Many Utahns couldn't care less who is president of the Senate or speaker of the House.
But for Capitol Hill power players, the leadership contests – which happen right after the November general elections – can not only make or break careers, but can make or cost tens of thousands of dollars – especially for lobbyists.
Technically, registered lobbyists can’t get involved in leadership races. But it is a rule more observed in the breaking than the following.
Two years ago, Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, took the unprecedented step of writing a letter posted on the Senate’s unofficial GOP site warning lobbyists they could lose their registration – and thus their careers – if they didn’t get out of the then-hotly contested Senate GOP leadership races.
In the end, the incumbents – especially Jenkins and President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville – prevailed.
And so for at least for one more election the young bucks in the Senate were knocked down by the old guard.
Waddoups is retiring this year, opening the way for a number of leadership shifts.
So far it is more of a race among the old guard, with the young bucks sitting this one out.
At least that’s how it appears now.
At the October interim day party caucuses, the official leadership candidate filings open. And they stay open until noon of the day previous to the post-general election official leadership caucus vote day.
If tradition is followed, for the majority Republicans (there is no way Democrats will win the majority in the Utah Senate this election) that leadership election day will be Friday, Nov. 9.
That’s when the 20-odd GOP senators for 2013-2014 will meet in the Senate majority caucus room (the old Utah Supreme Court conference room behind the now-ceremonial high court chambers) and take secret ballots for Senate president, majority leader, majority whip and assistant majority whip.
Senate sources say that as it appears now, Jenkins will be running for president against Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.
Running for majority leader are Sens. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; Curt Bramble, R-Provo; and Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe.
Running for majority whip is Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton.
And running for re-election as assistant majority whip is Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, who holds that post now.
Of course, the folks named above could decide not to run for one of those posts, or run for another one.
And another GOP senator or two, not named above, could run for one of those four posts.
By tradition, the presidential race is voted on first, then majority leader and on down the slate. If a senator loses for one of the upper posts, he or she can’t run for a lower one. So it is win or be out of leadership.
Of course, because Utah’s 29-member Senate is so small in numbers, every majority party member is appointed by the new leadership as a committee chairman or vice chairman.
But if a senator challenges an incumbent leader and loses, he could also be named chairman of one of the lesser committees.
Republicans hold 22 seats now, Democrats only seven.
There’s not much chance of the minority Democrats picking up a GOP seat this election. (Senators’ terms are four years, roughly half the Senate up every two years.)
But Republicans hope to take Senate District 8, where Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, is retiring and the candidates are Democrat Josie Valdez and Republican Brian Shiozowa.
So, likely, there will be either 22 or 23 Republicans voting on new leadership posts this November.
Jenkins is a plumbing wholesaler from northern Utah, while Niederhauser is an accountant/developer from southern Salt Lake County.
(Geography often plays a part in leadership races, although it doesn’t appear a major factor in a Jenkins/Niederhauser top race.)
If elected majority leader, Dayton would be the first female Senate leader in recent memory. There has never been a female president of the Utah Senate.
Bramble is trying to win back the majority leader post he held earlier in the 2000s. He was taken out in a nasty race when he was challenged by Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Layton, then one of the Senate’s young bucks.
Okerlund was the Senate chair of the vital Redistricting Committee in 2011, where he managed to take care of incumbent GOP senators without great political flare-ups, showing a touch of personal diplomacy.
All three consider themselves conservatives, but of the bunch Dayton has probably sponsored some of the more controversial measures in recent years and made a greater number of interesting public statements.
Bramble in recent sessions has proven himself a master of new technologies now being brought into legislative services.
If, as UtahPolicy has been told, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, (also the first female speaker) wins re-election to her top leadership post with little or no opposition, then it may be more difficult for Dayton or Bramble to win a top Senate post, both being from Utah County as is Lockhart.
Utah House and Senate Republicans have held their leadership caucuses on the same night previously, the idea being that elections in one body wouldn’t be affecting elections in the other.
But with texting and cellphone use, who has won the top posts often leak into the other body’s GOP caucus as the votes are being taken inside Capitol meeting rooms.
Senate sources tell UtahPolicy that as of now, the contested races, especially the president’s race, are staying quite civil.
Historically, with a few exceptions, the candidates themselves don’t go after each other.
Rather, their top intra-caucus supporters use sharpened elbows while more than a few lobbyists take sides, hoping to end up in the winners’ good graces and have (at least for some time) bragging rights that they helped elect this or that new leader to his post.
In a few cases, lobbyists or organization leaders have backed the wrong horse, and depending on the new leaders’ forgiveness, it’s taken them years to work themselves back into strong lobbying positions.
In the small Senate, it is usually relatively well known which senator is backing which leader candidate.
In the 75-member House such detections are harder.
And one former speaker used to joke that he had to write 38 thank-you notes for the 32 votes he got in a contested speakership race – that’s because several representatives who likely voted against him came up later to tell him how strongly they supported him.
Top GOP leaders in both bodies, of course, carry tremendous power.
They appoint committee chairs; budget chairs and vice chairs; have authority over sifting of bills and can order funding levels in critical programs.
They meet at least weekly with the governor during general and special session, and represent the state at official functions, both in Utah, nationwide and even overseas.
They also get quoted in the news more often than rank-and-file members and can raise, if they wish, hundreds of thousands of dollars in their personal campaign or PAC accounts.
And former legislative leaders have, over the years, been elected to Congress and the governorship.
While time constraints are always tough on leaders, if a leader is in business that part of his life could improve, as well.
A lawyer/leader may get more clients; a teacher/leader advancement up the administrative ranks.
On a more personal level, several former leaders have been called to important positions in the LDS Church after their political service, one Senate president resigning his office to become a mission president.
In short, usually it is more fun to be a leader, and could advance one’s political, religious and career agenda.