Madsen No Longer Welcome in Senate GOP Caucus

Mark MadsenYou’ve heard of the man without a country?

Well, state Sen. Mark Madsen is now officially a man without a caucus.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, told UtahPolicy there are several reasons, legal among them, for denying Madsen access to the closed GOP Senate caucus, but mainly: “He chose to leave us, by not being a Republican.”

Madsen, who is not running for re-election this year and is retiring from the Senate at year’s end, has been frustrated with the national and Utah GOP structure for some time.

And after his medical marijuana bill failed in the 2016 Legislature, Madsen said he was leaving the United States to live in South America, where a man can actually be free.

He hasn’t left the U.S., but he has left the Utah Republican Party.

 Several weeks ago Madsen formally changing his party registration from Republican to Libertarian – a party that does support legalizing various drugs for patient use.

Wednesday, the Utah Senate GOP caucus, now down one member, had to decide if Madsen (now L-Saratoga Springs), could attend closed caucus meetings, held at least twice weekly during the January-March general session and usually during the monthly interim study committee meetings on Capitol Hill.

Wednesday was the first interim meeting, and GOP Senate caucus meeting since Madsen officially became a Libertarian.

This is more than just window-dressing, or acceptance of a former Republican colleague.

The GOP-dominated Utah Senate had to formally apologize – to settle a lawsuit — several decades ago for allowing Democratic senators to meet with them in a closed, joint caucus.

The old-boy Senate, where personal relationships once meant something, started inviting Senate Democrats to have lunch with them back in the 1980s when the then-Democratic caucus room, off of the House Chambers, was remodeled into a large men’s restroom.

The Senate GOP caucus, unlike today, was traditionally open all the time. So the Republican and Democratic senators would hear the same caucus presentations by (usually) lobbyists, and eat the same free lunch (literally) provided by those same lobbyists.

Then, over time, occasionally the Republicans would close their caucus after lunch — usually at the end of the general session — to talk about sensitive stuff, like budget-balancing, and such.

Now, the tough thing is that if 15 GOP senators (a Senate majority) meet in a closed session with even one Democrat, then that is officially a quorum of the Senate, and by the Open Meetings Act that must be agendaed, give 24-notice, and can only be closed for certain reasons, like getting legal briefings in a court suit.

Of course, none of the old GOP closed caucuses met those criteria.

The then-GOP Senate Majority Leader Craig Peterson, now a lobbyist, had to formally apologize for breaking the Open Meetings Act, and Democrats could no longer attend a closed GOP Senate caucus.

Now comes Madsen, no longer a Republican, but a Libertarian.

And the Open Meetings Act still applies.

And if Republicans let Madsen stay during a closed caucus, that would be a Senate quorum with a non-party member attending.

Bang! Right back where Peterson et al. got into all that trouble so long ago.

“We still love Mark as a (Senate) colleague,” said Okerlund. “But he is no longer a member of our (Senate GOP) caucus. And he made that choice.”