While Utahns, in general, will be looking at the results coming Tuesday night, there is another election this week that will have far-reaching impacts: The new Republican leaders in the state House and Senate.
UtahPolicy.com is told that the newly-elected GOP legislators will meet Thursday 6 p.m. in the Capitol to elect their new leaders – House and Senate.
And with open races for Senate president and House speaker – both of the incumbents retiring this year – the only candidates are Majority Leader Brad Wilson for speaker and Majority Whip Stuart Adams for president, UtahPolicy.com is told.
The jobs up are: Senate president, House speaker, and in each body, the majority leader, majority whip, and assistant majority whip.
Along with their appointed leadership teams (the rules chair, vice chair; the budget chair, vice chair in each house), these new majority party leaders will run the House and Senate for the next two years.
UtahPolicy.com is told these folks are the contenders:
Only current Majority Leader Wilson, R-Kaysville, is running for speaker to succeed retiring Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
Current Majority Whip Frances Gibson, R-Mapleton, is the only candidate for majority leader – taking one step up.
Majority whip does have two contestants: Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper; and Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan.
Schultz is the current vice chair for the House on the all-powerful Executive Appropriations Committee – the budget-setting committee made up of leaders from both parties.
Coleman is the vice chair of the House’s Judiciary Standing Committee.
Currently, there are no women in elected House majority leadership.
Assistant majority whip, the only candidate is Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem.
In the Senate:
Majority Whip Adams, R-Layton, is the only candidate to replace retiring President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy.
Former Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, stepped down from that post during the 2018 Legislature due to ill health. And Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, stepped into that role. But Van Tassell didn’t seek re-election, so a new majority leader will be chosen Thursday.
The only candidate for majority leader is Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City.
Two senators are running for majority whip (that post is held by Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, who is retiring this year). They are Sen. Dan Hemmert, R-Orem; and Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville.
Hemmert is a freshman, only elected in 2016. So it would be interesting if he wins a GOP leadership post, which, historically, has had more senior Republicans being picked by their caucus for leadership.
The assistant majority whip has three contenders, Sens. Ann Milner, R-Ogden; Gregg Buxton, R-Roy; and Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.
Unless there are some upsets Tuesday, there will be five new GOP senators in the 24-member caucus – because the incumbents aren’t running again.
Who knows how many Republicans will be elected in the House on Tuesday – there are currently 62 in that caucus.
But some of those incumbents or new Republican nominees could lose to their Democratic challengers.
No matter what happens Tuesday, Republicans will hold super-majorities in both the House and Senate.
GOP Gov. Gary Herbert is not up for election this year – so Utah will remain in Republican control for the next two years, at least.
A few surprises in the candidate lists given to UtahPolicy on Monday:
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, was thinking about running for Senate GOP leadership but decided against it. She is seen as a rising star in state GOP politics.
It was considered that the Senate majority leader race would be contested, but Vickers has come on strong inside the Senate caucus in recent years – most recently being a leader in the medical marijuana issue.
In the House, the only candidate from Salt Lake County is Coleman. Usually, there is a Republican from the state’s largest county in leadership – if only because that county has so many GOP House members, any candidate has a kind of a built-in vote.
In fact, Hughes and Niederhauser’s districts actually touch each other in southern Salt Lake County.
Leadership races can be the most contested and personally hurtful of any Capitol Hill battle, since it is Republican against Republican, Democrat against Democrat (for the minority posts).
You can read about what happened inside of the House majority whip race in this August analysis by UtahPolicy Manager Editor Bryan Schott. Not pleasant stuff.
But at least it appears there won’t be a battle for the top two posts – Senate president and House speaker – so that should keep the GOP caucuses cooler when legislators meet Jan. 22 for the start of their 2019, 45-day general session.
Final note: In the House leadership races, there could be some results not official Tuesday night – those races too close to call and awaiting the final canvass vote-counts in two weeks.
Historically, such toss-ups result in that district’s party member not voting in the GOP leadership race, since that candidate could end up losing the seat, and it not being fair that someone voted in the leadership races but was not serving in the House for the next two years.