SALT LAKE CITY — It only happened once, and it was at the hands of incoming House Speaker Brad Wilson.
His predecessor, outgoing House Speaker Greg Hughes, remembers the day vividly. It was during the 2012 legislative session. Wilson had been a member of the House for a little over a year, and Hughes, at the time, was the majority whip.
Hughes was about to go head-to-head with Wilson on the House floor over a Senate bill Wilson was sponsoring. It would require parents to accompany their children at tanning salons, a bill Hughes found too "cumbersome" and restrictive.
The bullish Hughes said he was "used to having success" on the House floor, and thought for sure after his "passionate" arguments for a substitute bill, he'd get the votes.
But after Wilson "respectfully" made his case against, Hughes said he watched with dismay no one else voted in favor of his substitute, aside from two lawmakers who submitted "ayes" — only after Hughes gave them sideways glances.
"It's the biggest whooping I've ever taken on the floor of that House, ever in my life," Hughes said, chuckling. "And it was at the hands of Brad Wilson. The guy beat me like a rented mule."
That's Wilson, Hughes said. A powerful, effective and hard worker, but quiet, measured and level-headed.
"Like the polar opposite of me," Hughes said, laughing. "Brad, he's someone who thinks through issues. He's very calm. He's deliberative. … He's just very thorough in what he does."
So Hughes, who didn't seek re-election this year, said he's happy to "hand the gavel" to the Kaysville Republican, who ran unopposed to take the speaker's chair starting Monday when the 2019 Legislature officially convenes.
As a "very deliberative leader," Hughes said, Wilson will bring a "very interesting blend" to the "controlled chaos" of the House.
Wilson, a homebuilder and developer, was elected to the House in 2010. He powered through years of controversy as co-chairman of the prison relocation commission. He served as the House majority leader before winning the speaker's seat.
The Davis County native lives with his wife, Jeni, and three children, ages 19, 16, and 14, in Kaysville. He's president and CEO of Destination Homes, a residential homebuilder.
He sees himself as a policy wonk and finances wiz, more than a politician.
Even though Wilson, 49, doesn't have the same wild energy that came with Hughes, the new speaker's fellow legislators say they expect to see Wilson move the needle on big issues on the slate for 2019, including tax reform.
"Speaker Wilson will have his own approach and unique leadership style, which will be good, but I think you'll find much of the same momentum, heavy lifts, the commitment to get hard things accomplished that many could punt or resist," Hughes said. "He's going to be phenomenal. He's going to do an incredible job."
During a recent interview with the Deseret News in his new office, Wilson demonstrated the energetic shift from his predecessor. In a calm and collected tone, he discussed his vision for the House and his plans to tackle tough issues during the session.
One of the biggest issues on his plate: tax reform, and the governor's proposal to "modernize" the state's tax base.
"We have a tax system that's not working in an economy that we're in today," Wilson said. "There's probably no issue in the state right now from a fiscal health standpoint that is more pressing than getting our tax system aligned with the economy."
Wilson said he believes the governor's proposal to broaden the base by adding taxes to some previously untaxed services — all while lowering the rate to under 3.9 percent and reaching a $200 million net tax cut — is doable.
"Absolutely," he said. But Wilson didn't yet have any specifics on how. A bill is expected in mid-February.
Other issues? How to handle the voter-approved Medicaid expansion. Wilson also said he's particularly interested in economic growth and how Utah attracts businesses, as well as housing affordability and changes to higher education. Again, Wilson didn't go very far into specifics but said details would come later.
Overall, though, Wilson said he plans to lead with a hawk's eye.
"We need to take the long view," Wilson said. "As the Legislature, we can be very reactive. We could worry about the issue of the day, the issue of the month, but that doesn't serve the citizens of the state very well.
"Over the course of my legislative career, as well as today, one of the things that I keep trying to impress upon everybody is the state of Utah is the way it is today because of actions taken 30 to 40 years ago," he said. "So we need to think about our role today in 20- to 30-year increments."
So what kind of leader does he plan to be? Reflecting on his answer, Wilson recalled his predecessors, not only Hughes but also the late Becky Lockhart.
Hughes "is a force of nature" with a "dynamic personality and equally passionate about policy," Wilson said with a smile. Lockhart was "very technical" and "strong-willed" — and an "incredible mentor to me." He credited them both with "loving to do really hard things and move the needle."
Wilson sees himself as a policy wonk — but with the same passion to do "hard things" all while working with his colleagues to get work done. He called the House's November leadership election "very unusual" because there were so few, if any, challengers for most positions.
"There's a high degree of trust, a high degree of common interest in doing really difficult, hard things, and commitment to that," Wilson said of his fellow legislators. "It makes me feel like I've got this incredible opportunity as we move into the session to make the state a lot better."
Last year, Wilson challenged Gov. Gary Herbert's power when he championed the recently passed ballot initiative allowing lawmakers to bypass the governor to call themselves into special session. Despite last year's bill, Wilson said he has a "great relationship" with the governor.
Herbert in a prepared statement lauded Wilson for his leadership.
“Since the beginning of his service in the Legislature, Speaker Brad Wilson has excelled because of his ability to bring people together. He is a natural leader," the governor said. "I also appreciate his understanding of free-market capitalism and its importance in generating prosperity for all Utahns.”
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, (who previously served as House majority leader before Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, won the post) said Wilson will serve the House well as a "planner" who will be a "very solid" and "steady" leader.
Most of all, Dunnigan said he knows he can "trust" Wilson.
"That's our currency at the Capitol, as far as I'm concerned," Dunnigan said. "Your bond is your currency. I've never known Brad to tell me he was going to do something and not do it."
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, called Wilson "thoughtful," "smart" and "careful."
"He measures twice and cuts once," King said. "I like that about him."
King said he's confident Wilson, though he's obviously going to look out for the interests of the GOP, will also take his role as speaker seriously and will "work to try to represent the interest of all members of the House."
"I think we've got a healthy respect for each other," King said. "I'm sure there are going to be times when we disagree … but it's not going to be the end of the world."4 comments on this story
At home, Jeni Wilson says her husband is a "very engaged" father, even though his busy schedule demands a lot of time away from home. Most of all, Jeni Wilson credits her husband with doing the right thing, even if he'll be met with backlash.
"He's not in it for the photo-op," she said. "He doesn't care who gets the credit. He's willing to do hard things and possibly unpopular things if he believes it's in the best interest of the state."
House Speaker Brad Wilson
Education: Bachelor's degree in business from Weber State University
Career: Homebuilder and developer
Public offices: Elected to Utah House of Representatives in 2010
Family: Married, three children