House Dems to Elect 2017 Leaders Tuesday

Utah State CapitolUtah House Democrats will finally meet on Tuesday night to pick their leadership for the 2017 Legislature.

Other leadership races have been decided for some time now, but House Democrats decided to wait until after the official canvass to see how some close races turned out before moving forward, and with good reason. In 2014, three races the Democrats thought they had won flipped after the final vote count.

While there are no official candidate declarations, UtahPolicy.com has been told how some races may shape up on Tuesday.

House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, has no announced opposition heading into Tuesday. It’s not known if another candidate will jump into that race ahead of the vote on Tuesday. Following the 2014 election, King defeated Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, for the minority leader office. Chavez-Houck ended up as Minority Whip during the last two years. King often rankled the majority Republicans during his first term as caucus leader. A lawyer by trade, he has a penchant for making GOP legislators uncomfortable with his pointed questioning during a debate.

It appears Chavez-Houck is not going to run for leadership this time around. She has reportedly not made any noise about retaining her spot, while Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, is planning on running for the Whip slot. Again, this could change on Tuesday evening.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, the current Minority Caucus Manager, is running to replace Rep. Briscoe as the Assistant Whip. She will face Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City.

The race for caucus manager is reportedly between Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City.

The House Democratic caucus election rules are different that what you might usually expect. Members are allowed to run for multiple offices. If they lose one election, they can drop down and run again. Candidates also don’t have to declare their intention to run for office until the night of the vote.

There are more Democrats in the House Minority Caucus this year, expanding their numbers from 12 to 13 following the 2016 election. Republicans still maintain a veto-proof majority in the House at 62-13.

Reportedly, there may be some hard feelings between Republicans and Democrats this year that the newly elected leadership will have to navigate. Some Republicans are bothered by what they call the new “partisanship” that has taken hold in the House after Democrats targeted some Republican seats this year. A few Republicans were incensed by the campaign tactics used by Democrats to try and win those races. In the end, Democrats lost, and now there’s the potential for retaliation.

But, when you talk about retaliating against Democrats, there’s only so much blood you can get from a turnip. They gained just two seats this year, and are virtually irrelevant when it comes to significant legislative issues. Republicans can, and do, pass legislation without their help. Whatever gains Democrats make, it’s only because Republicans allow it.

Another hurdle for the minority party is every single office holder in their caucus comes from Salt Lake County. They lost the only seat they held outside of that geographic boundary when Rep. Brad King, D-Price, lost to Republican Christine Watkins. Watkins previously served in the legislature as a Democrat, and held a Democratic leadership post, before losing her seat in 2012.