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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. 

The primary candidates who ousted the House incumbents all have opponents on the November ballot — Democrat Thomas Nedreburg and Constitution Party candidate Paul McCollaum in House District 68; Democrat Emmanuel Kepas in House District 60; Democrat Doug Thompson in House District 4; and Republican Craig Hall in House District 33. 

GOP House member Patrick Painter of Nephi is out, too, having lost his bid for the Senate to incumbent Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe. Okerlund faces only a Constitution Party challenger, Trestin Meacham, in November's Senate District 24 race. 

Rep. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, may be moving to the Senate after defeating Sen. Casey Anderson in the Senate District 28 primary. Anderson had been named to replace the late Sen. Dennis Stowell last year. Vickers has a Democratic opponent in November's election, Geoffrey Chesnut. 

Another incumbent, Rep. Brad Galvez, R-West Haven, won't be back because redistricting put him in the same district as Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, and it was Perry who won the House District 29 primary. Perry now faces Democrat Heidi Bitton in November. 

There were also primaries in several districts where incumbents chose not to seek re-election, guaranteeing someone new will fill those seats.

In the Senate District 8 Democratic primary, voters chose former lieutenant governor candidate Josie Valdez over former House member Ty McCartney for the seat held by retiring Senate Minority Whip Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights. Republican Brian Shiozawa is the Republican on the ballot in the Senate District 8 race.

Rep. John Dougall, R-American Fork, took on state Auditor Auston Johnson in the GOP and won. Mike Kennedy beat Sarah Nitta in the GOP House District 27 primary to claim a spot on the November ballot with Constitution Party candidate Scott Morgan. 

In House District 56, the seat held by Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork, who ran unsuccessfully for governor, will be battled over by GOP primary winner Kay Christofferson and Democrat Leslie Dalton.

And in House District 57, Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, failed at the state Republican Party Convention to unseat Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem. Voters will choose between Republican Brian Greene and Democratic Scott Gygi in November. 

Incumbent Republican Reps. Steve Handy in House District 16 and Douglas Sagers in House District 21 were both able to defeat their intraparty challengers in the primary. Their opponents in November are Democrat Douglas Sill and Libertarian Kevin Bryan in District 16, and Democrat David Swan and Constitution Party candidate William Bodine in District 21.

A race between two lawmakers put in the same West Valley legislative district won't be settled until November, when Rep. Fred Cox, a Republican, faces Rep. Janice Fisher, a Democrat.

The list of those already gone or leaving at the end of their term also includes Republicans who sought higher office and saw their hopes dashed — former House Reps. Dave Clark, Carl Wimmer, Stephen Sandstrom, who all ran unsuccessfully for Congress; and former Sen. Dan Liljenquist as well as Rep. Chris Herrod, who both failed in their bid for the U.S. Senate. Former Rep. Holly Richardson, R-Pleasant Grove, left to help run Liljenquist's campaign.

On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, chose not to seek re-election after being put in the same legislative district as Sen. Pat Jones, a fellow Democrat. Instead, Romero chose to run for Salt Lake County mayor, but lost the nomination at the party's state convention to Sen. Ben McAdams, whose term in the Legislature won't be up for two years.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com

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