"I have tendered my resignation to Speaker Moody effective Feb. 1. Thank you, all of you."
With that statement, embattled Rep. Dionne P. Halverson, D-Ogden, narrowly avoided becoming the first representative in Utah history to be expelled from the Legislature."I have many friends among this body, and I will miss you. And this body will be at a loss without me," she said. "My dear friends, all of us have one thing in common. We're all saddened, nervous, angry and tired of this issue before us."
Bud Scruggs, the governor's chief of staff, said Halverson's replacement likely will be named early next week. Tom Lewis, Weber County Democratic Chairman, said the party's central committee will submit three names to Gov. Norm Bangerter by Monday night.
"I wish her well," Bangerter said. "I think she's probably done the right thing in light of the circumstances, but we certainly don't take any joy in those circumstances."
Halverson has been under pressure to resign since her arrest Dec. 20 on charges she shoplifted $196 in clothing from a Mervyn's department store at Ogden's Newgate Mall. She pleaded no contest to the Class A misdemeanor but insisted it in no way effected her ability to serve in the Legislature.
However, a House Ethics Committee last week recommended she be expelled - an action that required a two-thirds vote of the 75-member House. The motion failed by just two votes, on a 48-25 vote, taken a week ago.
But lawmakers from around the state have come under increasing pressure from constituents for not expelling Halverson. "When I went to church, only one person asked me about the abortion bill. Fourteen asked me about Dionne Halverson," said House Majority Leader Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City. "There was a lot of pressure on everybody."
Rep. Donald LeBaron, R-Highland, was one of two lawmakers not in attendance for the vote, and it was he who throughout the past week coordinated a petition drive to garner the 50 votes necessary to expel Halverson. He secured well over the 50 votes needed for expulsion.
"I feel terrible about it," LeBaron said. "But we had to have the moral courage to cleanse ourselves."
Halverson said lawmakers should have examined their own conduct instead of condemning her for a minor infraction. "I say to you your vision is clouded. You have established a precedent and you have more challenges to take on and many, many more problems to address."
Lawmakers began a second effort to expel Halverson after they observed what they interpreted to be a lack of remorse on her part. That raised the ire of Halverson, who said, "I have heard it rumored in the hallways . . . that by my body language I haven't repented enough. I have tried to be honest and forthright, not for you but for me."
Assistant Minority Whip Grant Protzman, D-Odgen, described Halverson's decision to address fellow lawmakers before tendering her resignation as "gutsy. I applaud her for it. I think it's a good decision."
The ordeal has divided the minority party. Former House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, called the renewed attempt to expel Halverson "an outrage," adding other lawmakers may likewise have embarrassing skeletons in their closets.
Halverson made an impassioned speech to her fellow representatives, who sat impassively as she alternately praised them as friends and accused them of being her enemies.
At the beginning of her 15-minute address, a visibly upset Halverson quoted former President Lyndon B. Johnson: "Make sure you keep your enemies in front of you."
But Protzman and House Majority Whip Byron Harward, R-Provo, both said the move to oust Halverson was not personal, but a matter of doing what was best for her constituents and the House as a whole.
"There is no personal animosity and no personal dislike on my part toward Rep. Halverson," Protzman said.
Harward said: "I don't think she has any enemies up here. All of us have compassion for her and wish her the best."
By forcing her resignation, Halverson cautioned lawmakers they may not be able to live up to the precedent they have set.
"Whom among you will appoint yourself watchdog to address these problems?" she asked. "Whom among you will decide which misdemeanors result in expulsion? Whom among you will draw that line?"
It's a question Harward said must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
"I voted for expulsion because it involved a violation of criminal law that involves moral turpitude," he said. "Theft and dishonesty is incompatible with the high standards we as a Legislature should hold ourselves to."
Halverson apologized for her conduct, adding she hoped any future attempts to expel a lawmaker would not be based on party affiliation, gender or tenure.
She declined further comment to the media.
A first for House
Friday's resignation under pressure by state Rep. Dionne P. Halverson, D-Ogden, was a first for the Legislature, at least in the 16 years Carole Peterson has served as chief clerk for the House of Representatives.
Peterson said that during her tenure, there have been two other ethics investigations, but in both instances charges were dropped when the investigating committees found no evidence to recommend an action against the legislators.