There will be new leadership in the Utah House with the defeat Tuesday of House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy.

It remains to be seen if the one incumbent seat lost by GOP state senators (they picked up an eastern Utah seat) will lead to new majority leadership there.

Controversial Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, appeared to be winning re-election despite a close race from Democrat John Rendell. And Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, cleared of ethical charges just weeks ago, also was headed for re-election — two disappointments for Democrats who believed they could unseat the two incumbents.

But a number of Democratic lawmakers, emboldened by the small successes in legislative races, say change will be coming one way or another.

While Republicans say they will continue to manage the state in a well-reasoned way.

Still, Republicans control state government with healthy two-thirds majorities in the 75-member House and 29-member Senate. And GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. won a landslide re-election victory.

While there were some close legislative contests, at presstime Tuesday, Democrats had gained only two seats in the House and won one but were losing one, in the Senate. If those numbers hold up, Republicans will control the House, 53-22, and keep their same numbers in the Senate, 21-8.

Every House seat was up for grabs and in the Senate, 15 of the 29 seats were on the ballot.

In a written statement, Curtis thanked his supporters, saying it was an honor serving for 14 years and as speaker the last four years.

Four senators didn't seek re-election — Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price; Senate Majority Whip Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful; Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi; and Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George.

Democrats kept the Senate District 1 seat held by Sen. Fred Fife, with Luz Robles beating Republican Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen. Robles eliminated Fife from the race at the party's county convention.

But they lost Dmitrich's District 27 seat, which stretches across Carbon, Emery, Grand, San Juan and parts of Utah counties. House Minority Leader Brad King, D-Price, was bested by Republican David Hinkins, a small businessman in Orangeville.

Hinkins, who had never run for public office before, said he's known throughout the district because of his mining-related businesses.

"There's quite a few Republicans down this way. We've always voted for Mr. Dmitrich because he represented us well," said Hinkins. "We're hoping to get a better look down this way being in the majority party."

King said he was defeated by the district's largely GOP demographics. "Too many Republicans," he said, adding he had no regrets about the race. "It was the only opportunity to keep that Senate seat," he said.

Rep. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, looked like she would beat Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Sandy. Walker said the election was a referendum on private school vouchers. She had supported vouchers, but her constituents voted 2-1 against them in the referendum last year.

"All she talked about was vouchers," Walker said. "I told my constituents I would not support vouchers again and tried to run on all the things I'd been able to accomplish for the district and thought it would compensate for it."

Buttars said he had been under fire for months because of a comment made on the Senate floor last session that negatively described the "baby" being divided by a bill as black and ugly. "It's been very, very tough," he said.

In the end, Buttars said the campaign against him "turned a lot of people's stomachs" and that voters knew him well enough to know he did not intend the comment as racist. "You always know where I'm at. I tell you. That creates a lot of friends, and special-interest enemies."

With losses by Curtis and Walker, Democrats would hold the House and Senate seats along the east side of Salt Lake County from Salt Lake City in the north to Draper in the south.

"In Salt Lake County especially we made gains," said Wayne Holland, Utah Democratic Party chairman. With Democrats also taking control of the County Council, Holland said: "Salt Lake County is becoming more like Denver and Clark County (in Nevada); we're moving in the right direction. And I think Democrats will do better there, and in other areas of the state, in future elections."

As the newspaper's deadline approached at midnight, some legislative races in Salt Lake County were still too close to call, with many of the votes not yet counted by the Salt Lake County Clerk's Office.

Former Democratic House member Trisha Beck was holding a slight lead over former GOP Rep. LaVar Christensen in a Sandy city district.

Republican Brent Wallis had won a House seat (in Ogden) that had been held by a retiring Democrat. That left Rep. Neil Hansen, D-Ogden, the only Democratic legislator north of Salt Lake City.

And while Democrats hoped to break through in heavily Republican Utah County, they didn't. GOP incumbent senators and representatives there won easily — dashing the hopes of several moderate Democratic candidates who raised healthy campaign war chests. All Utah County lawmakers remain Republicans.


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