Legislative leadership races could leave Salt Lake County in the cold

It’s increasingly likely Salt Lake County will be frozen out of GOP leadership in the House and Senate during the next legislature.

Even if a legislator from Salt Lake County does manage to win a spot in GOP leadership in either the House or Senate, they’ll mostly be from the suburbs and not Salt Lake City proper.

Currently, Salt Lake County legislators occupy three of the ten GOP leadership slots in the legislature, including House Speaker and Senate President. Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper,  and President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, are retiring at the end of this year, and House Assistant Whip John Knotwell, R-Herriman, could very well lose his bid to move up the chain and become House Majority Whip.

It looks almost sure that the next House Speaker and Senate President will come from the Davis/Weber County region as Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, are almost certain locks to win their leadership races. Several legislative sources tell UtahPolicy.com that they expect Adams and Wilson to run unopposed for the top spots in House and Senate. Sen. Curt Bramble might challenge Adams for the presidency, but the consensus is Adams already has enough votes to win.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is the frontrunner to be the next Senate Majority Leader. He may be challenged by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, for the position, but Vickers should prevail.

Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, should be unopposed in his bid to be the House Majority Leader next year. Gibson was rumored to be considering a bid for Speaker, but legislative sources say he and Wilson made a deal to support each other for the two top spots in the House, virtually ensuring they would succeed.

The race for Senate Majority Whip could be crowded, with Sen. Diedre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, Sen. Daniel Hemmert, R-Orem, and Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, in the mix. Sources tell UtahPolicy.com that Hemmert has the backing of Adams in the race, which should make him the frontrunner. No matter who wins, the victor will come from outside of Salt Lake County.

On the House side, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, will likely take on current Assistant Majority Whip Rep. John Knotwell, R-Herriman, for the Majority Whip slot. Several members of the GOP caucus tell UtahPolicy.com Schultz was considering running for Assistant Majority Whip until he learned Knotwell was recruiting an opponent for him in that race, so Schultz decided to challenge Knotwell for Whip. Schultz has been lobbying Republicans for their support in the race for Whip and appears to have enough backing to defeat Knotwell.

Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, are the frontrunners to be the next Assistant Majority Whip in the Senate. Both candidates are from outside of Salt Lake County, although Weiler does represent parts of Rose Park.

On the House side, Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, is considered to be the current favorite for Assistant Majority Whip, but Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is also said to be considering a bid.

Salt Lake City is almost assured of being shut out of the GOP leadership in the next legislature, which could exacerbate already strained relations between the two entities, especially after the contentious fight over the inland port. The Salt Lake City Council had to step in and negotiate with lawmakers after Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski cut off talks with legislative leaders. 

It is true that the entire Democratic leadership team in the Utah legislature is from Salt Lake County, but that’s mostly because there are no elected Democrats from outside the county. After the 2018 midterms, it’s reasonable to expect that Democratic leadership will continue to be based almost entirely in Salt Lake County.