SALT LAKE CITY — The 2017 Legislature was "almost a bipartisan love fest," according to a BYU professor who found the Republican supermajority and the Democratic minority nearly always vote together.
That's despite the political makeup of the Legislature being one of the "most lopsided" in the country, said Adam Brown, a faculty scholar at BYU's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
Democrats hold just 13 of the state's 75 House seats and five of the 29 Senate seats, giving Republicans the power to control every vote, including those requiring a two-thirds majority.
"That makes it all the more interesting that somehow they do find a way to vote together," Brown said.
Last session, he said, 93 percent of lawmakers voted together on the average House vote, and 97 percent did the same in the Senate.
More than half — 53 percent — of Democratic bills passed last session, compared with 68 percent for GOP legislation, Brown said, a rate that's "downright respectable for a party that holds less than 1 in 5 seats in each chamber."
Brown said he believes because Republicans have such an "overwhelming supermajority" that they have no need to fear Democrats. Meanwhile, he said, Democrats are "trying hard not to give them a reason to be feared."
That means Democratic leaders "have mostly chosen to go along to get along," and attempt to "play their hand more carefully" rather than resort to becoming "a bomb thrower" bent on embarrassing the majority party, Brown said.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said the GOP has made an effort, too.
"We could as a Republican Party make the Democrats pretty much irrelevant by our numbers. But we don't do that," he said. "I don't know if it's cultural, but it is an attitude we've tried to foster."
Niederhauser said he and other Senate leaders make a point of meeting weekly with their Democratic counterparts throughout the 45-day session.
"We talk about hot spots, areas where we feel like there's been some trouble," the Senate president said, such as a sharp exchange during a floor debate or a bill being held up, rather than letting such concerns fester.
"I think that's created a nice cooperation," Niederhauser said.
Members of the minority party have been included in the Senate's daily media briefings, he said, to "give both sides of the story when they're partisan issues."
But most issues don't fall into that category, Niederhauser said. "They're just part of running government."
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, also said partisanship has little to do with most bills.
"They simply aren't easily described as Republican or Democratic. They're bills that address a particular problem, much the same way there's no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage," King said.
When there is friction, as there was over HB11, a bill eliminating partisanship requirements for service on various boards and commissions, King said the strategy "requires that we walk a very fine line, very carefully."
The bill passed, but without the support of Democrats in the House or the Senate and with changes King said Republicans had hoped would make it more appealing to the minority party.
It was controversial enough to spark a rare flare-up on the Senate floor between Republicans and Democrats that resulted in Niederhauser admonishing members to maintain decorum in their debate.
Overall, King said he is grateful Democrats were able to pass as much legislation as they did last session.
"For the most part, I think the Republicans are not vindictive or vengeful or power hungry to the point where they say, 'If you're a Democrat, we're not going to let you get anything through,'" he said. "They're not unfair. So I appreciate that."
Brown said it should be comforting that both parties can work together in Utah.6 comments on this story
He cited as alternatives two of the more volatile figures on the national political scene, GOP President Donald Trump and Mark Cuban, the "Shark Tank" billionaire who backed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
"When you do hear people complaining from the left they don't have a true liberal voice, do you really want the kind of environment where you're choosing between a Donald Trump and a Mark Cuban?" he asked. "Or do you want one where the two parties can talk to each other and it's not personal? I see a lot of value in that."