Utah Legislature Leadership Races and Rumors

State CapitolJust when you thought elections were over, there are a whole new round of elections–at the Utah Legislature–taking place today.

Tonight, the Utah House and Senate will elect their leadership for the next two years. With Speaker Becky Lockhart’s decision not to not run for reelection, the House will be electing a new speaker and a new slate of leadership as everyone attempts to scramble up the chain.

In the House there is not a filing deadline, meaning candidates could still jump into the races.  There is a chance the House will vote to close filings before the voting begins, which will be done by secret ballot. To win a candidate needs a majority vote from their caucus (or party).

Here’s a run down of the races and the rumors flying round:

House Speaker: Mel Brown, Brad Dee, and Greg Hughes

It was originally assumed that Brad Dee would move from Majority Leader to House Speaker with relative ease, and Greg Hughes would take over as Majority Leader. But then Hughes threw a wrench in that plan and declared himself a candidate for Speaker.  Just in case this did not make it interesting enough, former Speaker Mel Brown put his name into the mix, as well.

Both Dee and Hughes have been active through the last election donating money (in Dee’s case) and time (in Hughes’ case) to their fellow House Republicans.  If you want some interesting reading, check out how much money has been donated into uncompetitive House races in the past month by those seeking leadership seats.

The rumor mill is quietly calling the race for Hughes, but Mel Brown is the one to watch.  While Brown has low odds on becoming the Speaker, he may have the opportunity to pick the Speaker by throwing his supporters in the direction of his choice.  Brown is the grandfather of the House, and would appreciate the opportunity to be play kingmaker and keep his spot as chair of Executive Appropriations.  All rumors and speculations, but frankly it’s what us political junkies are the best at.

House Majority Leader: Jim Dunnigan, Don Ipson, and maybe the loser from the Speaker’s race

Dunnigan has gained the support of many of his colleagues from his work on Medicaid and leading the investigation into John Swallow.  Ipson has been serving in House leadership as the Majority Whip, and declared his candidacy for House Majority Leader months ago.  Both Dunnigan and Ipson have been spreading the campaign donation love around, but Ipson seems to be especially financially committed donating over $22,000 of his campaign and personal cash to his fellow Republicans this last cycle.

House Majority Whip: Francis Gibson and maybe Brad Daw

Brad Daw reclaimed his seat in the Legislature this year after defeating Dana Layton.  This election win must have raised his confidence pretty high since he is considering taking on Francis Gibson for Majority Whip.

House Majority Assistant Whip: Brad Wilson and Steve Eliason

Both Wilson and Eliason would be newcomers to the leadership slate.  Wilson would seem to have the advantage as he has performed well in other leadership roles in the House, namely on Executive Appropriations and the Prison Relocation Commission.

House Minority Leader: Rebecca Chavez-Houck or Brian King

Jen Seelig left the Utah House this year as well, vacating her role as House Minority Leader.  Seelig did well to work with Republicans, and seemed to look for agreements over disagreements.  If the Democrats want to continue on that course, they’ll pick Chavez-Houck.  If they want to make more noise, they’ll choose the eloquent King.

In the Senate the races are more set as candidates had to file by 6:00 p.m. yesterday.

Senate President: Wayne Niederhauser

He’s running unopposed.  Yawn.

Senate Majority Leader: Ralph Okerlund

Last session Sen. Okerlund was wheeled out of the Capitol on a stretcher in a moment of high anxiety for everyone.  It was terrible.  He seems fit and healthy now and wants to continue on as the Majority Leader.  I do not think the lack of challengers is simply a pity move, Okerlund is about the nicest guy in the Senate and an incredibly capable one as well.

Senate Majority Whip: Stuart Adams and Scott Jenkins

Two years ago Scott Jenkins ran for Senate President, at the time he was the Majority Leader for Pres. Waddoups.  Jenkins lost to Niederhauser.  This year he is challenging Stuart Adams for Majority Whip.  It could happen.  It could not.

Senate Majority Assistant Whip: Wayne Harper and Pete Knudson

I expected more of the younger Senators would attempt to break into leadership roles this session.  But Harper is the only one.  Harper is a first term Senator who came from the House.  Harper has a tendency to run tax bills that are the size of the Bible.  Pete Knudson looks like a General Authority, only shorter.

Senate Minority Leadership

The great news is that if you are a Democrat in the Senate and you were either not elected this year or Jim Dabakis – you probably get to be in leadership.  With the retirement of Pat Jones, another Democrat can step onto the slate.  If they want to choose the most loved by Republicans, they will keep Karen Mayne in leadership.  Luz Robles is pretty popular as well because she is just so darn nice.

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