House Speaker Greg Hughes says he doesn’t expect lawmakers to sue Governor Gary Herbert over the special election to replace Rep. Jason Chaffetz, but he does think the governor overstepped his bounds.
Lawmakers had talked about a lawsuit after Gov. Herbert refused to call the legislature into session to set the procedure to fill Chaffetz’s seat. Instead, Herbert set up the process to choose a replacement once he steps down on June 30.
I warned my colleagues that during our conversations with the governor that if we could not work this out in a reasonable way, this is a battle we could not win,” said Hughes. “I warned my colleagues that this is one of the problems with not being able to call ourselves into a special session like 35 other states.”
Hughes and other lawmakers say the governor isn’t following the law because, technically, there won’t be a vacancy in Chaffetz’s seat until he leaves on June 30. Additionally, Chaffetz has no legal obligation to honor that date, meaning there’s an election for a vacancy that hasn’t happened yet.
“This is what happens when you have an executive branch freelancing trying to create a process. This is why we have committee hearings, why we have debate and votes.”
But, the bigger issue according to Hughes is the separation of powers. He says the legislature is supposed to be a separate but equal branch of government, but he says that’s not the dynamic that played out in setting the process to replace Chaffetz.
“If you let the violation of separation of power go, it’s hard to get that back,” says Hughes. ” I think these issues are broader than the Jason Chaffetz vacancy. I think it’s a bigger issue than that.”
Hughes says he expects to see significant pushback from the legislature against the executive branch during the 2018 session, which is the first opportunity lawmakers will have to address the issue. One idea already on the table is a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to call themselves into special session in certain cases.
Hughes also expects lawmakers to address how midterm vacancies are filled for some offices. That could include special elections for U.S. Senate, Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General. That may seem a little petty, but Hughes disagrees.
“Something has happened here with the executive and legislative branch and the separate but equal power did not compel them to work this out. They said it’s my way or the highway. That’s not how it was designed to work,” he said. “Usually, there’s enough pushes and tugs going on that reasonable minds can concur. It’s a touchy subject with my colleagues right now.