Legislative Leadership Battles Could Be Bruising Come November

Get ready for intense battles for House GOP leadership races this coming fall.


UtahPolicy has been told that ALL of the leadership posts will be open, as lower members of leadership try to move up into different posts.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, retires at the end of the year, and other leadership members won’t seek re-election to their current posts, UtahPolicy is told.

There are four elected posts in majority leadership, decided by the caucus of newly-elected representatives a few days after the November general election: Speaker, majority leader, majority whip and assistant majority whip.

Here are some of the matchups UtahPolicy has been told about:

— It was already known that Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, would run for speaker.

But now Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, says he will run for speaker.

Into that mix one could also throw House Budget Chairman Mel Brown, R-Coalville.

Brown told UtahPolicy during the 2014 Legislature that he wouldn’t decide to run unless he believed – by counting votes – he could win. Thus, Brown is an unannounced speaker candidate as of now.

“A three-way race for (speaker) is not ideal, but there it is,” said Hughes.

— In April, Assistant Majority Whip Don Ipson, R-St. George, sent out an email to some colleagues saying he’s looking to run for majority leader – the post Dee is vacating.

— Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, who passed up a run for the state Senate two years ago and who has been tapped by Lockhart to work on several top issues over the past two years, is also running for majority leader, sources told UtahPolicy.

— Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, who came within one vote of unseating Hughes as whip 18 months ago, is running for majority whip again.

— With Ipson leaving the entry-level leadership post —  assistant whip — a number of legislators are looking at that job, including Reps. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, and Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, UtahPolicy is told.

Other Republicans could join any of the four races, as well.

Brown is the current House budget chair, a powerful, appointed position.

Wilson is House vice-budget chair, an appointed post seen as a grooming ground for elected leadership.

Brown is a former speaker with an interesting history in the Utah House. Brown is in his second go around in the body. He was originally elected way back in the 1980s from a Midvale seat.

When he left the House in 2000 he moved to the Kamas area, where his family has had a dairy operation for generations, and was elected back into the House from there.

Predicting leadership races in the Utah Legislature is always a crapshoot. More than once “safe” top leaders seeking re-election to their leadership posts have won by one vote. Others have lost.

Leadership elections are by secret ballot. And unless a lawmaker announces to colleagues who he is supporting, vote-counting before leadership elections can be tricky.

Former House Speaker Nolan Karras – who lost a speaker’s race before winning one – used to joke that once he had to send out 38 thank-you notes for the 32 votes he actually got in a race, because so many members came up to him after and told him they voted for him in numbers higher than his actual total.

In short, you count your leadership votes with a grain of salt.

Hughes told UtahPolicy that he considers Dee a friend, and is not running against him but rather seeks the top spot because he believes he can serve the House well.

Dee said he’s not surprised that he’s being challenged for the speakership. “We work well (now) as a (leadership) team,” Dee said speaking of Hughes.

“But all leadership races are up for grabs every two years.”

Dee said he wouldn’t be running for the top spot if he didn’t think he could win, but he takes nothing for granted.

Dee has been majority leader for four years. Hughes has been the majority whip for four years.

Dee said it’s early to be talking about leadership races, however, he’s talking to colleagues about how well he’s negotiated with the Senate, governor and others as majority leader.

Hughes said when you consider candidates who will be newly-elected this year, “forty or forty-one House Republicans will have four years experience or less” come the 2015 Legislature.

That’s a lot of Republicans relatively new to the House majority.

And Hughes said he believes he can mentor and aid them as he has previous new colleagues.

Hughes and Dee were first elected to the House in 2002.

Dee is head of the Weber County government’s personnel department.

Hughes is a developer/apartment management firm owner and is in his second term as chairman of the Utah Transit Authority board of directors.