How tragedy shaped Jason Walton's run for US Senate

Jason J. Walton, who is running for U.S. Senate, speaks at the Utah Republican Party state nominating convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on April 27.

Jason J. Walton, who is running for U.S. Senate, speaks at the Utah Republican Party state nominating convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on April 27. (Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)


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Editor's note: KSL.com is featuring stories about the four GOP candidates on the June 25 primary ballot who are seeking to replace Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. Today, a look at Jason Walton. John Curtis will be featured Wednesday; Brad Wilson on Thursday; and Trent Staggs on Friday.

PROVO — Ask Jason Walton why he's running for U.S. Senate, and he will point to a personal tragedy that upended his life and the lives of his family members just a few years ago.

A week before Christmas in 2020, his oldest daughter, Jessica, then 23 years old, died by suicide — a "devastating" personal loss Walton has described as "like a grenade going off in your soul, constantly."

"I have three children; my oldest is gone," he told the KSL and Deseret News editorial boards in early April. "I have a daughter that attends BYU, and I have a son that goes to Utah Valley University. Our whole family are changed. We're different. There's different priorities; you see the world differently. And we are, having been very blessed, very fortunate in our career, but ... I look at the country, and I'm deeply concerned and ask myself, 'What kind of country are we leaving to our kids?' Because it looks to me like we're selling their birthright."

The intervening years have been anything but easy on Walton and his family. Walton's brother died two years ago, and a heart attack claimed his father's life six months after that. KSL.com spoke with the Republican candidate and followed him on the campaign trail in late May, less than 24 hours after his mother died of an apparent stroke.

Walton doesn't try to bury the grief as he walks door-to-door through a solidly middle class Orem neighborhood that balmy Tuesday evening and doesn't shy away from trying to connect to potential voters on a more personal level. When the subject of his mom's death is broached with a supporter, he pauses.

"Well, people are born, they live and they die," he said. "So, we live in this never-ending now — it's all we have. My mom is wherever my mom is, and I'm right here, trying to make the most that I can."

'It came out of the blue'

Months into his campaign for Senate, Walton chafes at being labeled a politician, his decades of business experience leaving a bitter taste in his mouth at the word.

"It still hurts to think of me as an aspiring politician, but it's true, right?" he said when confronted with the term. "I'm aspiring for political office. That's the definition of it, so it's an accurate thing to say. I'm just trying to get used to it."

Walton founded Moxie Pest Control with his wife, Kristen Peterson Walton, more than two decades ago, and the pair have helped grow the business into one of the largest pest control companies in the nation, with offices from Atlanta to Boston to San Diego. The company is headquartered in a warehouse-turned-office in Provo, decked out in multiple shades of blue and complete with a jumbo chess set, bowling alley and cinema — the amenities serve to entice eager would-be salespeople.

To hear Kristen Walton tell it, she needed a bit of convincing to get on board with the idea of starting a company.

"I'm an accountant, and I am very risk averse," she said. "But Jason, he thinks differently than a lot of people. He's very risk averse himself in a lot of ways, but he's also a creative thinker and a really hard worker, and he had the grit to really make it happen."

"He was pragmatic about it," she added. "We grew slowly, and we grew smartly. ... It was done in a very measured way. I'm definitely more risk averse than he is, but I didn't ever feel like things were out of control."

Given that Jason Walton had never shown previous interest in politics, Kristen Walton said she was "totally shocked" at his desire to run for the Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney.

"It came out of the blue," she said.

She initially dismissed the idea, but repeated efforts on her husband's part to convince her led to a series of "long and difficult conversations" that resulted in him declaring his candidacy.

"He said, 'You know, if I don't do this, I'll always regret it,'" she told KSL.com. "And so I said, 'OK, I'll get behind you.'"

Now, having gathered enough signatures, Walton is one of four candidates in the GOP race for Senate. Ballots will be mailed out Tuesday, and the primary election is June 25.

Jason J. Walton, who is running for U.S. Senate, walks out with his wife, Kristen Peterson Walton, at the Utah Republican Party state nominating convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on April 27.
Jason J. Walton, who is running for U.S. Senate, walks out with his wife, Kristen Peterson Walton, at the Utah Republican Party state nominating convention at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on April 27. (Photo: Megan Nielsen, Deseret News)

Disappointed, not aggrieved

In some ways, Walton's cheery demeanor and easy attitude feel out of place in the current world of politics — one that is often dominated by grievance and anger. That's not to say he is happy with the way things are going.

In conversations with voters, he frequently brings up the $34.6 trillion national debt, the "open" border policies under President Joe Biden and his plan to slash the federal budget. He condemns a "tyranny" in Senate leadership on both sides — sounding a lot like Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who, coincidentally, used to attend the same congregation as Walton. He opposes additional U.S. aid to Ukraine in its war against Russia and believes a large portion of the aid goes missing in Ukraine — though he notes he doesn't have evidence to back it up.

Walton quickly appeals to voters who say they think Rep. John Curtis is too "moderate" for the Senate seat but also seeks to find points of consensus with those on the other side of the political spectrum.

When a Democrat whose door he knocked on said former President Donald Trump is the "biggest threat to our whole nation we've ever had," Walton — a Trump supporter — responded by asking, "How can I help you with that?"

Over the next few minutes, he and the voter were able to work out a solid, albeit narrow, common ground, as she articulated it: "If you can't do what you think is right just because you're afraid you're not going to get reelected, you're not worthy."

'I want to save lives'

In the years since his daughter's death, Walton has been "pushed into a new place," according to his wife.

"When you have something like that happen in your life, you realize that nothing else really matters, and speaking your truth in whatever way that can be healing for whoever you're sharing that with is vastly more important than self-protection," she said. "It's like every wall fell down, and there's no need to build those walls anymore."

Walton has donated money to suicide prevention groups and paid more attention to the mental health struggles confronting young people, specifically members of the LGBTQ+ community, who face higher rates of suicide.

And when it comes to that community, he thinks his party needs to do a better job of making them feel seen.

"I think that we need more love and less hate; more compassion," he said. "I want to save lives of everyone, regardless of what their sexual preference is."

"He's always had a vulnerable side," Kristen Walton said, "but I see him as far more vulnerable now. And not in a bad way."

Driving back to the Moxie headquarters in Walton's pearl white Tesla Model S, he turned to me at a red light and asked for a small favor.

"My daughter that died, her name is Jessica. ... She's 23," he said, fighting back tears. "Everyone usually just says 'my daughter who died' and they don't ever use her name. It's Jessica."

Suicide prevention resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, call 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Crisis hotlines

  • Huntsman Mental Health Institute Crisis Line: 801-587-3000
  • SafeUT Crisis Line: 833-372-3388
  • 988 Suicide and Crisis LifeLine at 988
  • Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386

Online resources

Warning signs of suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

What to do if you see warning signs of suicide

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional

Information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.

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