Senate President Lane Beattie has announced he will not seek re-election to the Utah Legislature, which has triggered a scramble among Republican leaders who want to be his successor. They will have big shoes to fill.

Beattie, 48, has served 12 years in the Utah Senate. While he hasn't ruled out a return to elected office, Beattie said he plans to turn his attention to his real estate business.He has been a moderating force in the Utah Senate, striking reasonable balance between right wing Republicans and Democrats, who now hold 11 of 29 seats in the body. Such a feat requires leadership, maturity and practical-problem solving, which are qualities Beattie possesses. He will be missed.

In stepping down, Beattie described his term in the Utah Senate as "an incredible experience." But in the recent past, he has weathered criticism from GOP conservatives who have complained his leadership was too controlling, particularly when it came to assigning bills to committees or placing bills on the Senate calendar. He eventually turned the responsibility back to the House Rules Committee.

In a press conference earlier this week, Beattie said he had decided four years ago that this would be his last term. He used his last session judiciously, by helping to usher through a mental health coverage bill, which had been stymied in previous sessions, and attempting to craft compromise legislation to address concealed weapons in schools and churches. He wisely pulled the gun bills, which were knocked by the gun lobby and gun control advocates alike. But Beattie deserves credit for the attempt.

The Senate would do well to select another leader with similar qualities -- a leader who is experienced, has the respect of the body and can galvanize people.

At this juncture, it is unclear whether Republicans or Democrats will control the Utah Senate in 2001. If Democrats capture four more seats in the Senate, they will hold the majority. Most likely, Republicans will retain control, but by a very slim margin. Even that will create a very different dynamic in the Senate, which has for many years been a Republican stronghold.

This much is known: Four Republicans will not run again and at least two Democrats face tough re-election bids. Such a change in the landscape will require proven leadership, a broad background in the lawmaking process and an ability to build bridges between the urban and rural interests.

If Republicans retain control of the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Lyle Hillyard possesses the qualities that would ensure a smooth transition. Like Beattie, he is deft at the art of compromise but mature enough to make the hard decisions and own up to them.