SALT LAKE CITY — The wave of support for Republican candidates this mid-term election washed through the state Capitol on Tuesday, leaving the already GOP-heavy Utah Legislature even more red.
Republicans gained one seat in the state Senate and five in the Utah House of Representatives, increasing their majority in both chambers. In January, Republicans will occupy 22 of the 29 Senate seats and 58 of the 75 seats in the House.
"It was a big win for the Republicans," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City. "We gained ground where I didn't think there was hope to gain."
House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said Utah — like much of the nation — was hit with a wave of enthusiasm and support for Republican candidates.
"It was a similar dynamic to what we saw two years ago with the enthusiasm of Democrats (and left-leaning independent voters)," Litvack said.
The GOP retained all nine Senate seats up for re-election Tuesday and took the District 12 seat from Democrats with Daniel W. Thatcher's 53 percent to 47 percent victory over Sen. Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley City.
Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said losing the seat is disappointing "because you never want to go backward." The minority party already faces challenges of spreading itself too thin among legislative committees, which Jones says hinders the effectiveness of the political process and ultimately is a disservice to Utah residents.
"I believe in more balance in our state legislatures, whether in Massachusetts or Utah," she said. "I think it's better when you have choices. You don't want one grocery store. You don't want one type of automobile to buy. Why would you not want a choice in politics?"
Jenkins, however, predicts Democrats will continue to lose ground in the state Legislature unless they adopt a more moderate political ideology.
"We want to work with them," he said, "but it can't be from an extreme left position … because there's no common ground there."
In the House, all Republican incumbents facing re-election this year were victorious. The party also retained all seats currently occupied by GOP legislators in races that didn't include an incumbent.
Republicans extended their advantage in the House with voters ousting Reps. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden; Jim Gowans, D-Tooele; and Laura Black, Trisha Beck and Jay Seegmiller — all Democrats representing Sandy.
Litvack said the three Sandy seats — Districts 45, 48 and 49 — are swing districts that Democrats were able to pick up during the party's surge two years ago.
"It's unfortunate because you're talking about three legislators who were extremely effective in representing their constituents, who represent the values of their constituents," he said.
Republican Jeremy Peterson earned 53 percent of the vote in District 9 to defeat Hansen, who had 47 percent of the vote — a difference of just 155 votes.
Douglas Sagers posted a solid victory over Gowans, giving Republicans control of District 21 with 52 percent of the vote. Gowans, who's been serving in the Legislature since 1992, got 41 percent of the vote.
The Republican shake-up in Sandy featured Steven Eliason defeating Black in a District 45 race decided by just 326 votes; LaVar Christensen winning the District 48 seat from Beck by 536 votes; and Derek Brown claiming District 49 with 56 percent of the vote to Seegmiller's 44 percent.
Litvack said the loss of five Democrats won't change the way the minority party approaches its role in the House. He said Democrats won't change their "formula of success" — working closely with the majority party; coming up with their own ideas, such as presenting their own budget; and being strong advocates for their constituents.
"That doesn't change whether we have 22 or 17 (Democratic members of the House)," Litvack said. "That's how we have been and will continue to be successful as the minority party."12 comments on this story
The same is true in the Senate, Jones said.
"We'll continue to stand up for the things we believe in," she said. "We'll continue to fight for public and higher education for the common person. We'll continue to fight for economic development."
Messages left Wednesday for House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, were not immediately returned.