Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, will call it a career at the end of the 2018 session, but the news of her retirement is being made public a little sooner than she wants.
Chavez-Houck reportedly told delegates in HD24 she would not run for another term in 2018 at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention in April, an event she confirmed to UtahPolicy.com in an email. However, she was hoping to keep the news quiet until she could tell various community groups she was working with.
“I am considering retiring and have been informing stakeholders with whom I’ve been working on various policy issues (for example, the End of Life Options Act advocates) before making an official statement,” Chavez-Houck told UtahPolicy.com in an email. “It was my intention not to have them or other constituents be caught off guard by my plans.”
However, political ambition often trumps social decorum. Jacquelyn Orton, the widow of former Utah Congressman Bill Orton, has wasted no time in starting a campaign for Chavez-Houck’s seat. In fact, Orton says Chavez-Houck asked her to consider running for the legislature during the 2016 campaign.
“Last October, Rep. Chavez-Houck and I were in West Jordan walking for candidates running for office there. She pulled me aside and explained that she was fairly certain that she would not be running again this year and asked me to consider running for the seat,” Orton told UtahPolicy.com in an email. “After the legislative session ended, she confirmed to me that she would definitely not be running in 2018 and later mentioned it to all of the delegates of District 24 at the Salt Lake County Democratic Convention.”
UtahPolicy.com was alerted to the Twitter handle @OrtonforHouse on April 24, just 9 days after Chavez-Houck told HD24 delegates she was not running again. She recently launched a Facebook page and website for her campaign.
Despite asking Orton to think about running to replace her, Chavez-Houck appears to be somewhat irked by Orton starting her campaign before Chavez-Houck was ready to go public.
“I find Ms. Orton’s public announcement to be not only unconventional but premature. I appreciate her enthusiasm and interest, but I still have work to do and plan to use my time productively in the months I have remaining before I leave office.”
Orton says she wanted to start now because she anticipates other Democratic candidates may jump into the race.
“I am starting my campaign now because I have set a goal to knock on every door in my district and talk to my constituents about what THEY believe are the most critical issues in our district before the June 2018 primary,” Orton said. “Given the extraordinary interest in the race and the fact that the Democratic Primary next June will quite likely determine the ultimate winner in the race, given that it is a strongly liberal-leaning district, I want to have plenty of time to talk to as many voters in HD24 as possible before June.”
Chavez-Houck has championed several controversial issues during her 10 sessions in the Utah Legislature, including right-to-die legislation and ranked choice voting in primary elections. She also pushed same-day voter registration, which is now allowed in 8 Utah counties.
While it’s clear Orton jumped into the race this early to get a jump on any other prospective candidates, Chavez-Houck says she expects other candidates to step into the race to replace her on the Hill.
“There is an abundance of talent and policy expertise present in our district and no doubt there will be a variety of candidates who step forward to run for HD 24. As a resident of the district, I look forward to critically reviewing the credentials and potential of all prospective candidates and encourage other constituents to do the same as they consider who to support.”