While most Utahns will focus on Election Day match-ups – especially Mitt Romney against President Barack Obama – for thousands upon thousands of state workers, teachers, college professors and special interest groups – the Republican leadership elections in the state House and Senate may prove much more important.
For the past several such party caucus elections, GOP House and Senate leaders have wanted to hold their secret leadership votes on the same day, starting at the same time.
The theory – which rarely holds up in practice – is that elections in one body shouldn’t affect elections in the other.
For example, it’s unlikely that the speaker, coming from one county or geographic area, would see the president coming from the same county or area.
Even the home-area of the speaker or president could affect down ticket spots, like for majority leader or whip.
But in reality, with texting and email, word of who won the top spot in one body is quickly spread into the other private caucus – and who knows what real-world consequences there may be, since all voting for all offices is by secret paper ballot.
So, on the night of Nov. 8 we will know who will be leading the House over the next two years, who will rule in the Senate.
The minority party leadership elections are less critical, obviously. Democrats are such a minority in the House and Senate (and likely will have even smaller caucuses in 2013 and 2014 than they have the last two years), that they are lucky to pick up scraps of legislation not that important to the majority Republicans.
Of course, we will have a new Senate president. Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, president for the last four years, is retiring this year.
Both Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, and Majority Whip Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, are reportedly running for the open president’s slot.
Under long-held unwritten rules in both the House and Senate, if someone loses for one of the top leadership posts he or she can’t stand for a lower office.
Thus, either Jenkins or Niederhauser will be out of leadership.
Sens. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; Curt Bramble, R-Provo; and Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe; are interested in the open majority leader post, I’m told.
Bramble served as majority leader for two years, four years ago, before being unceremoniously unseated by a challenge from a younger GOP senator.
Dayton would be the first female Senate majority leader in memory.
Okerlund survived an intra-party challenge this year from a Central Utah House member. Okerlund was the 2011 Senate redistricting committee chair, and so made some friends among his Republican colleagues by taking care of them in the redrawing of their new districts – no Republican senators were either combined with each other or with a Democratic incumbent.
Over in the House, Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, as reported first in UtahPolicy, seeks her second and last speakership term.
She says she will retire from the House at the end of 2014. She may be looking at a gubernatorial race in 2016, but won’t comment on that now.
House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, was considering challenging Lockhart for speaker. But now that she’s announced her retirement in two years, Dee says he’ll run for majority leader again – his eye toward the speakership in 2014.
Dee may be challenged, but so far no one has stepped forward.
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper – who was reportedly looking at challenging Lockhart if Dee didn’t – says he, too, will run for re-election to his current post.
But he will have at least one challenger – Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan, says he decided to run for majority whip when he figured Hughes would run for either majority leader or speaker. “So I’m in that race,” Webb recently told UtahPolicy.
One or two other GOP representatives may run for whip, as well.
As reported in UtahPolicy, House Majority Assistant Whip Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, has decided not to run for leadership again.
Her husband, Martell, was just appointed state school superintendent. And Rep. Menlove told UtahPolicy that her decision had something to do with her husband’s career, as well – fewer conflicts of interest and such.
Several House Republicans are looking at getting into leadership as assistant whip: Reps. Don Ipson, R-St. George; Jim Bird, R-West Jordan; Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden; are just of the few names being mentioned. More could announce for that race, also.
Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Minority Whip Jennifer Seelig and Assistant Minority Whip Brian King, both D-Salt Lake, say they will seek to replace retiring Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake.
That will open up both of those other two minority slots, and several Democrats could be looking at those races.
The Senate is a mishmash of opportunity.
Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, lost in his bid for county mayor Democratic nominee, and is leaving the Senate.
Senate Minority Whip Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, is retiring.
Senate Minority Caucus Manager Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake, beat Romero for the Democratic Party’s county mayor nomination. If McAdams wins, he’ll resign his Senate seat. If he loses, he’s back in the Senate for two more years.
So, three of the four Senate minority posts could be vacant.
But here’s a real possibility: The seven-member minority Senate caucus is already down one member because Republicans redistricted Romero and Sen. Pat Jones, D-Holladay, into the same district.
Republicans could well pick up Morgan’s eastside Salt Lake County seat, made more Republican through redistricting as well.
That would make for just five Democratic senators – the lowest number since the mid-1980s.
Four Democrats would take the four leadership posts – leaving only one Democratic senator in the outs. Kind of a lonely spot.