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Sen. John Valentine tabbed to head Utah Tax Commission

Published: Monday, Aug. 4 2014 2:10 p.m. MDT

Senator John L. Valentine speaks to the senate as Utah Legislators meet Friday, March 25, 2011.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Longtime state Sen. John Valentine will resign next month to head the Utah Tax Commission.

Gov. Gary Herbert nominated the Orem Republican to the post Monday, calling him an ideal choice.

“Sen. Valentine is a leading advocate in the Senate for sound tax policy and an outstanding public servant who will do a great job leading the tax commission,” Herbert said in a statement. “He’s a well-respected tax attorney who has authored a number of the tax laws the commission will carry out."

Valentine said he and several senators met with Herbert in April to endorse commission Chairman Bruce Johnson for a fifth four-year term. He said the governor made it clear he wanted a fresh perspective. A short time later, Herbert asked Valentine if he would consider the job.

"It was extremely difficult," Valentine said of stepping away from the Legislature. "It's taken me months to come to this decision to accept the governor's nomination."

Valentine, 65, specializes in tax law at Howard, Lewis & Petersen in Provo, where he is a managing shareholder. He has served in the Legislature since September 1988, when he was appointed to the House by then-Gov. Norm Bangerter.

Valentine served in the House for 10 years, including stints as chairman of the rules and executive appropriations committees, as well as majority whip. In 1998, then-Gov. Mike Leavitt appointed him to the Senate, where he served two terms as president. He is the second-longest serving current lawmaker behind Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

In addition to resigning from the Senate, Valentine said he will give up his private law practice, and his firm won't be allowed to appear before the commission during his tenure. He said he committed to the governor to serve at least four years. Valentine has flirted with running for governor and attorney general in the past.

During his time in the Legislature, the senator has been heavily involved in tax policy and more recently in revamping state liquor laws.

"In many ways, I've almost rewritten every tax law we have in the 26 years I've been up here," he said.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said tax and alcohol bills don't pass the Legislature without Valentine's stamp of approval.

Valentine worked with former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to overhaul the state's liquor laws in 2009, including doing away with requiring patrons to buy a private club membership to enter a bar. The deal also included creation of the so-called "Zion Curtain" separating alcohol pouring from customers' view in restaurants, which Valentine has staunchly defended.

Niederhauser described Valentine as a dedicated lawmaker who thoroughly analyzes each piece of legislation. He said Valentine is well-suited to lead the tax commission, but his Senate colleagues tried to talk him out of leaving.

"He knows his stuff. He'll hit the ground running," Niederhauser said.

Valentine's nomination is subject to Senate approval. Lawmakers next meet in September.

"The only reason it wouldn't be unanimous is if we decide we want him to stay," Niederhauser said.

As a lawyer, Valentine argued many cases against the tax commission dating back to the mid-1970s. He said it will be interesting to see issues from the other side. Also, as a tax commissioner, he will be carrying out laws the Legislature passes instead of making them.

Valentine said he still hopes to influence tax policy as a resource for lawmakers and a liaison between the commission and the Legislature.

The four-member commission is made up of two Republicans and two Democrats under the Utah Constitution. Valentine sponsored a resolution this year to do away with the partisan requirements. The question will be put to voters in November.

Several names have already surfaced as possible replacements for Valentine in the Senate, including Reps. Keven Stratton, R-Orem; Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove; Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi; Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine; and former legislators Holly Richardson and Craig Frank, who lost to Valentine at the 2012 Utah County GOP convention.

Republican delegates in the Senate district will meet to choose a name to submit to the governor to fill the seat.

Valentine is one of the busiest lawmakers on the hill. He most recently served as chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee and carries 20 to 25 bills each legislative session.

"I've spent majority of my of career looking for issues that kind of made life better for us," he said.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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