Longtime state Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, will resign his seat in September and become the new chairman of the Utah State Tax Commission.
Whoever the Senate District 14 GOP delegates pick to replace Valentine will not be on the November ballot to serve out the remaining two years of Valentine’s four-year term.
Instead, that person will hold the seat until the 2016 election. That’s because the vacancy will occur AFTER Aug. 30 of an even-number election year, and by law such a late election year resignation is dealt with differently.
Valentine, who was elected to the House in 1988 and later moved to the Senate, said he originally went to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert to endorse the reappointment of Bruce Johnson as Tax Commission chair.
But Herbert felt that Johnson’s 16 years at the commission was enough – nothing wrong with Johnson per se.
At that point, said Valentine, he and Herbert talked about whether Valentine would want the job. Valentine did submit an application and Herbert formally appointed him Monday morning.
There are no legislative interim meetings in August. So in September Valentine’s name will go before the state Senate for confirmation.
Little doubt what will happen there, Valentine is a former GOP leader and Senate president, well respected and liked by his colleagues.
Valentine said he’s not resigning his seat until he is confirmed – this the late election year rule will apply.
Valentine, 65, is the managing partner of the law firm of Howard, Lewis & Peterson, and has practiced tax law in Utah since 1976.
He told UtahPolicy he probably argued his first case before the Tax Commission in the late 1970s, and has argued any number of cases since.
He’ll take an official leave from his firm, will carry no clients and his old firm will not be allowed to practice before the Tax Commission while Valentine sits on it, he told UtahPolicy.
By law, the GOP delegates of Senate District 14 will meet and select a name to go before Herbert, who will appoint that person to Valentine’s seat.
Valentine said four current House members live in his Senate District, and so could seek to step up to his seat.
They are: Reps. Kevin Stratton, R-Orem; Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi; Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine; and Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove.
Valentine said he has talked to the men, telling them he was resigning, and that Stratton and Greene expressed interest in seeking the Senate post.
But any registered Republican who lives inside Senate District 14 can apply for delegate consideration.
And others who may be interested are former House members Craig Frank and Holly Richardson, Valentine said.
Frank challenged Valentine in 2012 and lost in the convention, Richardson ran for her old Pleasant Grove House seat this year and was eliminated by the incumbent Greene.
Valentine has been the Senate’s (and, indeed, the Legislature’s) expert on tax law for years.
Recently, Valentine also began running liquor law reform bills in the Legislature, and was instrumental in getting the surprise bill passed several years ago that did away with private clubs and basically provided liquor-by-the-drink in properly state licensed restaurants and bars.
The current Utah Constitution says that the four-member Tax Commission must be equally balanced by major political party – two Democrats, two Republicans.
Valentine sponsored a constitutional amendment in the 2014 session which does away with the political balance, arguing that few, if any, tax commission decisions are based on partisan politics, but rather on oft times complicated tax law and fairness.
That amendment passed and will be before voters for approval in November. If approved, there will be no partisan test in Tax Commission appointments.
“I had no idea that I would be (up for appointment) when I sponsored that resolution,” Valentine told UtahPolicy.
In any case, Johnson is a Republican, as is Valentine, so at least until the next appointment (assuming the amendment is approved by voters) there will remain a partisan balance on the commission.
Valentine said he will miss the work and associations of the Senate, although as tax commission chair he will be testifying before any number of legislative committees in the future.
Most recently, Valentine was the Senate Rules Committee chairman, where he held great power in deciding which bills would be heard in Senate standing committees and, at the end of the session, which bills would be advanced on the Senate calendar for floor votes.
Besides his law practice and Senate work, Valentine is a lieutenant and long-time volunteer on the Utah County Search and Rescue Team.
He will keep that job, saying it has no conflicts with tax commission work.
Several years ago it was Valentine who dropped down a rescue helicopter line to help the wife of Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who had fallen during a mountain hike and needed paramedic aid.
At the end of the 2014 Legislature, Valentine also assisted Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, when he suffered a heart attack during a leadership meeting.
Valentine is 65 years old, and wouldn’t rule out further public service when his four-year Tax Commission term runs out in June of 2018, he said.