You've all heard about the congressional and legislative races. But there's another race going on - a race within a race, if you will - the race for the leadership posts in the Utah House and Senate.
While not interesting to the general public, who wins House speaker, Senate president, and the posts of those leaders' top aides, can mean real changes in Utah's political landscape, next year and for years to come.For example, Gov. Norm Bangerter and U.S. Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard Nielson were all speakers of the Utah House before stepping up to higher office. The speakership and presidency means a built-in constituency of GOP state delegates - the party faithful, many of whom are sitting or former legislators. A strong support in Republican delegates means a leg up in winning the Republican nomination for higher office.
In addition, the speaker and president get more media attention, have a greater impact on specific legislation, cut deals with the governor and, in general, have a greater impact on the state's fiscal and legal work than rank-and-file members.
Leadership in the minority Democratic Party, while not as important as the majority Republican top jobs, can also lead to greater influence in the legislative process. Historically, lawmakers in leadership posts get their bills at least a fair hearing - if not passed into law.
This year, leadership posts for the 1991 Legislature will be chosen in closed party caucuses a week after the Nov. 6 election.
Speaker of the House Nolan Karras, R-Roy, isn't running for re-election to his House seat. (He's thinking about the governor's race in 1992, and the speakership helped him get at least that far.) There will be a new speaker, and House Majority Leader Craig Moody, R-Sandy, and former speaker and current House Appropriations Chairman Glen Brown, R-Coalville, both want the spot.
Across the aisle, House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, has been the top dog for a decade. The so-called "young turks" on the Democratic side forced their de facto leader - Rep. Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake - into leadership two years ago. Pignanelli, House minority whip, says he's not challenging Dmitrich and expects Dmitrich to be re-elected. Pignanelli said he's "tired of the way we younger Democrats have been treated" by Dmitrich and other old guard Democrats. Pignanelli won't run for leadership again "if it's Mike and Brent in there." Dmitrich and Rep. Brent Goodfellow, D-Salt Lake, assistant minority whip, "treated us shabbily, we were shorted on committee assignments, trips and the like," Pignanelli said. He said the "young turks" may well decide to step out of leadership this time "and let them (the Democratic old guard) deal with us on the floor and in caucus."
Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy, is going for a record. Christensen has already been president for six years - three two-year terms. Tradition has the president serving only two or four years, then stepping aside. However, twice before, says Christensen, presidents have served six years. The last was former President Cap Ferry, who was succeeded by Christensen. If Christensen gets elected to a fourth two-year term, he'll serve eight years, longer than any previous president. "I have the time to serve and the will. If I'm doing a good job, why change?" he says.
Christensen is being challenged by Sen. Dix McMullin, R-South Jordan, the current Senate majority whip. "I'm running against Arnold, even though he is a good friend, because I think change is healthy. He's been in six years, I have an agenda and want to do some things," said McMullin.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, is running against Sen. Cary Peterson, R-Nephi, for the spot of majority leader, the second-in-command job Peterson currently holds. Peterson is the "rural" member of leadership, which is traditionally sensitive to geographic makeup. Hillyard, from Cache County, fits that requirement. "I say six years is long enough," said Hillyard, who is the current Senate appropriations chairman. "There are some things that need to be done differently in leadership."
Across the aisle, Senate Minority Whip Eldon Money, D-Spanish Fork, is thinking about challenging Senate Minority Leader Rex Black, D-Salt Lake, who has been minority leader for years.
Moody says his leadership race in the House is difficult to read. He believes he has the votes, although admits it's tough counting. A recent magazine article hinted that Moody was giving campaign financial support to GOP House incumbents in return for speakership votes. "Completely untrue," Moody said.
Several years ago, Republicans in the House started the Committee for a Republican Majority. The CRM political action committee raised and doled out its own monies to GOP candidates. But last year, the CRM was folded into the State Republican Party fund raising arm. "We have a committee of 12 people - I'm not even one of the 12 - who decides which candidates we support and how much they get," said Moody.
The article said all Republican candidates had to come to Moody personally and get their check and be hit up for a speakership vote in the process. "I only personally passed out three checks, and I did that because it was in a meeting where the candidates happened to attend." Other PAC committee members gave out the other checks and didn't "even hint" that they should support him for speaker, Moody said.
The CRM will give out between $50,000 and $60,000, Moody said, "in checks from $200 per candidate to $2,000." One of those who got $2,000 is Rep. Mel Brown, R-Salt Lake, Glen Brown's brother. "I certainly didn't ask him to support me for speaker, I didn't ask anyone to support me when they got a check," said Moody.
The CRM gets much of its money from special interest groups, and some legislators are glad to get contributions through the PAC. It is a perfect way for Republican legislators to accept money from the Utah Public Employee Association - the main state employee union - or other lobbying groups without having to receive the cash directly, a connection that could harm moderate Republicans facing intra-party challenges from more conservative Republicans.
Those interested in the House majority leader job include Reps. Dave Adams, R-Monticello, the current House whip; Rep. Kim Burningham, R-Bountiful; and Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City. So far, only Rep. Byron Harward, R-Provo, the current assistant majority whip, seeks the majority whip's job.
Those wishing to replace Harward as majority assistant whip include Reps. Christine Fox, R-Lehi; Marty Stephens, R-Farr West; Lloyd Frandsen, R-South Jordan; Jerrold Jensen, R-Salt Lake; and Mont Evans, R-Riverton.