New House GOP leadership will be change in style, not substance
SALT LAKE CITY — Don't expect to see a dramatic change in how the GOP majority rules the Utah House or Senate next session, despite the election of a new leadership team by House Republicans.
"Change sometimes is good," said Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville. "But the fact that it was close in both bodies means you're not going to see major changes."
Waddoups survived a tough challenge last week to the Senate's top spot from freshman Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful. But House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, lost his bid for re-election to Rep. Becky Lockhart, R-Provo.
Clark said he had not expected to lose the race for a second two-year term as speaker. Despite pledges of support from "significantly more" than 30 of the 58 members of the House GOP caucus, he said the final vote was 30-28 in favor of Lockhart.
"I'm still dealing with the surprise. I have a new role in the Legislature, and I'm going to try to fill it," Clark said. "It is what it is. I'm not going to comment on what took place."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said the public likely won't notice the difference in who is leading the House come January, when the new leaders take office.
"What you're really doing is changing one conservative for another conservative," Burbank said. "You're going to be very hard-pressed to say here's how it's different because Becky Lockhart is in charge, not Dave Clark."
Burbank said the concerns about Clark's leadership were largely about style, not substance. "They didn't like the way he did things," the professor said "I don't see how it translates into a big change in what the House does this session."
Lockhart said her platform was "all about process" and ensuring all voices in the caucus get a chance to be heard. To win, she said she built a coalition of moderate and conservative Republicans.
"It wasn't about political philosophy," Lockhart said, but concerns she hears over and over about the concentration of power in the speaker's office over the years, including under Clark's predecessor, Greg Curtis.
"Different people would bring up different things," she said of the complaints made about Clark. "It was the same theme, but there wasn't one incident that was consistent."
Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, a founder of the conservative Patrick Henry caucus, said he and others backed Lockhart because they were tired of "heavy-handed" speakers.
Among their biggest frustrations was a 2009 fight between Clark and Utah County conservatives led by Lockhart over a $20 increase in the vehicle registration fee.
The fee was key to funding a $2.2 billion transportation budget, much of it being spent in Utah County.
Clark warned the dissenters that every Utah County Republican had to vote for the increase because the transportation budget was built around the county's needs. The group gave in, but didn't forget.
"Many people felt very threatened during that time, and it was indicative of Rep. Clark's management style," Frank said. "I have no doubt that was on people's minds" as they voted in last Thursday's leadership election.
He said they also likely recalled how Clark led the House in a standing ovation for former House Majority Leader Kevin Garn on the last night of the 2010 Legislature after Garn confessed he had gone hot-tubbing in the nude with a teenage girl 25 years ago.
"To put the body in that kind of situation shows, in my opinion, a lack of leadership," Frank said. "It hasn't gone away in the minds of the public, and it certainly has been on the minds of the members of the Legislature."
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