Brad Wilson hopes his Utah roots will help him win a seat in the US Senate

U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson talks with attendees at the Lincoln Day GOP fundraising dinner at Utah Valley University in Orem on March 16.

U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson talks with attendees at the Lincoln Day GOP fundraising dinner at Utah Valley University in Orem on March 16. (Jeffrey D. Allred, 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 Brad Wilson. Jason Walton was featured Tuesday; John Curtis on Wednesday; and Trent Staggs will be featured on Friday.

KAYSVILLE — Brad Wilson was born in Layton and now lives in Kaysville, so he knows the area around Davis and Weber counties well.

He knows the people well, too.

Wilson credits his personal relationships with local residents for helping him eke out a victory in his initial 2010 run for the Utah Legislature in state House District 15. Those relationships helped him win reelection half a dozen times, and relationships with his legislative colleagues ultimately helped him ascend to the role of speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, a post he filled from 2019 until last fall, when he stepped aside to run to replace Mitt Romney in the U.S. Senate.

With mere weeks before the Republican primary election on June 25 to fill Romney's seat, Wilson hopes to rapidly expand his relationships to voters across the state in an effort to stand out from the three other contenders.

Sitting at a nondescript desk in a spartan Provo campaign office last week, Wilson stares intently at a laptop screen as an automated program cycles through a phone list of registered voters in Davis and Weber counties, their caller ID information flashing on-screen before the system moves on to the next number. It's just before 5 p.m., so most calls go straight to voicemail — the residents still presumably at work. Even on a good day, the pickup rate for cold calls is vanishingly low, one of his staffers said.

Wilson recognizes at least a few of the names that pop up on his screen, and knows at least one person who picks up from previous political events. A couple of others recognize Wilson from his television ad, in which he speeds a red Chevrolet Chevelle past a car bearing a "Biden" license plate, leaving "cowardly RINOs" (Republicans in name only) "in the dust."

One woman liked that one of Wilson's opponents was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, but said "there was someone else that was good, but I don't remember if it was you or someone else."

"It's absolutely me," Wilson said with a smile.

U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson poses for a portrait at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on April 4.
U.S. Senate candidate Brad Wilson poses for a portrait at the Deseret News office in Salt Lake City on April 4. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

Legislative record

Wilson's years in the Utah Legislature have given him a wealth of legislative accomplishments, and when confronted by concerns from constituents he quickly recalls any number of policies enacted while he was speaker.

Worried about growing federal spending? Wilson oversaw a series of significant tax cuts over the past handful of years and helped usher a balanced state budget, as required by the Utah Constitution.

Want to see more emphasis on education? Under his tutelage, lawmakers in Utah raised teacher pay and created the Utah Fits All Scholarship, which students can use for education expenses and private school tuition.

Concerned by current border and immigration policies? Wilson is supported by a majority of sheriffs in Utah and wants to ease federal regulations he says make it harder for county officials to detain undocumented immigrants.

Although it doesn't come up as often with voters, Wilson helped steer a series of legislation through the Legislature intended to protect the Great Salt Lake — something his former legislative colleagues will remember him for. On his last day before stepping down as speaker last November, several dozen legislators toasted Wilson on the Capitol steps with sparkling cider and christened a Great Salt Lake fan boat — the "Wilson's Water Warrior" — in his honor.

"This airboat's not fancy. It's a workhorse, as are you," Joel Ferry, executive director at the Department of Natural Resources, told him. "(The boat) has a lot of good years ahead of it and I'm hopeful that you do as well."

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, gavels the legislative session to a close in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 3, 2023.
House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, gavels the legislative session to a close in the House Chamber at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on March 3, 2023. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Utah ties

Before handing the phones back to several staffers and campaign volunteers, Wilson is asked by a voter what his top priority would be should he win the election.

"That's a really great question," Wilson said. "Actually, I think it's the right question to ask because when we select someone to go back there, they are going to go back and represent our state. ... I want to be a strong voice for all of Utah back in Washington, D.C., and represent Utah to Washington, D.C., not represent Washington, D.C. to Utah. We've had plenty of that."

It's a common refrain of Wilson's on the campaign trail: He wants to resist outside influence, if elected, and keep Utah's values, needs and desires top of mind. Saying that is one thing, but actually sticking to it is another.

Asked how he would actually resist outside influence, money and lobbying, Wilson drew on his experience as a state leader in the Legislature.

"I had a couple of members of the (congressional) delegation that were really great about reaching out to me on a regular basis," he said. Without naming names, he added: "There are two members of the delegation we have right now that in five years while I was speaker of the House didn't call me once."

Wilson boasts the support not only of state leaders such as Gov. Spencer Cox, Senate President Stuart Adams and House Speaker Mike Schultz — his successor and a close personal friend — but is also backed by a majority of Republican state lawmakers, more than three-quarters of county sheriffs and a host of county commissioners and mayors.

Schultz, a Republican lawmaker from Hooper, was effusive in praise for Wilson during a press conference last November to announce the results of an internal leadership vote among the GOP caucus, saying the outgoing speaker "leaves some huge shoes to fill."

"I think the things that we don't talk about all the time — and at least you guys don't see — is the way that he made people feel and how his leadership skills actually elevated everybody," Schultz said. "I say this all the time ... if we had 218 of him (in the House) and 60 in the Senate and a president that all had his talents and abilities and willingness to work together to bring people together, our nation wouldn't be in the mess that it's in."

During a news conference last October, Cox credited Wilson for wrangling the 75 state representatives, calling him "one of the best speakers we've ever had in the state."

"I know Brad as well as just about anybody in the state, and that's why I feel so confident because I have been able to work with him," the governor said.

Wilson credits that support to a trust he has developed with local leaders, and believes those bonds will keep him anchored to the changing landscape of needs on the home front.

"I think it's part of my DNA at this point — to be that guy that's a real strong advocate of Utah issues," he said. "Not that there aren't important federal issues that you have to pay attention to in the U.S. Senate, but if you forget where you're from and stop representing those people, you're doing your state a disservice."

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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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