It appears Utah House Speaker Mel Brown and Senate President Lane Beattie will be re-elected to their top leadership posts following the Nov. 3 general election without opposition this year.
For Beattie, that's not big news.But many expected current House Budget Chairman Marty Stephens to challenge Brown. In fact, Stephens reportedly had already drafted his speakership announcement letter to House GOP colleagues.
Stephens said this week that he's now leaning toward not running against Brown. Brown defeated Stephens for the speakership post four years ago, and a rematch has been anticipated.
Stephens, R-Farr West, said he believes the GOP House caucus is fairly evenly split on a Brown/Stephens contest. (Brown may disagree with that assessment; he's in Alaska on a legislative trip.)
And whether he won or lost the speaker's race, it would likely be by a handful of votes, says Stephens.
"I think either way (win or lose) it would be divisive and not helpful to the (House GOP) caucus," he says.
So unless there is some kind of change, i.e. Brown somehow stumbles, Stephens says there won't be a challenge.
And there likely won't be a serious challenge to Rep. Kevin Garn's attempt to become the second-in-com-mand in the House.
Garn, now the House whip, is running for House majority leader, the post being vacated by the retirement of House Majority Leader Chris Fox-Finlinson, R-Lehi.
Rep. Susan Koehn, R-Woods Cross, is a leader in the so-called "mainstream" GOP caucus in the House. Koehn says her group of about 25 Republican moderates has decided to take a stand in the House races of whip and assistant whip.
Since Brown and Garn won't be challenged in the races of speaker and majority leader, respectively, "there's no need for the (main-stream) caucus to vote as a bloc in those races. But we plan to (do so) in the whip and assistant whip" races.
That's a pretty big hammer the moderates hold, if they really do stick together and vote as a bloc.
Currently there are 55 Republicans in the House. If after the Nov. 3 elections there are still 55 House Republicans, the mainstream caucus's 25 or so members nearly hold the key. At 55 Republicans, 28 is a majority to win a GOP House leadership race.
"We certainly expect to have a (mainstream caucus member) in one House leadership post, hopefully two" - the whip and assistant whip - said Koehn.
Already, Rep. Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, a mainstream caucus leader, has said he's running for a leadership post, probably whip. Koehn's name is also mentioned as a possible candidate.
But, she says, there are nine people likely running for either whip or assistant whip. "Until the races firm up - we know who is running for what - the (mainstream) caucus can't pick one to back," says Koehn.
During the 1998 Legislature the mainstream caucus met to discuss various items, and at the end of one meeting several House Republicans brought up the skittish subject of Brown's speakership tenure. Several GOP House members thought it unwise to keep electing the same people to leadership posts election after election.
Before that meeting, and especially since, Brown has reportedly courted influential mainstream caucus members. The speaker appointed Curtis vice chairman of a committee when a vacancy occurred. Brown personally campaigned for Koehn before her GOP primary challenge. (She won the primary.)
But such actions are only normal, says Koehn, as any House leader, Republican or Democrat, wants to keep the troops happy.
Historically, Utah House speakers serve one two-year term. That unwritten rule was broken by former speaker (and governor) Norm Bangerter, who sought a second speakership term so he could be speaker when he ran for governor the first time in 1984.
Before and since then, until Brown, speakers served one term and then either stepped back into the 75-member body or retired.
Brown argues that the House speaker needs longevity, both to compete with long-serving Senate presidents and governors and to have clout with the legislative staff.
"If (the staff) knows you're going to retire in a year or two they don't have to heed" a speaker's or the House's desires as much as the Senate's, Brown recently said.
During a recent national speakers conference Brown hosted in Salt Lake City, the speaker pointed out several long-serving speakers to me - saying one older statesman had been speaker for 20 years. "There's great advantages to having a speaker around for a while," said Brown.
Now speculation is that Brown may want to be speaker during the 2002 Olympics - more prestige and more fun than just being one of 75 House members - and may want to hold on until the 2004 gubernatorial race, waiting in the wings as a possible gubernatorial candidate when Leavitt ends his 12-year governorship.
Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]