Hughes Cites Deteriorating Relations Between House Republicans and Democrats as the Need for HB220

Utah HouseUtah House Speaker Greg Hughes said Friday afternoon that he supports HB220, a bill legislative Democrats hate for it puts them in the minority in two key legislative management committees.

Hughes, R-Draper, also basically admitted to UtahPolicy that he supports the bill because House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake, has become a more outspoken critic of the Republicans’ handling of important issues, like Medicaid expansion, than previous House minority party leaders.

Hughes said there has been a change in how the current House minority is acting compared to former minority leadership teams, and it can no longer be taken for granted that equal membership on several key legislative management branch committees will result in smooth operations.

And that is one – only one – reason, Hughes said, that HB220 makes “sense today” when other recent attempts failed to change the make-up of several committees that are equally balanced between the majority and minority parties in the Legislature.

Hughes stressed several points:

— First, neither House GOP leadership as a whole, nor Hughes alone, asked Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, to run HB220. (Christensen states his reasons in this previous UPD story.)

— Secondly, Hughes maintains his endorsement doesn’t mean HB220 will pass the House. (The reality is, however, it’s unlikely a majority of the GOP caucus would oppose their speaker on such a critical vote.)

— Thirdly – and this is the most important part of his endorsement, said Hughes — the position of House speaker and Senate president have historically been seen – or at least hopefully have been seen – as above the partisan political fray of everyday Utah Legislative operations.

However, in the make-up and chairmanship assignments now found in the Legislative Management  Committee and that committee’s Audit Subcommittee (both now equally balanced Republican-Democratic), the speaker and the president are weighed the same as the House and Senate minority leaders.

That is “structurally” unsound and unequal, said Hughes.

The bill was slated for a hearing in the House Rules Committee on Friday afternoon, but was yanked from the agenda at the last minute after Democrats made a stink, claiming the bill should be heard in a different standing committee.

HB220 puts the chair of the House Rules Committee and the chair of the Senate Rules Committee on to the LMC.

And it puts the House majority leader and the Senate majority leader the Audit Subcommittee.

In each case, that would put two more Republicans on LMC and the Audit Subcommittee – and so give the majority party two more votes than Democrats on each committee.

In that process, said Hughes, the speaker, and president, co-chairs of both committees, would be in effect elevated above the minority leaders – which makes sense in the overall structure of the Utah House and Senate.

While that may be one argument for the change, many see the real reason to act now is the way King has been criticizing Hughes and other GOP leaders in the public and press.

There may be a grudging respect between Hughes and King, but no love lost.

That has not been the case in recent years.

The late Speaker Becky Lockhart was especially close to both former Utah minority leaders, David Litvack and Jen Seelig.

When Litvack told Lockhart privately he was retiring from the House several years ago, both became emotional, and Lockhart wept.

When Seelig married two years ago, she invited Lockhart to her Kentucky wedding and Lockhart traveled back East to attend.

Both Litvack and Seelig at times made impassioned speeches from the House floor against majority GOP actions and votes but did so in a different tenor than some of King’s pronouncements.

HB220 would, of course, also impact Senate Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, is considered one of the Senate’s Old Boys, who has had good relationships with Senate Republicans for years.

However, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake, Senate Minority Caucus Manager, a leadership position that puts him on the LMC, has used a biting wit to lambast Senate and House Republicans the last few years.

While House GOP leadership has now taken a stand on HB220 with Hughes’ Friday endorsement, Senate GOP sources told UtahPolicy President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, has not endorsed the bill yet, and will wait to see if HB220 makes it to the Senate and in what form.