Ric Cantrell, the chief of staff in the GOP-controlled state Senate, is leaving that post after 14 years to become chief of staff to Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes.
Cantrell was a driving force in modernizing the Senate’s electronic systems and bringing a more nonpartisan, professional approach to the Senate staff.
He has spoken several times at various national conferences about how the Senate staff has developed various transparency initiatives and cutting-edge electronic programs.
Those include streaming online the daily leadership press conferences held just after morning floor times during the 45-day general session.
Cantrell has survived four different Senate presidents (being reappointed Senate’s top professional administrator by each), whereas the chief of staff in the House has, by and large, come and gone as different Republican speakers have taken over there.
Cantrell is one of the good guys on Capitol Hill, and from personal experience I can say he has tried to instill transparency to the 29-member Senate operations.
Those traits could serve Reyes well, if he’s allowed to do so.
Reyes right now is not one of the favorites of GOP legislative leadership, especially among House members.
Reyes stonewalled legislative Republicans this spring, who wanted GOP Gov. Gary Herbert to call a special session so lawmakers – not Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox – could set up the election process to fill the seat of resigning U.S. House Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
House Speaker Greg Hughes and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser asked Reyes’ office to give them an official opinion on Herbert’s action in the 3rd District process.
Reportedly, a few of Reyes’ staff attorneys did so. UtahPolicy has been told that the opinion was written, and signed by Reyes, when Herbert’s internal team objected.
And, claiming attorney-client privilege, Reyes agreed with Herbert, and refused to release the document.
UtahPolicy made a GRAMA request to Reyes’ office asking for the opinion, it was denied.
Cantrell, well-liked and respected on the legislative side, could mend some political fences as Reyes’ new chief.
Cantrell is replacing Missy W. Larsen, who is reportedly leaving state government. Larsen has been with Reyes when he first came into office, first as press spokeswoman then as chief of staff.
Cantrell actually worked with former AG Mark Shurtleff years ago, first on several of Shurtleff’s Salt Lake County Commission races, then for the AG early in his AG career, before coming over to the Senate as press spokesman/chief deputy/administrator.
He was later given the title of Senate chief of staff, a new position at the time.
“I’m going back to an office that I love (the AG’s office),” says Cantrell, “but I still feel like I’m leaving part of my soul in the (Utah) Senate.”
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said: “As the visionary architect of our media strategy, (Cantrell) has pushed us to grow and employ new trends.
“Upon Ric’s recommendation, the Utah State Senate was one of the first government agencies to start a blog and join multiple social media platforms.
“An unyielding advocate for citizen owned government, he encouraged us to be open with the people of Utah. Because of Ric, we have developed a culture of transparency through media availability, our award-winning website, and staff devoted to constituent needs.”
While kind of lateral shift – chief of staff one place to chief of staff in another – the uncertainty of serving in a politically appointed position remains much the same.
Reyes’ first full term ends in 2020 (he was appointed when then-AG John Swallow resigned in December, 2013, then won the right to serve out two years in a special 2014 election, before winning the seat’s four-year term in 2016.)
There have been hints that Reyes may run for the open governor’s seat in 2020, Herbert saying he’s going to retire.
But that race will likely be crowded on the Republican side, with Cox, Chaffetz, Hughes and others looking at it also.