There have been some early indications that newly-elected Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, was going to do a few things differently.
However, when the House released its list of 2019-2020 committee assignments late Tuesday there was this shocker:
For the first time in recent history, the majority party has appointed a minority party member to be the vice chair of an important committee.
Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, has been appointed by Wilson and his majority leadership team to be the vice-chair of the House’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
The Legislature’s budget committees are joint committees, with House and Senate members sitting together on the bodies, which oversee the budgets of specific parts of state government.
Sources told UtahPolicy.com that Duckworth is remaining a Democrat, and not switching party’s to be a Republican.
Duckworth comes from a long line of Magna-centered Democrats. Her husband, the late-Carl Duckworth, held the District 22 seat for years until he decided to retire because of health reasons.
Susan Duckworth took his place and has won re-election several times since.
Carl Duckworth died last May.
Rep. Duckworth is seen as a moderate Democrat, a strong labor supporter, but respected across the aisle by Republicans, as well.
She rarely rises to criticize the majority party, but still votes most often with fellow Democrats.
For example, she voted against the GOP-backed medical marijuana alternative bill in Monday’s special legislative session.
Sources told UtahPolicy.com that Duckworth had been specifically tasked by Wilson et al. with “getting more out of our Technology and Community Colleges” – a likely fit with her working men/women background.
Still, it is a real change for a majority party leadership to place a minority party member in any committee leadership post – as that means that a fellow Republican can’t hold that spot.
Wilson was unopposed for speaker in House GOP caucus races decided soon after the Nov. 6 election.
Newly-elected Majority Leader Frances Gibson, R-Mapleton, was also not opposed in his leadership race.
Thus there was unity among the 60-member GOP caucus about their top two leaders – perhaps giving Wilson the political backing to make such an unusual move.
A year ago, House and Senate GOP leaders actually took AWAY some of the Democratic minority power when they changed the 50-50 make-up of the bipartisan Legislative Management Committee – giving the speaker and Senate president the ability to break tie votes.
The majority Republicans also took partisan control of that committee’s Audit Subcommittee, as well.
Before that move, while Republicans held the chairmanship and vice-chairmanship of both entities, those committees had equal representation, Republicans and Democrats – and on rare occasions when a few Republicans were absent, Democrats could make decisions in both committees.
Wilson’s unexpected move to elevate a Democrat to vice-chair of the House’s Higher Education Appropriation Subcommittee means that if the GOP House chair, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, can’t be at a meeting in which it is the House’s turn to chair, Duckworth would conduct the meeting – something that simply has not been done in recent history in the Utah Legislature.
Like all House and Senate committees, Democrats are in the minority overall, because they are in the minority in both bodies.
That would mean while Duckworth may get a chance to chair a Higher Ed budget committee, the committee would remain 7-2 with a GOP majority.
Years ago – and I mean way back when – when Republicans briefly won control of the Utah Senate, a respected Democratic member was actually appointed the Senate budget chairman, since it was considered less of a partisan assignment than a practical, fiscal one.
And there have been times when a lawmaker, who was appointed or won under one party banner defected during his tenure and joined the other party – and was appointed to a chairmanship or vice-chairmanship in his new post.
But in 40 years of covering the Utah Legislature, I have never seen a minority party member – a Democrat – appointed to be chairman or vice-chairman of a majority-run legislative committee.
House Speaker-elect Wilson is clearly moving in a new direction.