Before he was elected speaker of the Utah House, Dave Clark was seriously planning a run for the U.S. House.
Clark told UtahPolicy on Wednesday that he made a trip to Washington, D.C., in 2008 to meet with Republican National Congressional Committee members to talk about a possible campaign – presumably against Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, in the 2nd Congressional District.
Clark, R-Santa Clara, knew that redistricting was coming up. He knew that Matheson would probably have a tough re-election, either in 2010 or 2012. And Clark wanted to lay some groundwork.
At first, he was seriously considering 2010.
“But I became even more involved in legislative activities” in 2009. “And I thought it important for southern Utah and the state itself to stay” in the Utah House.
In 2008 his re-election to the Utah House was virtually assured. And he was planning on running for re-election to the House majority leader post (also a likely win.)
But then-Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, lost his general election race to a Democrat. Suddenly, Clark was expected to step up to the speaker’s race (he did), running unopposed within his House GOP caucus just after the November 2008 general election.
To run a U.S. House race when he was now the top guy in the state House, and the state facing all kinds of financial problems – well the timing was certainly not right, he said.
Clark figured he could put off that congressional race at least until 2012 – be elected speaker again after the 2010 general election – and run from the relatively-strong position of the speakership.
However, “events were not what I originally thought,” Clark said.
To whit: By one vote he lost the speaker’s race in November 2010 to then-House Majority Assistant Whip Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
“Still, I have no regrets about that decision” not to run for Congress in 2010, said Clark, 58, a regional president of Zions Bank.
Even though he wouldn’t have the speakership from which to seek a U.S. House seat in 2012 – and all the name I.D., public relations power and fund raising clout that comes with it – Clark says: “With the new look of redistricting, where all the (U.S.) House districts were to change simply because of the math of population shifts, (2012) looks like this might be a better fit timewise.”
More important than his political and personal timeframe, however, was the critical times of state financing in 2009, 2010 and 2011, he added.
“These last few years, from a state legislative standpoint, have been very difficult financially. With my financial experience and background, with the making of key decisions, I believe I’ve helped us through these hard times.”
Clark gives this perspective: The last time Utah faced these tax revenue problems was back in the mid-1980s when then-GOP Gov. Norm Bangerter held office.
“They (the Legislature and Bangerter) had to cut 6.5 percent of the budget. We had to cut 22 percent” in the 2008, 2009, 2010 bad budget years.
“We cut our budgets, in state tax dollars, from $6 billion to $4.8 billion,” he said. “I think I can bring to Washington, D.C., the strong political backbone and personal financial skills to get things done (in Congress) right now,” Clark adds.
Things still are not great in Utah, and certainly aren’t nationally and in D.C., he says.
But by being fiscally conservative. By facing Utah’s problems head on and being pro-active, Republicans running state government here (and Clark says he played a large role in that) have made a difference.
“Over the last several years we’ve planted the economic seed corn here in Utah. And the harvest, while small, is coming in.”
Speaking about pure politics and his upcoming 2nd District race (it is still not certain where Matheson will run in 2012, either in his 2nd District, jump to the new 4th District, or run for governor), Clark says 2012 will be a good chance for Republicans to win back the 2nd District.
The new district breaks out about one-third Salt Lake City, one-third Davis and Tooele Counties (considered, like Salt Lake, urban areas), and one-third southern Utah, which has an urban/rural mix.
Can someone from southern Utah win either the GOP nomination or the final election in the newly-drawn 2nd District?
Yes, believes Clark. As long as it is the right person.
And, naturally, he sees himself in that role.
For a number of years, he says, he’s spent between 100 and 120 days each calendar year in Salt Lake, either on legislative or Zions Bank business.
“I’ve lived here” in Salt Lake. “I own residential property here. I believe I know this area well. And, of course, I know southern Utah, too.”
The other GOP candidates who’ve announced so far for the 2nd District can’t make those claims, Clark says.
St. George, Clark’s stomping ground, has a strong Tea Party movement. Clark says he may or may not get that wing of the GOP’s support, but says he’s a strong conservative, both on fiscal and social issues.
One example, Clark voted against HB116, the controversial illegal immigrant guest worker law that Tea Partiers and other Utah conservatives are taking out after.
“I support the principles in the Utah Compact” on immigration, Clark said. “But HB116 is problematic constitutionally and it won’t work.
“I want folks to look at my complete record, not just one or two votes. And I’m not looking to any one group’s support. I’ve shown in my (Utah House) service that I’m a problem-solver, a reformer on health care and ethics, and I bring a unique financial background.”
Clark had scheduled an early December congressional announcement. But now he says that will wait until after the New Year.
He will also resign from the Utah House in January so that he can fund raise during the January-March 45-day general session. (State legislators can’t fund raise when the Legislature is convened.)
Clark said it is still unclear if he will leave his job at Zions Bank, where he’s worked for more than 35 years, to run for Congress.