How about only two members of the powerful House Rules Committee returning to that all-important body?
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, and other members of her leadership team have announced the new committee assignments for the next two years.
There may not be the surprises found in Lockhart’s first committee shake-ups of two years ago, one thing is clear this time around: The first female speaker of the Utah House has named some incoming freshmen/short-timers to important roles in the House’s make-up for 2013 and 2014.
In fact, this may the most committee chairs and vice-chairs with the least legislative experience ever in the 75-member House – a real challenge, if you will, to the historic seniority system that has played some part in committee chairmanships, vice-chairmanships and membership.
Nineteen (almost one third) of the 61 Republicans are new to the body, UtahPolicy finds.
There are 44 chair and vice-chair slots among the regularly-meeting House standing and budget committees (some committee memberships are named, but those bodies rarely meet because of their unique nature).
Thus, all 19 of the freshman Republicans could have been left out of committee chair or vice-chair positions.
But that did not happen. UtahPolicy finds that 21 of those 44 chair and vice-chair slots went to incoming freshmen legislators or to lawmakers with two years experience or less.
The state Senate will announce their committee make-up some time after Dec. 10.
Here are some of the more interesting House committee assignments as analyzed by UtahPolicy:
STANDING COMMITTEES, which hear/amend/and pass bills to the whole House for consideration:
-- House Rules goes from nine members to 11 members, no doubt so that the House Democrats – down from 17 members to only 14 in the new Legislature – can still have two members on Rules.
Rules, like the other standing committees, have a majority/minority membership proportional to the partisan make-up of the whole 75-member House.
The new 2013 Legislature has 61 Republicans, only 14 Democrats, or a break-down of 81.4 percent GOP to 18.6 percent Democratic.
The new House Rules Committee will be 81.81 percent Republican to 18.18 percent Democratic – about a close as one can get to the break-out of the House as a whole.
-- The new Rules chairman, Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, was first elected in 2010. He has only two years in the House.
One would be hard-pressed to find in House archives a former Rules Committee chair with so little experience.
Sanpei replaces the former Rules chair Rep. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan. Harper was elected to the Senate in November. Harper had 14 years in the House when he was named Rules chair two years ago by Lockhart.
Rules vice-chair is Rep. Derek Brown, R-Cottonwood Heights. Brown, also, was first elected in 2010 – and has only two years in the House.
Both Sanpei and Brown are new to the Rules Committee. And only Reps. John Mathis, R-Vernal; and Larry Wiley, D-West Valley City; are returning to Rules.
All the other members are new to the committee, which is charged with the critical task of sifting bills to House standing committees.
If a bill doesn’t get out of Rules, it doesn’t get heard and is automatically dead.
-- Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, also first elected in 2010, is chair of the House Ethics Committee.
While it is true the Ethics Committee rarely meets – called into session only to hear an ethics-related bill or, more importantly, to stand in judgment of a representative charged with improper conduct -- it is still an important post.
Handy is also vice-chair of the Public Utilities & Technology Standing Committee.
-- Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, elected in 2010, is chair of the House Transportation Standing Committee.
-- Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, (who was given some important mid-term committee assignments by Lockhart), is reappointed as chair of the critical House Education Standing Committee. Gibson was first elected in 2010.
-- Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, appointed to the House in 2012, is vice-chair of the Education Standing Committee.
That means the two GOP leaders of the Education committee, together, have only three years experience in the House.
-- Incoming freshman Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, (who served in the House years ago) is vice-chair of the Retirement & Independent Entities Standing Committee.
-- Incoming freshman Rich Cunningham, R-South Jordan, brand new to the Legislature, is the vice-chair of the Economic Development & Workforce Services Standing Committee.
-- Seven House Republicans elected in 2010, with only two years experience, were also appointed various standing committee vice-chairs.
EXECUTIVE APPROPRIATION COMMITTEE and the various budget subcommittees:
-- Former House speaker and long-time lawmaker Rep. Mel Brown, R-Kamas, stays on as the House budget chair – a powerful position.
But Lockhart names current-freshman lawmaker Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, first elected in 2010, as the main budget committee’s vice chair – a top job for a legislator with only two years in the House.
Wilson replaces newly-elected state auditor Rep. John Dougall, R-Highland. Dougall had eight years in the House when Lockhart tapped him to be EAC House vice-chair in 2010.
Clearly, Lockhart sees Wilson as not only an up-and-comer, but also a likely supporter in her second run for speaker this past fall.
-- Incoming freshman Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, is House vice-chair of the Infrastructure & General Government budget subcommittee.
-- Incoming freshman Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is House vice-chair of the Executive Offices & Criminal Justice budget subcommittee.
-- Incoming freshman Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is vice-chair of the Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environmental Quality budget subcommittee.
-- Incoming freshman Spencer Cox, R-Fairview, is vice-chair of the Higher Education budget subcommittee.
-- Incoming freshman Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, is the vice-chair of the Retirement budget subcommittee. Nelson, as listed above, is also the Retirement Standing Committee vice-chair.
-- Three House Republicans elected in 2010 or appointed later, Rep. Steve Eliason, Sandy; Stewart Barlow, R- Fruit Heights (appointed in 2011); and Dan McCay, R-Herriman (appointed in 2012); were picked as House budget vice-chairs.
-- More veteran House members were chosen by Lockhart to be House budget committee chairs.
Historically, the more seasoned lawmakers are picked as budget chairs, since state budgets are complicated and it’s valuable to have some time in the House and Senate before one sits as a budget chairman.
Lockhart told UtahPolicy that the make-up of the GOP House caucus is one reason so many “legislative young” representatives were put into committee chair and vice-chair positions.
“You have to remember that 31 of our 61 members have two years experience (in the House) or less,” she said. “It’s a very young caucus, in that respect.”
Then you take into account seven leadership posts – elected by the caucus or appointed by the speaker – who don’t sit on any other standing or budget committees.
All considered, that opens up a number of committee leadership slots for those folks, she added.
“It’s been my philosophy to match the right people with the right assignments,” taking into account their real world experiences outside of the Legislature, she said.
She said the incoming freshmen appointed to budget committees’ vice-chairmanships came to her and asked for important fiscal-policy-setting positions.
“They want to learn the budget, really get in there and see how the budget is done.” Budget vice-chairs are a great learning experience, one that will help the state down the road.
“We’re excited about our freshman class; they are top-notch folks who’ve had real success in their lives.”
Lockhart said, as a former Rules Committee chair herself, that she understands what that job needs, and Sanpei fits the bill perfectly.
“Dean doesn’t say much. But he’s well respected by” other legislators “and when he talks, they listen. He’s honest” and a straight shooter – something much required in a Rules chair, she said.
“I know what that job takes. And we all have great confidence in him.”
One interesting note: Apparently Lockhart doesn’t hold too many bad feelings for Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.
Noel was a last-minute challenger to Lockhart for her speakership post following the November general election.
Lockhart was, sources say, easily re-elected as speaker via secret ballot.
Noel previously was the chair of the House’s Public Utilities Standing Committee, a job that kind of fit Noel, for he’s the manager of the Kane County Water Conservancy District.
In the new Legislature, Noel will be chair of the House’s Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment Standing Committee, where he will oversee all public lands and environment legislation – for him a more powerful position, and a heartburn for the “radical environmentalists” Noel loves to name and rhetorically torture.
Finally, Lockhart’s appointments of freshmen/short-timers to top House leadership posts may rankle a few veteran House Republicans.
But Lockhart has already announced that she will retire from the House at the end of 2014 – so she won’t need veteran GOP votes in any future leadership election.
She may run for governor in 2016, and the friendships she’s building among the new House Republicans could prove valuable down Utah’s political highway.
2012 Utah House Committee Assignments