I am one of 50 plus members of a bi-partisan community group called the Davis Alliance for Public Education.
Part of our mission is to support candidates for public office who will address the chronic, under-funding of education. As such, we interviewed Dr. Ray Ward, a primary care physician in Bountiful and Chet Loftis, an executive and career lobbyist in the insurance industry. Both are running for Legislative District 19. The Davis Alliance voted unanimously to support Dr. Ward as the better candidate.
Our recommendation is based upon the positive qualities of Dr. Ray Ward. He has a long history of serving our community as a citizen/public service advocate in several key areas: Dr. Ward’s work made Bountiful’s curbside recycling a reality; his grass roots efforts against polluted air stopped area refineries from adding a “Pet Coke” plant in West Bountiful; his volunteer efforts on Utah’s Medicaid Committee have saved $30 million in tax dollars in Medicaid prescription costs; and, he has diligently explored ways to fund and champion public education.
Our group has several concerns with Chet Loftis, who has extensive experience lobbying the legislature, all as part of his employment and much of it as a paid lobbyist for the insurance industry.
We do not view this as a positive, but as a red flag. Mr. Loftis is currently the managing director of the Public Employees Health Plan (PEHP), a public sector entity with 140,000 members. In Mr. Loftis’ status as CEO of PEHP he is entirely dependent upon legislative action. The quasi-public company he directs is subject to audit by the State Auditor and Legislative Auditor General.
Thus, there is an inherent and significant conflict of interest for a legislator who would be making policy on behalf of a legislatively-created entity that he administers for public employees and for which he, as a legislator would be advocating, i.e. lobbying.
PEHP has one of the fattest state “contracts” of any, outside of the Highway Department.
The Utah Constitution Article VI, Section 6, prohibits persons from being legislators who hold public offices of profit or trust under authority of the state. Wouldn’t this be true of Mr. Loftis? Should the UDOT director be a legislator? Why not the State Superintendent of Schools? How about the General Manager of the Utah Transit Authority? Why then the director of PEHP?
Conflicts of interest are inherent in a part-time legislature; nevertheless, the constitutional principle is very clear: those who direct the implementation and execution of state policies shouldn’t also be part of the elected body deciding what those laws ought to be. It is fair to ask whose interests Mr. Loftis would be primarily representing as a legislator—the health insurance industry, public employees, or the families of Bountiful?