Where Credit is Due: Republican Gains in the Utah Legislature

Where Credit is Due: Republican Gains in the Utah Legislature
House Chamber inside the Utah State Capitol – Feb. 2011. (Wikipedia)

On election night, I went to bed sure that Democrats had gained one seat in the State House of Representatives. I woke up the next morning positive this had happened and the same every day for two weeks.

Then Tuesday November 18th, two weeks after the 2014 general election I see a Facebook post from Dana Dickson telling me that three Republicans who lost on election night actually won. What? What happened?

For starters, Republicans picked up one Congressional seat and now hold every statewide office and Congressional office in Utah. In the Utah Legislature, Republicans hold a 63-12 majority in the House and 24-5 majority in the Senate.

Republicans are taking back seats lost to Democrats in Salt Lake County in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It is too early to say it is a trend, but Republicans should be dancing in the streets that traditional Salt Lake County Democrat districts are going Republican.

But behind the scenes what happened?

When I got involved with politics in the early 1990s, everybody prepared for election day. GOTV (Get Out The Vote) on election day was king. How times have changed.

In 2014, a candidate has to prepare for three races; GOTV for election day, GOTV for early voting and GOTV for vote by mail. Each of these races is a strategy unto themselves.

So as we discovered this week, you can win on election night and still lose or vice versa.

Who is responsible for these Republican wins?

Typically, when a Party gets supermajorities, they overreach, alienate voters and lose seats in subsequent elections. Look no further than national elections since 2004 and each cycle you will see overreach of a majority Party and a voter swing to the minority Party that gives them greater power. 2014 was an excellent example of national Democrat overreach on a host of issues and corresponding backlash.

In 2012, Utah Republicans won close to historical high majorities in the House (61-14) and (Senate 24-5). Mitt Romney on the national ballot helped Republicans gain seats in Utah as did efforts by Republican Party Leadership. By all indicators, Republicans should have done stupid things and voters should have trended Democrat. But something happened on the way to the election…Republicans enacted common sense legislation, sometimes even working with minority Democrats to solve problems. Still, Utah policies end up being Republican. Utah balances its budget each year and has a AAA bond rating. It is recognized as the best state for business, to raise a family and the easiest state to rise out of poverty. Add to those a host of other recognitions that are caused by limited taxation and reasonable regulations. Yes. Utah policies are still Republican.

Here in Utah, Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser and Governor Gary Herbert deserve a lot of credit from Republicans because their leadership helped prevent the overreaching that supermajorities typically create and allowed a net increase of two House seats for Republicans when by most standards they should have lost seats.

James Evans, Utah GOP Chair deserves credit. He revamped his Party data mining and analytics system, investing there when others in his Party wanted it spent on a variety of other less impactful things.

But maybe the person who merits the most credit is Thomas Wright, emeritus Utah GOP Chair who initiated the Republican Vote By Mail campaign of 2012. Every Precinct Chair that year was asked to go door to door to get Republican voters to sign up for vote by mail. Many did, particularly in Salt Lake County. Those absentee ballots as their called, made the difference in the three 2014 State House races that flipped Republican two weeks after the election.

Vote by mail matters. 70% of vote by mail voters vote. 30% of go to the voting booth in person vote. Both parties will initiate vigorous efforts to get their supporters to vote by mail. That is the first lesson of election 2014. And the second lesson is that nobody should go home the night of the election thinking that the results are in. The final results are the canvas two weeks later. Maybe that is the night we should be holding election festivities.

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