Utah House GOP says it wants to set rules for replacing Chaffetz

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Republicans voted unanimously Wednesday to tell Gov. Gary Herbert to call a special session of the Legislature to deal with a potential vacancy should Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, step down.

The vote came after House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told the supermajority caucus that allowing the governor to go forward with a "secret plan" for a shortened election process creates a separation of powers issue.

Hughes said legislative leaders have been told Chaffetz will announce in a matter of days he is leaving office in June, creating the need to hold a special election for his 3rd District seat.

Although Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, suggested the caucus should also threaten to take the governor to court over the issue, the motion approved in a voice vote did not include that provision.

Chaffetz has announced he will not run for re-election in 2018 and could leave early for a private sector position that the Deseret News has reported for some time is believed to be with Fox News.

The caucus vote comes as a new poll shows more than three-quarters of Utahns want all voters to choose the candidates who would run to replace Chaffetz — not political party delegates.

Just 19 percent of Utahns polled for UtahPolicy.com said they preferred allowing political parties to pick the nominees that would go on a special election ballot if Chaffetz resigns before his term ends in early 2019.

But 76 percent said such an election should allow for candidates to advance to a primary ballot, through the caucus and convention system that lets delegates name nominees or by gathering voter signatures.


There was a similar response when Utahns were told delegates could nominate candidates faster while leaving the process up to all voters meant the replacement process would take longer.

The poll for the online political news source was conducted by Dan Jones & Associates May 15-16 of 603 registered Utah voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.99 percent.

Legislative leaders and the governor have been sparring over the issue for weeks.

Herbert has said he already has the authority to call a special election if one of Utah's four seats in the U.S. House becomes vacant and conduct it similar to a regular election.

But legislative leaders disagree and say because state law doesn't spell out the process for such an election, lawmakers must take action. However, only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature and also set the agenda.

During the 2017 Utah Legislature, a Senate bill that would have made filling congressional vacancies that was close to a regular election failed in the final hours of the session after being changed in the House to turn over the selection to party delegates.

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Lisa Riley Roche


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