As detailed in a UtahPolicy story this past week, more than half of the Utah County GOP state House caucus will be gone when the gavel falls on the 2013 Legislature.
The old 13-member county group provided some key leadership on conservative issues. (The new, redistricted caucus will have 14 members.)
When you include former Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman (just north of the Utah County border in southwestern Salt Lake County), the ravages in the Utah County delegation includes four of the five founding members of the Patrick Henry Caucus.
PHC was formed in 2008 and has since spread to several other state legislatures – pushing its ideals of less federal government less expensive government and greater states’ rights based on the original concepts in the U.S. Constitution and Federalist Papers.
In fact, the only remaining PHC member in the Utah House is Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, always a bit of a misfit among the hard conservatives – and more loud members – of Wimmer and Reps. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem; Chris Herrod, Provo; and Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork.
Grover is a soft-spoken man, a real opposite of dynamic personalities like Wimmer and Herrod.
To recap the ill-fates of those PHC members:
-- Sandstrom and Wimmer ran for the new 4th Congressional District. Both were eliminated by Saratoga Springs Mayor Mia Love in the state Republican convention.
-- Herrod ran for the U.S. Senate and was eliminated in the state Republican convention.
-- Sumsion ran for governor and was eliminated in the state Republican convention.
(I have to admit here that I’ve always confused in my mind several members of the PHC, and especially what they were running for this year. At one point, I wrote down in the back of a reporter’s notebook their names and offices they sought, and have referred to the notations a number of times this election cycle.)
Anyway, the four men of the PHC who are leaving (or have resigned from) the Utah House have lead out in a number of conservative issues, like illegal immigration (Sandstrom and Herrod), and abortion and gun rights (Wimmer and Sumsion).
Who can forget Wimmer’s bill that made an old-model .45 automatic handgun Utah’s official state gun?
That bill got national attention.
As did a few of the other PHC and Utah County representatives over the last decade.
Of course, the political power of Utah County will remain if House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, wins a second term as speaker after the November general election.
That office is often listed as second only to the governor in political influence in Utah.
Still, to have more than half your county delegation being freshmen in 2013 will be a step down in Utah County influence.
Some may recall that earlier this decade Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, was Senate president and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, was Senate majority leader.
But both those men lost their leadership positions in internal Senate GOP elections.
And while every senator carries weight in the small 29-member body, Utah County’s influence waned with the loss of that pair’s leadership posts.
Now, also, consider that GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is from Utah County, and served a long time there as a county commissioner.
But, at least so far, Herbert hasn’t been an especially hometown boy.
(Just one example: When former Gov. Mike Leavitt was in office, he made sure that his alma mater Southern Utah University got money to buy a whole block of Cedar City land for the expanding Utah Shakespeare Festival.)
Yes, UDOT is spending billions of dollars rebuilding and expanding I-15 in Utah County, but that project was planned before Herbert became governor.
Utah County hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Legislature since Moses was a boy.
Provo in the 1980s had a popular mayor – the race is non-partisan -- who turned out to be a closet Democrat (he ran as lieutenant governor on a Democratic ticket, losing, of course). The next mayoral election voters kicked him out of office.
The county is one of, if not the, most Republican in the nation.
The Utah County Republican Party used to give automatic delegate status to all GOP elected officials in the county.
Since ALL partisan elected officials in the county are Republicans, it lead to so many automatic delegate slots that rank-and-file Republicans revolted and the county party stopped giving out those dozens of automatic delegate prizes.
In fact, Utah County has had so much political influence on Capitol Hill in recent years that it’s become an unpleasant fact that Utah County legislators have to jockey for leadership positions.
Lockhart may not have won the speakership if Valentine and Bramble were still running the Senate.
Now Utah County senators may have to wait until Lockhart leaves the speakership before they can effectively run for a leadership post in the upper body.
Having more than half of the Utah County membership in the House being freshmen may calm some fears that Utah County conservatives are running state government.
Time will tell if the new crop of Utah County representatives are as conservative, or will have the impact, that the outgoing group have had on Utah politics.