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Big turnover expected for 2013 Legislature, but not big changes politically

Published: Saturday, July 7 2012 3:16 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Capitol on the opening day of the Utah State Legislature Monday, Jan. 23, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — There will be a significant number of new faces in the 2013 Legislature as a result of the recent primary election as well as lawmakers choosing to retire or seek other offices.

"I'm the second most-senior member in the House now," House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said. She is second in years of service only to House Budget Committee Chairman Mel Brown, R-Coalville.

The exodus of lawmakers adds up to a loss of some 149 years of institutional memory since the 2012 Legislature was in session, Lockhart said. But don't call it a brain drain.

"It just happens. People decide to do other things or their constituents make a decision to have other people there. I don't think it should be surprising," Lockhart said. "I have great confidence in the people who get elected."

Despite the large freshman class expected next January, the speaker said there's not likely to be much change in the Legislature's conservative political makeup, long dominated by Republicans.

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, also said he doesn't expect much difference.

"I think it'll be pretty reminiscent of what we already have," Dee said. "There's not going to be a dramatic change in this Legislature, other than we're going to have some fresh faces."

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said there's little chance of the GOP losing its supermajorities in both the House and the Senate that enable Republicans to control voting.

"I would tend to think you wouldn't see a big impact," Burbank said. "I don't think it matters much in terms of the general perception of the Legislature. I don't think it's going to matter much in terms of what the legislative priorities are."

House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, who is not seeking re-election, agreed the balance between the two parties likely would not shift much in November. 

Litvack is one of several lawmakers who ended up in the same legislative district as a fellow party member in last year's effort to redraw boundaries based on the most recent census.

"Twelve years is a long time," Litvack said. "It's just time to try new things."

He said change in the Legislature could be a plus.

"I don't think turnover is a bad thing necessarily in and of itself. For a citizen Legislature, I think having new people from both parties up here is good for the state," Litvack said. Still, he said, the contributions of those who are gone will be missed.

In the June 26 primary, voters rejected House incumbents who faced challenges from within their own parties — Republicans Bill Wright of Holden, Brad Daw of Orem and David Butterfield of Logan, as well as Democrat Neal Hendrickson of West Valley City.

Wright, beaten by Merrill Nelson in House District 68, had sponsored several pieces of controversial legislation in recent years, including bills creating a guest-worker program for immigrants in the state illegally and attempting to restrict sex education.

Daw was targeted by a political action committee set up to keep its donors private that blanketed House District 60 voters with anti-Daw mailings. Daw has not blamed the GOP victor, Dana Layton, for the negative campaigning.

Butterfield, who lost in House District 4 to Edward Redd, became a state lawmaker just two years ago. Hendrickson, defeated by Liz Muniz in House District 33, was among the longest-serving Democrats in the Legislature, with 22 years of service. 

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