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McCoy is leaving Legislature to focus on his legal career

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 2 2009 12:55 a.m. MST

Utah's only openly gay state senator, Democrat Scott McCoy, said Tuesday he is resigning.

"It's just a work thing," McCoy told the Deseret News. "If I want to be a partner in my law firm and have a robust legal career, I have to be a lawyer rather than a politician."

McCoy said his resignation will be effective Friday. He would have been up for re-election from his Salt Lake City district next year, but said he had already decided not to run.

McCoy is a lawyer specializing in federal securities and antitrust litigation with the Salt Lake office of Howrey LLP, a firm based in Washington, D.C., that employs 750 lawyers worldwide. He said he currently has a major trial scheduled to start Feb. 15, about midway through the 2010 Legislature.

"I need to be available to do that," McCoy said, describing the case as involving accounting malpractice.

Still, he said it was a tough decision. "I do have a little sadness and I'm sorry we'll be losing that little bit of diversity from the Senate," McCoy said. "But good things can and still will happen whether or not I'm there, or a gay person is in the Senate."

Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said he'll miss McCoy. "He and I disagree on political subjects. But this is a fine guy. I've come to really respect him," said Buttars, an outspoken opponent of gay rights.

When McCoy was chosen to fill a Senate vacancy in 2004, Buttars referred to him as "the gay" and expressed surprise at the delegates' choice. "I was wrong," Buttars said Tuesday. "This guy is an intelligent, real smart guy on a lot of issues. He represents them well. Scott McCoy isn't a one-issue guy like a lot of people think he is."

Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said the Senate is "losing, I think, one of the brightest minds in the Legislature" who was respected by both sides of the aisle "because he was Scott, not because of his sexual preference."

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said McCoy was seen as a Democrat who could be reasoned with by the GOP majority.

"I don't look at him as a gay senator. I look at him as a senator," Waddoups said, adding he was surprised by McCoy's resignation. "I didn't see it coming at this point. I thought he was doing work that was needful for the gay and lesbian community in our state."

Now that Salt Lake City has passed ordinances to protect gays and lesbians from housing and employment discrimination, lawmakers are expected to consider extending those protections statewide. Because the ordinances were supported by the LDS Church, they are seen as more likely to pass.

McCoy said he would miss being part of that effort, but his decision doesn't mean he's through with politics.

"It's the end of my political career for now, but not forever," he said. "If I'm not at court, I'm sure it would be impossible for me as a citizen lobbyist to stay away from Capitol Hill."

His successor will be chosen by Democratic delegates in District 2 and appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert. McCoy said he is aware of three people interested in the position: Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake; Ben McAdams, a senior adviser to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker; and Salt Lake County Democratic Party Chairman Weston Clark.

McAdams has represented the city on Capitol Hill for the past two legislative sessions.

"I feel I'm up to the challenge," McAdams said. "Scott and I share the same values and I've worked side by side" with McCoy on a number of progressive issues.

Becker has "encouraged" McAdams to pursue the position. McAdams said he would continue working for the city but would take an unpaid leave of absence during the legislative session.

Clark, who is also openly gay, said he believes he would represent "the majority mindset" in District 2. He said voters in the Avenues, Capitol Hill and downtown Salt Lake district elected a gay senator "for a lot of reasons. I am gay and I think there is a lot of important value in keeping that place in the Senate."

Like Democrats, Clark said gay Utahns are underrepresented in the Legislature. Besides McCoy, there are two other openly gay members of the Legislature, Democratic Reps. Christine Johnson and Jackie Biskupski, both of Salt Lake.

Clark said he may have to resign his volunteer post with the Democratic Party to run for the Senate seat.

Contributing: Aaron Falk

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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