Hughes wants a special session immediately to address U.S. House vacancies

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes says Gov. Gary Herbert needs to call an immediate legislative special session to pass a law detailing how a U.S. House replacement is picked.

Last week in his monthly KUED Channel 7 press conference Herbert declined to do so – only the governor may call a special session, and he sets the agenda.

Herbert said the governor’s power to call a special U.S. House election is good enough for now, as there is no opening to fill currently.

But Hughes, who himself is looking to run in such a special election for Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s 3rd Congressional District, says no time should be wasted.

“In the first year of a new presidency, with so much going on, Utah needs a voice” in the 3rd District and time shouldn’t be wasted, said Hughes.

Hughes says he has no time frame on his personal decision whether to seek Chaffetz’s seat – the congressman shocking the Utah political establishment with his announcement last week that he won’t run for any office in 2018 and may resign his seat before the end of his current term.

Hughes admits this all puts him in a tight place – advocating for a caucus/delegate route to Chaffetz’s replacement – and overseeing a special session on that very topic while he may be such a candidate.

But it is what it is, says Hughes, adding that he wants to resolve the special election issue before he even makes his decision about the 3rd District.

Current law only says that the governor will call a special election to fill a U.S. House vacancy. There is no detail on how or when that will happen, something that needs to be fixed quickly, says Hughes.

Hughes – who voted for SB54, which set up a signature-gathering route to a primary election – says that a U.S. House vacancy should be filled along the lines of other state office openings – the political party delegates of that specific geographic area should meet and send up names to the ballot or the governor.

In this case, names should be sent to the special election ballot by the delegates.

There would be no signature gathering, as provided for in SB54, says Hughes.

There simply is no time for all of that. Because of the 45-day federal law requirement for members of the military to get their ballots and vote, if you put down time for candidates to file, for the signature gathering process to take place, then a primary election, then another 45 days to the general election, it would take months before a U.S. House vacancy could be filled, said Hughes.

“We need our Utah voice in the 3rd District way before then,” Hughes added.

And if the party delegate process is good enough to fill a Utah attorney general or Utah legislative vacancy, then it is good enough for the U.S. House as well, he noted.

On the personal front, Tuesday morning Hughes and the House Chief of Staff Greg Hartley, who is also his personal political advisor, were off to Washington, D.C., to talk transportation – and now the U.S. House 3rd District.

Hughes was considered for a top job in the U.S. Transportation Department. That may still be on the table.

But Hughes has been asked by Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao to consider being on a special DOT commission that would detail how President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion transportation infrastructure plan would be implemented.

This would not be a full-time job, but probably at least a monthly commitment of time, said Hughes.

Hughes, a former chair of the Utah Transit Authority, is a recognized expert on intermodal hubs and mass transit public/private partnerships.

Hughes says he would not out-of-hand reject any full-time job offer, but he doesn’t see it working with his young family and moving to Washington, D.C.

He added, concerning the 3rd District, that he doesn’t necessarily see his high-energy style of getting things done as a good fit in the 435-member U.S. House – where junior members must wait years before moving up into positions of power – even if his Republican Party keeps control of the House.

But a number of things are on the table, and first things first, said Hughes.

And that is getting Herbert to call a special session so the GOP-controlled Legislature can put into place a special election law should Chaffetz resign his office.