Hughes Shuffles the Deck with House Committee Assignments

Utah State Capitol 06Boy, are you going to need a program to know who all the new Utah House chairs are for standing and budget committees come the January general session.

Calling it a shake up would an understatement, as second-term House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and his leadership team really moved around the appointed chairmen and vice-chairmen for the next two years.

A review by UtahPolicy shows that 11 of the 12 House standing committee chairmanships go to Republicans who are new chairs to those committees, in some cases new to the committees themselves.

Four of the eight budget subcommittees also have new House co-chairs. (The budget subcommittees are joint committees, and one co-chair is from the Senate, the other from the House.)

As reported previously by UtahPolicy, two of the most important committee chairs remain: Rep. Dean Sanpei, R-Provo, remains the co-chair of the all-powerful Executive Appropriations Committee; and Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, stays on as House Rules Committee chairman.

But only Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, stays on in her chairmanship of the House Standing Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Services. All the other standing committee chairs will be new.

That is, new to the chairmanship. In many cases, chairs of one committee were switched to be the chairs of another committee.

Or vice-chairs of one committee were promoted to be the chair of another committee.

The eight-member Rules Committee will have only four returning members; besides Noel, the committee will have Reps. Jon Stanard, R-St. George, vice-chair (new to that position); Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Holladay; and Mike Schultz, R-Hooper; coming back.

New to the powerful bill-sifting/holding committee are: Reps. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake; Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden; Val Peterson, R-Orem; and Christine Watkins, R-Price.

The Watkins appointment is a stunner. Watkins four years ago was a House Democrat – in fact, in House minority leadership.

She was beaten by a Republican after redistricting. She became a Republican and ran two years ago but lost the GOP nomination. She ran this year again, won the GOP nomination and beat Rep. Brad King, D-Price. And King was on Rules the last two years. So House District 69, oddly enough, keeps a say on Rules.

The Watkins Rules appointment shows Hughes has faith in the new Republican House member – as on occasion majority Rules members are expected to vote as majority leadership wants in passing out or holding a bill.

For quick reference, here is a list of the new standing and budget chairs, followed by the old chair they are replacing:

Business and Labor standing: Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, (Val Peterson).

Health & Human Services standing: Brad Daw, R-Orem, (Kay McIff, retired).

Education standing: Val Peterson, R-Orem, (Brad Last).

Public Utilities & Technology standing: Steve Handy, R-Layton, (Ken Ivory).

Judiciary standing: Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, (LaVar Christensen).

Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice standing: Lee Perry, R-Perry, (Don Ipson, elected to the Senate).

Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environment: Keven Stratton, R-Orem, (Lee Perry).

Transportation standing: Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, (Johnny Anderson retired).

Government Operations standing: Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, (Jack Draxler retired).

Political Subdivisions standing: Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, (Curt Webb).

Revenue & Taxation standing: Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, (Dan McCay).

Ethics standing: Doug Sagers, R-Tooele, (Steve Handy).

Administrative Rules: Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, (Curt Oda retired).

Retirement & Independent Entities standing: LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, (Kraig Powell retired).

Business, Economic Development & Labor budget: Curt Webb, R-Logan, (Dixon Pitcher).

Public Education budget: Dan McCay, R-Riverton, (Steve Eliason).

Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environmental Quality budget: Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, (Mike McKell).

Schultz remains a favorite of Hughes, who is clearly mentoring him for better things. As a freshman lawmaker two years ago, Hughes put him on the powerful Rules Committee. Rarely does a freshman get such an assignment (Watkins, technically a GOP freshman, another exception this year).

Hughes keeps Schultz on Rules this time around, but gives him a chairmanship as well, Transportation standing committee. Also, rare for a two-year member to get the chair of an influential committee in the House.

Finally, Hughes was kind to House Democrats two years ago; he put two minority members on Rules even though their numbers in the House (12) could have allowed only one member on Rules.

Democrats gained one more seat overall in this election, and now they are at 13. But they still only get two slots on rules, their percentage of the House now closer to their percentage on Rules – although with two out of eight members Democrats still have a higher proportion on Rules than they do in the House as a whole.