Lt. Gov. Greg Bell’s resignation announcement last week sets off a ripple effect that could impact the 2016 (or even 2020) gubernatorial election. The key item to watch is whether Gov. Gary Herbert appoints a caretaker, or a potential successor.
Deseret News columnists will want to echo all the praise heaped upon Greg Bell the last few days. He is one of the good guys in politics, a decent, mainstream, ethical leader who will be remembered as one of Utah’s finest public servants.
Myriad good lieutenant governor candidates exist, some of whom could cap a great career with this meaningful appointment, but not expect to further ascend the political ladder. On the other hand, a young and ambitious appointee could find the lieutenant governor position a great platform for a future run at governor or other office. Herbert will want someone who is a loyal soldier, who won’t compete with him for attention.
So, to intensify all the speculation, here is the Pig-Webb Really Long List of potential candidates (if you’re not on this list, what’s the matter with you?), and their odds of being selected (this is for entertainment value only, and certainly not for wagering, despite Frank's desire to put down a few bucks).
Despite maintaining a low profile, Kristen Cox, executive director of the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, is an administration star, nationally recognized for her management skills. In 2006, she was the Republican nominee for Maryland lieutenant governor (Odds: 2:1).
Governor's Office of Economic Development Director Spencer Eccles has bragging rights for the nation's best state economy and a great Utah family name (3:1).
House Majority Leader Brad Dee has deep local government experience, provides northern Utah balance and would help greatly with the Legislature (3:1).
Rumors abound that Bell is interested in former state senator, U.S. Senate candidate and fellow Deseret News Columnist Dan Liljenquist (4:1).
House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart is the complete package (gender, conservative, intelligent, ethical). She could be the odds-on favorite, but her style is very different from Herbert's, she is considering running for governor in 2016, and the geography (Utah County) is wrong (5:1).
Northern Utah interests are promoting State Sen. Jerry Stevenson — a respected businessman and former mayor who has the advantage of similar looks and voice patterns with Herbert. (Insiders smirk Herbert could send Stevenson as stand-in to events and the audience wouldn’t know the difference) (4:1).
House Majority Whip Greg Hughes (6:1) was on the shortlist last time around, and could help solidify the conservative base.
Herbert's Chief of Staff Derek Miller is an excellent communicator who is well-regarded for his current role and past duties in the economic development sector (5:1).
Josh Romney (son of Mitt and Ann) is a favorite of Herbert's and always tops the list of potential candidates. A Herbert-Romney ticket would be powerful in 2016 (5:1).
Several prominent women are being mentioned, including former Chamber executive Natalie Gochnour (10:1), former Congresswoman Enid Greene (12:1), and former State Sen. Carlene Walker (7:1).
Sen. John Valentine could be the perfect Bell replacement (intelligent lawyer [no, that’s not an oxymoron] respected by the entire political spectrum), but lives in Utah County — Herbert’s home county (15:1).
Salt Lake County Councilman Michael Jensen was also on the shortlist in 2009 and brings popularity in the state's largest county (12:1).
Former GOP chair Thomas Wright is highly regarded, politically ambitious and knows how to deal with the far right (13:1).
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser is a successful businessman and outdoors enthusiast who is similar to Bell in demeanor and approach (15:1).
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, is an "up and comer" and brings the advantages of geography and business success (10:1).
Sen. Stuart Adams, a successful developer, would bring the Herbert administration deep transportation expertise and northern Utah support (15:1).
Radio talk show host Doug Wright is a moderate Republican with a huge following. He has seriously considered running for office in the past.
Few major state policy decisions that are made without the guidance of Zions Bank President/CEO Scott Anderson, so the lieutenant governor position would be a step down. However, everyone would applaud the nomination of this unique community leader (20:1). Other well-regarded business leaders with public policy expertise include Chamber President Lane Beattie (20:1), commercial real estate broker Mark Bouchard (22:1) and well-known entrepreneur Alan Hall (25:1).
Herbert may consider strengthening his rural support with popular southern Utah leaders like Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, (20:1), Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, (20:1), Sen. Steve Urquhart (30:1), or former House Speaker Dave Clark (25:1).
Hinckley Institute Director Kirk Jowers is a close confidant of Herbert but as a player with the "Count My Vote" initiative, may be temporarily sidelined (35:1).
Sen. Curt Bramble would vigorously defend Herbert's policies in the Legislature and on the streets, but suffers a geography problem (25:1).
Herbert recalls his county commission days with fondness and could select an old friend for the role, former Davis Commissioner Dan McConkie (30:1).
Health care will be a major political and economic dynamic in the years to come and the governor may want to tap recognized experts Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, (25:1), or Rep. Francis Gibson (30:1). It's a very long shot, but several politicos believe Herbert's best choice is Congressman Rob Bishop. The wily former schoolteacher and House speaker could use the lieutenant governor slot to advance his public lands policy and set himself up to run for governor (100:1).
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D’Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.