What could prove to be a bitter battle among Utah Senate Republicans — and maybe spark infighting among House GOP members, too — won't be settled until after the Nov. 4 general election.

That's when secret leadership elections are held to decide the bosses of the Republican-dominated Senate and House, races that could, in the end, be as important as the Utah legislative races on the ballot.

This year, the Senate's "old guard" is being challenged. President John Valentine, R-Orem, faces Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, for a third time, and Assistant Majority Whip Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, is trying to unseat Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

Waddoups said it's time for new leadership in the Senate.

"John's been in it for four years. I think we need to change and see what we can do with me," Waddoups said. "You would see less of the nastiness going on like you saw with (Sen. Chris) Buttars. ... I think that could have been handled a lot better."

Buttars, a Republican from West Jordan, created controversy last session by using the word "black" to negatively describe the "baby" being divided by a bill during floor debate, saying, "This baby is black, I'll tell you. This is a dark and ugly thing."

Waddoups said Valentine went too far in announcing that the statement, quickly labeled racist, was a breach of decorum. But Valentine said he stands by his decision. "I believe now and believed then it was a breach of decorum," the Senate president said.

Valentine said he was running for a third, two-year term because with the state's budget woes, "this is the time to have consistency and stability, rather than volatility and change. The biggest problem we have is we're going through some rough times."

Waddoups also had critical words for Bramble.

"There's a lot of people who feel Curt is abrasive," Waddoups said. "He's been involved in several things that are probably not in the best interest of the Senate," he said, citing as an example the recent flap over a pizza delivery. "That doesn't help our image."

Bramble said his role as majority leader "is to effectively advocate the agenda of the (Senate GOP) caucus. I recognize my style is direct. ... There are times when we're in tough negotiations."

Killpack said he was encouraged to run against Bramble by other lawmakers. "Curt is a tremendously capable individual and a good legislator. I think there are differences in terms of style and perhaps approach," Killpack said. "I obviously feel I have something to offer."

The other GOP Senate leadership races are less competitive, at least so far. Only Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, is running for majority whip, while three senators are seeking Killpack's current post.

The assist majority whip candidates are Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights; Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden; and Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. The final day to file for leadership posts, however, is the day before the Nov. 7 vote.

In the House, Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, says he knows of no challenge now by another Republican for the top post. But Curtis faces a tough re-election from Democrat Jay Seegmiller. And, of course, if Curtis loses his House District 49 seat then he won't be in the Legislature to serve another term as speaker.

A possible successor is House Majority Leader Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara. Clark said that while he expects Curtis to win Nov. 4, should he not, Clark will run for speaker.

With Curtis gone, any number of other House Republicans, conservatives or moderates, could jump into leadership contests — seeking to run for speaker or some other post.

"It throws us into a whole new paradigm," said one House Republican interested in a leadership post come the January general session.

Other GOP House members who could run for a leadership post include Reps. Wayne Harper, R-West Jordan; Brad Dee, R-Ogden; and Kevin Garn, R-Layton. Garn rose through the ranks to be majority leader some years ago, before he stepped out of the House for a while.

What's interesting now is that the 55-member House GOP caucus has decided to hold its leadership elections a week after the Nov. 4 general election.

House Democrats historically don't have fights over leadership. The top spot will be open — current Minority Leader Brad King, D-Price, is running for the Senate. Majority Whip Dave Litvack, D-Salt Lake, says he's running for leader and hasn't heard if anyone else is. Reps. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, and Phil Riesen, D-Millcreek, both want to move up in leadership, Litvack said.

Senate Democrats, however, have to replace their longtime boss, Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, who is not seeking reelection this year. The only declared contender for his spot is Senate Minority Whip Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake.

But other Democratic senators are looking at leadership posts, including Senate Assistant Minority Whip Pat Jones, D-Cottonwood Heights; Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake; Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and Senate Minority Caucus Manger Brent Goodfellow, D-West Valley.

Davis said his style of leadership would be different than Dmitrich, who seldom confronted the GOP leadership directly. "At the same time, I think I understand how to get things done," Davis said. "I learned from Mike."


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