- Associated Press - Saturday, August 15, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The former CEO of Overstock.com announced on Saturday the start of a campaign to unseat Utah’s sitting governor.

Jonathan Johnson, chairman of Overstock.com’s board, revealed his plans to run against Gov. Gary Herbert in 2016 at the state GOP’s annual convention Saturday and via social media accounts. Both Johnson and Herbert are Republicans.

“It’s been the worst kept secret in the state that I’ve intended to run,” Johnson told The Associated Press on Saturday, noting that he had spent the last year touring the state listening to would-be voters.

Johnson enters a race against a popular sitting governor with approval ratings as a percentage of the population in the mid-to-high-70s who has already amassed $1.3 million to campaign, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Herbert’s campaign spokesman Marty Carpenter confirmed the amount and said the governor’s approval ratings have been consistently between 68 and 76 percent.

“Economically, things are going very well in our state,” he said. “There’s a strong sense that Utah is doing far better than the rest of the country.”

Johnson called Herbert a “fine manager” Saturday but argued he can’t take all the credit for the state’s business growth pointing instead to entrepreneurs like him. As for approval ratings, he said much of it comes down to the way questions are phrased, like asking people if they like puppies versus asking if they’d like to buy a puppy.

Johnson said that despite Herbert’s approval ratings he hears from people who are frustrated.

“It’s clear to me that people think Utah can do better than it’s doing today,” he said.

The Utah businessman said he plans to focus on improving the state’s education system, making Utah less reliant on federal funding and securing the transfer of federal lands to state control, something Johnson said Herbert has failed to do so far.

First, though, Johnson said he wants to debate Herbert early and often.

Carpenter said it’s too early for talk of debates considering the filing deadline to run for governor isn’t until March.

He said Herbert, elected in 2009 after serving five years as the state’s lieutenant governor, has always debated opponents in the past. For now, he said Herbert is focused on governing.

As for the question of federal land transfers, Carpenter said Herbert has been a firm believer that Utah can manager its lands better than the federal government can and continues to work with federal lawmakers to make that happen. He said the governor’s perspective is that there’s really one shot to get it done right.

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