He registered to vote when he filed as a candidate, she said.
Follett said Tuesday she was researching whether Shea had previously been a registered voter and whether he has voted locally. Voting records in Utah are used to help determine whether a person is a resident.
The District 53 election is expected to be hotly contested in November with the popular incumbent, Republican David Ure of Kamas, campaigning for the state Senate. The November election, the Democrats say, is a chance for the party to win a rural Utah seat in the House, a rarity in a state dominated by the Republicans.
Mel Brown, the former speaker of the House, who lives in Hoytsville, is challenging Shea for the GOP’s nomination in District 53. Also campaigning in the district are Democrat Laura Bonham and Libertarian Gary Shumway.
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Shea said he would end his campaign if the local Clerk’s Office found him ineligible. He said, however, he would wait until Follett determines whether he meets residency requirements.
"If that’s the rules, I’m going to abide by them," Shea said, adding that the dispute is his "introduction to politics."
Shea said he would take "full responsibility" if the Clerk’s Office finds him ineligible to run.
The Board of Elections in Essex County, N.Y., where Lake Placid is located, reports that Shea voted in Lake Placid in November 2003.
Shea, though, said he has lived in Park City as a full-time resident since 1998. His March 16 declaration of candidacy listed his address at 1439 Woodside Ave., in Park City.
He said the Lake Placid address listed for him is where his father, Jim Shea Sr., lives. Shea said there is a chance that his father is the person who voted in Lake Placid in 2003.
"It’s sort of strange, though, that the address is my dad’s address," Shea said.
Park City and Lake Placid are linked through the winter-sports community, with the two cities having World Cup-caliber ski jumps and bobsled tracks. Shea won his gold medal at the Utah Olympic Park in 2002.
Athletes frequently reside in Park City for long stretches for training but sometimes do not become full-time Parkites, listing where they are from as their residence.
Rob Weyher, the chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party, said he remembers reading newspaper articles about Shea moving to Park City within the last year. When Shea filed, Weyher said he researched the candidate on the Internet, finding a United States Olympic Committee site that listed Shea as having a Lake Placid address.
In a Monday letter to Follett, Weyher outlined the Democrats’ objections. In an interview, Weyher blamed Summit County Republicans for not researching the election rules before Shea filed. He called Shea a "wonderful person."
"I don’t think they did anything malicious. They were just stupid," Weyher said.
Weyher expects that Shea will be found ineligible.
"We want him out of the race because he filed his candidacy illegally," he said.
Weyher said Shea’s residency questions will likely mean that Brown wins the Republican nomination. Brown previously represented a Midvale district in the House and did not seek re-election in 2000 amid a lobbyist scandal.
Weyher prefers that Brown win the Republican nomination, saying that the farmer and rancher is "very easily defeated" because of the scandal.
"That will probably ultimately put Mel Brown on the ballot," Weyher said.