Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, was picked as the new majority leader, while Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, is the new majority whip.
Current Majority Assistant Whip Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, was re-elected to that post.
As reported by UtahPolicy previously, Okerlund suffered a heart attack Monday night. He addressed the closed Senate caucus via a telephone from his hospital room, and voted the same way.
Adams said Okerlund had three stints inserted, is doing well, and is expected to be back on Capitol Hill within a month and fully prepared for January’s start of the annual general session.
Niederhauser succeeds President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who is retiring from the Senate this year.
Niederhauser, a certified public accountant and developer, has only been in the Senate six years, a rather short time to be honored with the 29-member body’s top job.
But Niederhauser was the majority whip before beating Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, for the president’s post.
While the Senate got a number of new GOP leaders Thursday, the House stuck with what they had the past two years – Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo; Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace; and Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper; were all re-elected by the newly-enlarged 61-member GOP caucus for 2012-2014.
The newcomer is Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, who was picked to be the new assistant majority whip. The current assistant whip, Rep. Ronda Rudd Menlove, R-Garland, chose not to seek her leadership post again.
Lockhart, as she previously told UtahPolicy, will not run for speaker again, and in fact will retire from the House at the end of 2014. Rumors persist that Lockhart, Utah’s first female House speaker, is interested in a gubernatorial run in 2016.
She said her re-election, and those of Dee and Hughes, shows that the caucus is satisfied with their current leadership.
In fact, two members who ran for whip and assistant whip were top-level chairmanship appointees of Lockhart, and some insiders wondered if those two men would be picked to shore up Lockhart’s leadership over the next two years. But those guys lost.
And Lockhart said that she is glad to work with Dee, Hughes and Ipson, “three men that I consider personal friends,” as well as valued leadership colleagues.
In answer to a question, Dee said whether the new GOP House caucus will be any more “moderate” than the last two years remains to be seen.
“You and the public” will make that decision as the 2013 Legislature runs through its 45-day annual session this January-March.
“We will be a conservative caucus,” said Dee.
Of course, the new leaders spent a lot of time with the new 19 Republicans elected to their posts Tuesday. And whether they wanted to say it or not, got impressions of their political leanings.
Hughes said the new Republicans will reflect their individual constituencies, although he said there was a “different tone” – meaning less strident conservative – in several of the new Republican members’ races this year.
Hughes and several other newly-elected leaders said that managing the large 61-member caucus (there were 58 Republicans in the 2011-2012 House) will be a challenge; but they look forward to it.
Lockhart said she remembers when there were several internal caucuses in the House – like the “conservative caucus” and the “Reagan caucus” (which was really one made up of more moderate members).
Unlike previous speakers, she will not ask that such caucuses – if there are any – not meet. Those speakers believed that such split caucuses harmed GOP House unity.
“We have a right of free association,” said Lockhart. “And people will get together and meet.”
And she won’t try to stifle that. What is important, she added, is that the full caucus come together to make policy decisions. That has happened in the past, and will happen again, she said.
Lockhart was challenged at the last minute by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.
It was rumored that some of Noel’s support came for older House members who had supported Lockhart two years ago when she upset then-Speaker David Clark, R-Santa Clara.
Lockhart said she never takes leadership elections personally, although she realizes that such elections can be hard.
“This is my sixth leadership election,” she said. “And I lost the first three of mine” before being elected assistant whip in 2008.
“The beauty of our system is that we don’t know who voted for us and who didn’t,” making it easier to get past leadership races and get on with the business of the House and that of Utah, she said.
Niederhauser said Senate Republicans will continue to have closed caucuses. (Most of the House GOP caucuses are open to the press and public.)
In addition, he expects the 24 Republicans will keep the current tradition of not taking actual votes in caucus on critical budget or bill issues. Sources say GOP senators don’t take caucus votes, but in discussions around the large caucus room table leaders learn if their proposals have “caucus support,” and so can then take those positions to House Republicans and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
Niederhauser has pushed a number of data-driven reforms in state budgeting and other areas. His bio says that he was ALEC’s legislator of the year in 2009 – so he clearly has ties to some powerful, national conservative groups.
GOP leaders usually don’t have agendas, or if they do, they don’t talk about them right off the bat.
But in answer to a UtahPolicy question, Niederhauser said he is not in favor of statewide law ensuring equal rights for gays and lesbians in employment and housing. A number of local governments have adopted such laws, and Niederhauser, Adams and Knudson all said they don’t like the idea of a state law on that subject.
“You bring up an interesting question about leadership,” said Knudson. Sometimes leaders do make suggestions to their caucus – and so direct action -- and sometimes the caucus directs leaders where to go on an issue. “It is not a slam dunk for sure” in any way, he added.
Finally, as Monty Python would say, “And now for something completely different.”
I got a voicemail this week from Alyson Heyrend, the long-time spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson. Alyson, a nice person, said she was waiting with interest for me to apologize in my UtahPolicy Friday column for predicting that Matheson would lose last Tuesday to his GOP challenger, Mia Love, and, Alyson added, to explain myself on how I could be so wrong.
Well, I was wrong. Like just about everyone else in my business, I guessed that Matheson would lose. I detailed my reasons in a previous column. And if Alyson believes an apology is needed, I gladly hereby give it.
Now, as to her interest in my explanation of how I could have been so wrong about Matheson this year – I look back to her own words spoken to me two years ago.
You may recall that in 2010 Matheson was forced into an embarrassing Democratic primary election by a female liberal challenger from his left, Claudia Wright, at the State Democratic Convention.
Before that convention, I opined that Matheson, then a 10-year incumbent, would in fact be forced into a primary by unhappy state Democratic delegates who hated that he had recently voted against Obamacare (and other issues dear to their hearts), but would easily win a primary.
In the Salt Palace that day, where the Democrats held their 2010 convention, I ran into Alyson after the 2nd District vote and Matheson being forced into a primary – and she was not happy that her boss faced a primary.
As I recall she said:
“Bernick! Where to you get your predictions? Pull them out of your ass?!”
Apparently so, Alyson, apparently so.