On Tuesday, Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes and his colleagues in the House and Senate are convening meetings to discuss, among other issues, whether Gov. Gary Herbert potentially “overstepped” his legal authority by (1) putting in place special election deadlines for replacing Rep. Jason Chaffetz without formally consulting the Utah Legislature and (2) starting the special election process prior to Chaffetz officially stepping down (Chaffetz doesn’t technically resign until June 30). The discussion will apparently also focus on the Legislature’s recent attempts to get an opinion on these matters from the attorney general.
We believe elected officials need to follow rules, especially the governor. And, we believe that the Legislature should absolutely act as a check on executive overreach.
With regard to the special election, however, Gov. Herbert followed the rules and was conscientious about acting under statutory authority and under advice of his legal counsel.
We sympathize with members of the Utah Legislature who feel they should have had more say in determining the time, place and manner of the special election.
After all, the U.S. Constitution states: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations except as to the Places of (choosing) Senators.”
In the event of having to replace a member of the House of Representatives before the member's term expires, however, the Utah Legislature passed a statute delegating the responsibility to the governor. It reads: “When a vacancy occurs for any reason in the office of a representative in Congress, the governor shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy.”
The Legislature had an opportunity last session to be more specific about the proper procedures. It didn't take it.
Therefore, given the governor's obligation under state statute, Herbert called an "election to fill the vacancy" using the regular election laws and procedures already in place for normal elections.
This is a well-reasoned approach. If others feel it represents executive overreach, then they should file a lawsuit.
Everything else simply amounts to mere political grandstanding.
Utah needs to grow economically, improve K-12 education, help the homeless, mitigate opioid and obesity epidemics and enhance both its air quality and water strategy.
Instead of caucusing on these or other pressing issues, the Legislature is spending time Tuesday fretting over the legal minutiae for a once-in-a-generation special election.
In a throwback to Boss Tweed, pinstripes and smoke-filled rooms, Speaker Hughes — who also considered running to replace Chaffetz — advocated skipping the primary process altogether and having the parties appoint their candidates.
He and others may feel wounded that their views were passed over in this process. Yet considering the high probability that the next Utah representative will become a long-term incumbent, it’s critical to make the election as inclusive as practicable rather than leaving it up to party bosses alone.
Since Hughes did not get anything through the Legislature last session, he can now either mount the supposed legal challenge against the Governor’s action — which would frankly be a poor use of the state’s resources but would at least help settle the matter — or he can sit tight and allow the special election process to take place without political grandstanding.
We suggest Speaker Hughes and his colleagues choose the latter.