Gov. Herbert may be keeping search for new lieutenant governor in-house

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 18 2013 8:24 a.m. MDT

Kristen Cox, executive director for the Department of Workforce Services, talks to the media and and financial literacy students at Bountiful High School in Bountiful on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Even though the list of potential lieutenant governor candidates talked about on Capitol Hill keeps getting longer, Gov. Gary Herbert may not be looking outside of his own office.

Derek Miller, Herbert's chief of staff, is being repeatedly named as a top choice by the governor to replace Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who announced Monday he was stepping down for financial reasons.

Miller, who had served as deputy director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development for three years before becoming Herbert's chief of staff in December 2010, declined to comment on the selection process.

Other names from Herbert's staff that have surfaced include Kristin Cox, executive director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget and former head of the Department of Workforce Services.

Cox, who ran for lieutenant governor in Maryland before moving to Utah, said "the governor's got big decisions to make, and just as long it's a great person to support the team, that's what I'm most concerned about."

She said she's happy where she's at and has not been talked to about the position.

"I know there are rumors out there. This is a very intense process the governor is going through on his short list, and he'll make the right decision," Cox said.

The possibility Herbert would turn to his staff for a running mate should he seek re-election in 2016 surprised some who thought he would look again for a lawmaker to serve as his lieutenant governor.

This is the second time Herbert, a former Utah County Commissioner before being tapped as former Gov. John Huntsman Jr.'s No. 2 in 2004, has had to select a lieutenant governor.

He chose Bell, then a state senator and a member of GOP legislative leadership, when he assumed the governorship in 2010 after Huntsman stepped down to become U.S. ambassador to China.

"I thought Lt. Gov. Bell had a great perspective," said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. "The Legislature is a unique body, and if you haven't sat in those seats before, you do not understand the processes. You think you do."

Niederhauser said he was not trying to encourage the governor to pick a legislator.

"The Senate needs to confirm that person, but I'm sure as long as it's someone that has got a good track record, it shouldn't be a problem," he said.

The Senate president said he had not been contacted about the position and was not aware of anyone else in the Senate being considered. He said if Herbert chooses someone already on his staff, he'd be picking a subordinate.

"So I guess if the governor has one of his high priorities to have somebody who would be a subordinate person in that position, maybe that would be a wise choice for him," Niederhauser said.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, has also been mentioned as a possible pick — as well as a potential candidate for governor.

"I am very engaged in the issues facing the House right now, and that's where my focus is," she said.

Lockhart has said she will not run for re-election when her term ends in 2014. She did not rule out a run for governor.

"It would be a lie to say I'm not thinking about it," Lockhart said. "That's a decision for later."

The speaker, too, said it would be "good for everybody" if the new lieutenant governor was someone who worked well with the Legislature, even if he or she hadn't served as a lawmaker.

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