Bob Bernick’s notebook: Big shakeup in the House

There’s a new sheriff in town, at least as far as the Utah House is concerned.

Incoming Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, is a rather soft-spoken man, but he has some big ideas about not only running the House but also how the State of Utah should be planning for the future.

Here are some of the things he’s doing, already, before he takes office officially the first of the year:

As reported by previously, Wilson and his GOP majority team named Democratic Rep. Sue Duckworth, D-Magna, as vice-chair of a committee – specifically, the joint subcommittee of higher education budgeting.

This has not been done before, at least not in my memory of 40 years covering the Legislature.

Wilson said this, and other committee assignments were done with an eye to getting folks into the best positions possible for their specific talents.

Duckworth will look at making the state’s technical colleges fit in better with overall higher education operations.

Wilson has started a formal mentoring process, whereby veteran legislators will sit next to freshmen on the floor, to better build relationships and help the newer folks along.

Wilson says 33 of the 75 House members have two years or less experience in their part-time lawmaking jobs – and formal mentoring should help the House operate better and give all legislators training.

He says reforming the state’s higher education system, and its governance, is one of his top priorities.

Toward that end, he took three House members – two Republicans and one Democrat — who work for colleges or universities in their private lives, off of the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee.

“I did it, really, to protect them,” he said.

However, it has also drawn some ire from university bosses who liked having an employee as a go-to person on the budget committee that sets their financing.

It was a conflict that shouldn’t be there, says Wilson.

— He put several House freshmen immediately into positions of power and leadership – something outgoing Speaker Greg Hughes also did, but not to the extent of Wilson.

Five GOP freshmen – just elected to the House – were given vice-chairmanships on various committees. This, also, is a break-through move.

Usually, it takes two or three terms to become a chairman or vice-chairman. Not so this time around.

Incoming freshmen Reps. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding; Adam Robertson, R-Provo; Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City; Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove; and Steve Waldrip, R-Eden; are all vice-chairs of a House committee.

Wilson says with such turnover in the House majority, and with so many important issues coming up, now is the time to break with seniority tradition and give newcomers essential roles to play immediately.

Fifteen of the committee chairs are new to their posts. A few were vice-chairs before or chairs on a different committee.

But by any comparison to previous committee assignments after an election, this is a big shake-up.

20 committee vice-chairs are new for 2019. Again, some were vice-chairs on other committees, but many are vice-chairs for the first time.

The eight-member House Rules Committee – one of the most important committees in the body, which has the power to kill bills before they even get a hearing or delay hearings on bills – has seven new members for 2019.

Rep. Tim Hawkes, R-Centerville, will chair Rules for the majority Republicans. He was first elected in 2014, so is entering just his third, two-year term.

There is a relatively new committee on strategic planning, and Wilson appointed himself as House chair.

UtahPolicy has heard some grumbling from more-veteran legislators about their committee assignments or so many newcomers getting important posts.

But Wilson says only one Republican complained to him about his committee assignment – or lack of it.

“The thing I am most pleased with” since winning the speakership unopposed in November, said Wilson, is that so many of his GOP colleagues were gracious, or overtly pleased, with their committee assignments.

“Most said, “I’m here to serve,” and just wanted to be put to work. It is a great caucus.”

You can see the new House committee assignments for 2019 here.