Analysis: The most ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ members of the Utah Senate

Utah Captiol 28

While a few Utah House Republicans and Democrats are somewhat close to each other in their political leanings, you don’t find that in the state Senate — in that smaller, more elite body, members of the two major political parties are very, very far apart philosophically.

A new analysis by BYU political science professor Adam Brown (it came out Tuesday) compares the 29 senators’ actions on bills for the 2020, 45-day legislative session (finished just last Thursday). comparison of Brown’s work for the 2019 Legislature (his updated analysis was not up on his website Monday) found a few House members of different parties were somewhat close in the 75-member analysis.

Not so in the Senate, which shows a 60-point difference between the most “conservative” Democratic senator, Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, and the most “moderate” Republican, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful.

It seems almost a misnomer, however, to call Davis a moderate Democrat, or Weiler anything but a mainstream conservative Republican — there are such large differences in their voting in the 2020 Legislature.

Brown’s new rankings show:

— Among his fellow senators, the most conservative is Sen. Keith Grover, R-Provo, with a +97.3 rating on Brown’s “ideology” metric (you can read about his methodology and see all the rankings here).

Zero is the middle ground, and no Democrats or Republicans get close to that number in the Senate, as several did in the House’s 1999 Brown rankings.

— Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake, is the most “liberal” Democrat in the Senate this past session, with a ranking of -96.1 number.

Escamilla last November lost the Salt Lake City mayor’s race to now-Mayor Erin Mendenhall in an all-woman final.

Weiler gets a +31.4 number from Brown, while Davis gets a -70.2 ranking. So you can see how far apart they are on Brown’s analysis of all 29 senators’ floor votes on bills.

Weiler is up for re-election this year in his District 23; Davis is not, having won re-election two years ago in his District 3.

Weiler has already qualified via signatures for the GOP primary in June.

With a few more days left in the filing period, his only competition is fellow Republican Marci Green Campbell, who is taking the delegate/convention route only to the primary.

That, in and of itself, indicates that Campbell will be trying to run to Weiler’s political right. And Brown’s analysis shows there may be some room there, when Weiler is compared to other GOP senators’ votes in the recent session.

In descending order behind Grover, the most conservative senators are: Sens. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, +90.9; Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, +90.1; and Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, +84.8.

There are only six Democratic senators, and they are all grouped about the same on the “liberal” side of Brown’s ledger.

Behind Escamilla are: Sens. Kathleen Riebe, D-Cottonwood Heights, -94.5; Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake, 89.7; Jani Iwamoto, D-Salt Lake, +85.7.

Democratic legislators, in part because there are so few of them, rarely see a serious challenge within their own party.