Money Woes Forcing Lt. Gov. Greg Bell to Resign

Written by Bob Bernick on . Posted in Today At Utah Policy

Not his health, although he had cancer five years ago.

It’s not his politics, he remains a “moderate Republican conservative” in a very Republican state.

 

It’s not last year’s Davis County Attorney investigation, he was cleared of any wrong doing in inquiring if proper state rules were followed in a child custody case.

No, it’s about money.

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell -- who took that second-in-command job when former Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert stepped up to the top job four years ago -- is leaving his post just a year after re-election because at age 65 he needs to earn more money for his upcoming retirement.

“I was a developer,” Bell said, both before and after he was elected one of Utah’s 29 part-time state senators several years ago.

And in the Great Recession a number of his commercial development projects went south. Not all have come back.

And so for months Bell has had to subsidize one specific project – make debt payments – out of his personal income.

“And I can’t continue to do that,” Bell told UtahPolicy.

Bell said he and his wife started talking seriously about his resignation in August, when it became clear his commercial project wouldn’t sell and he would have to make considerably more money than his Lt. Gov. salary of  $143,961 (which is gross pay including benefits).

(Bell declined to be specific about which development is causing him financial pain.)

In a day that saw the governor’s office a bit sad, Bell called a press conference, Herbert called a press conference, and Bell met with small groups of the media to explain why he was leaving now.

Speaking on the political side, there will be a number of Capitol Hill Republicans who would love to be named Lt. Gov.

The office is seen – as is the vice-presidency of the United States – as a possible jumping off pad for the boss’s job.

It is unlikely Herbert would have been elected governor on his own – he didn’t have the background or the personal wealth to run a big-ticket race.

But since former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. left just after his second reelection (to become ambassador of China), Herbert stepped up and won a special election in 2010 and then won his own four-year term (with Bell along side both times) last November.

Bell was a voice of reason inside the Herbert administration.

And the question is now who can replace him?

A number of names immediately started floating.

Perhaps the more interesting is Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.

She has already announced she won’t run for re-election in 2014 and will retire from the Legislature. Rumors persist she is looking at a run for governor, even against Herbert if he runs again, in 2016.

That would give her two years to separate herself from any stupid (is that possible?) state legislative moves and time to fund raise for a run at the governor’s office.

Herbert has not said if he’ll run for governor a third time.

But if he did, and Lockhart was his Lt. Gov., she couldn’t likely challenge him.

In his Monday press conference, Herbert said he would expect the new Lt. Gov. to run with him in 2016, should he go for it again.

Only two other men have won three gubernatorial races in Utah history – Democrat Calvin Rampton (1972) and Republican Mike Leavitt (2000).

Bell said his experience in the Legislature helped the Herbert administration (Herbert was a Utah County commissioner when Huntsman tapped him as his No. 2).

“I helped out” Herbert through his legislative “liaisons,” said Bell, a remark Herbert repeated several times in his separate press conference.

“I kept the relationships” with and House and Senate members, said Bell.

In his press conference, Herbert said that if a clone of Bell could be found, that would be the perfect new lieutenant governor.

Herbert couldn’t say enough good things about Bell, which, actually, could be fair comments on Bell’s abilities.

(Bell is often a guest columnist on UtahPolicy.)

Herbert said he has “three to five” names on his short list, but he could add a few more. His office confirmed that already a few Utahns have called in to say if Herbert is interested in them, they would be interested in the job.

The new Lt. Gov. who, along with knowing the Legislature and having good contacts there, should be a man or woman of “integrity, people have confidence in what they say,” said Herbert.

The governor said his new political partner needed to be a “right of center conservative Republican, as I am; a complement to me.”

Besides Lockhart, you can see here a list of considerations Herbert may take under advisement when deciding on a replacement in UPD Managing Editor Bryan Schott’s story on a leaked internal memo obtained by UtahPolicy.

There are always projects unfinished, tasks ahead when a politician leaves office, voluntarily or otherwise.

Bell said he’s proud of his work on health care reform and its exchange, tort reform liability, the governor’s summit on health care – building a blueprint for Utah – the homeless and multi-cultural programs.

Utah still has a “big challenge” on public and higher education, said Bell in an interview with UtahPolicy.

There must be greater revenues for education, he added. That may not come in a tax hike, but greater revenues through a stronger economy.

But the status quo is not acceptable and something must be done about Utah schools, said Bell.

Bell told UtahPolicy he would like to work in health care policy and/or higher education.

(Could he join Leavitt’s successful Leavitt Partners, a nationwide health care consulting firm? Just an idea.)

In the leaked internal memo obtained by UtahPolicy, interestingly enough one of the “target” items is to find a job for Bell “ASAP.”

Bell told UtahPolicy his financial situation is not critical – he’s not going to declare bankruptcy – but he does need a higher paying job, especially to set up his family for his retirement.

Bell says he has sent out no “feelers.” “I’ll have to brush up my resume.”  

But a list of recent accomplishments/assignments Bell’s staff provided is pretty long, few Utahns could match it.

Democratic state party chairman Jim Dabakis, who is also a state senator, told reporters Bell was one of the few members of the Herbert administration who would talk to him. Dabakis bemoaned that the only Republican “reasonable voice” on Capitol Hill is leaving.

Bell said he and Herbert are on the same page politically, although he (Bell) may have a different delivery.

Bell praised Herbert, saying he has grown into the job, is confident, makes firm decisions and is moving the state forward on all fronts.

Herbert said he’s losing a personal friend who the governor “enjoyed working with” every day.

Bell “did heavy lifting around here, it will tough to find someone to replace him,” said the governor.

But by around Oct. 1 that person should be named, and be ready for the state Senate to confirm him or her into the No. 2 executive job during lawmaker’s Oct. 13 interim study day.