It's difficult to leave a post as substantive and dynamic as this, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. It's simply time to take care of my family's long-term financial needs. —Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell announced Monday that he is stepping down, citing the need to earn more money to meet some financial obligations and plan for retirement.
"The Great Recession was not kind to those of us in real estate. I came out with some liabilities," he said.
Bell, who turns 65 next month, said he has an outstanding loan on property he anticipated selling but hasn't been able to do so. He said it came to the point that he has to take care of it and plan for the future.
"I need to make some money," said Bell, whose office pays $105,000 a year.
Bell, a real estate and finance lawyer, has served as lieutenant governor since September 2009. Gov. Gary Herbert named him to the post after Herbert replaced Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who resigned to become ambassador to China.
Herbert said he has valued Bell's loyalty as his partner and friend, and his resignation leaves a large hole in the administration.
"He is a true statesman, a man of principle, integrity and resolve. And he has been key to our ongoing success, particularly on the education front," he said.
Bell also has been heavily involved in planning the state budget and health care issues.
"I'm a citizen politician. I've never viewed politics as a career," said Bell, whose public service has spanned 23 years. He previously served on the Farmington City Council and in the Utah Senate.
Herbert said he has a short list of successors in mind, but is not ready to make a choice. Bell said he gave the governor his own list of 10 or 12 names. The state Senate must confirm the nominee.
Speculation among Republicans has already begun. Names include Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist, general counsel for the attorney general's office and former Utah National Guard head Brian Tarbet.
Four years ago, Herbert's short list included state Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, Salt Lake County Commissioner Michael Jensen and Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the University of Utah business school.
A moderate Republican, legislative colleagues viewed Bell as level-headed and willing to reach across the political aisle.
"We are sad to lose one of the lone voices of reason and moderation in Utah’s state government, as well as an ally and champion in the fight for quality public education at a time when there is so much work still to do for our schools and our children," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, who also serves as a state senator.
Bell escaped media attention for most of his four years as lieutenant governor, though a complaint that he meddled in a state Division of Family Services matter led to scrutiny earlier this year.
Davis County investigators and the FBI looked into whether Bell commissioned an audit to interfere in a child welfare case allegedly involving the daughter of one of Bell's friends. A family complained that Bell abused government power and taxpayer money when he asked for the review.
Last month, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings cleared Bell of any wrongdoing.
Bell reiterated he did nothing wrong and that the recent controversy was not factor in his resignation.
"It's the scrutiny you bear as a public official, but I was not concerned about it and it did not drive this decision," he said.
Bell said he does not have a job offer and has not looked for work.
"I've got to dust off a résumé," he said.
Bell said he and Herbert get along "famously" and that he enjoyed every minute as lieutenant governor.
"We are very close. We work closely together. It's hard for me to leave that association," he said. "It's simply time to take care of my family's long-term financial needs."
Twitter: dennisromboy; DNewsPolitics