Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, resigned from the Utah Legislature on Thursday

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Dan Liljenquist, R-Bountiful, resigned from the Utah Legislature on Thursday, perhaps paving the way for a run against U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Liljenquist declined Thursday to say whether he planned to challenge the six-term senator, instead saying he will make an official announcement in January.

"I've so enjoyed serving the people of south Davis County," he said. "It's been a great honor. I've worked hard, and we've gotten some good things done."

Liljenquist said he's hoping the timing of his resignation allows enough time for south Davis County residents "to select a suitable replacement who can hit the ground running" in time for the start of the 2012 legislative session on Jan. 23.

In a letter delivered to Senate President Micheal Waddoups on Thursday afternoon, Liljenquist said his resignation is "effective immediately."

"I do this with a sense of gratitude and optimism," the letter states. "Life is short. It's time to move on."

Liljenquist said he "tried to bloom where … planted," and thanked Waddoups for assigning him to work on ethics, business and retirement issues.

"He was involved in a lot of things," Waddoups said of Liljenquist. "He represented his people up in Davis County well. He'll be missed. They'll be hard pressed to replace him."

In October, Liljenquist was honored as one of the nation's nine "2011 Public Officials of the Year" by Governing magazine. He was recognized by the magazine for his overhaul of the state's pension plan to compensate for the loss of more than $6 billion in the economic downturn.

Liljenquist sponsored a number of bills beginning in the 2010 Legislature to avoid having to put $400 million annually into the system for the next 25 years.

Last month, Liljenquist was named "Legislative Entrepreneur of the Year" by FreedomWorks, a national tea party organization based in Washington, D.C.

The group praised the state senator for "reining in government spending in Utah," by pushing reforms to the state pension system and Medicaid program.

FreedomWorks has made defeating Hatch a high priority. Leaders from the group visited Utah earlier this year to interview Liljenquist and other potential challengers after Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, decided not to get in the race.

So far, no Republican has stepped forward to take on Hatch.

"We'll all anxiously be waiting to see what (Liljenquist) announces," Waddoups said.