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Utah's GOP House members preparing for shift from majority to minority

By Lisa Riley Roche, KSL | Posted - Nov 13th, 2018 @ 7:02am

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SALT LAKE CITY — At least three of Utah's four Republican members of the U.S. House are readying themselves to be in the minority in the next Congress after Democrats won control in last week's midterm election.

Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and John Curtis all were re-elected on Nov. 6, but the 4th Congressional District race between Rep. Mia Love and her Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, remains too close to call.

Whether Utah ends up with a House member in the majority won't be known until all the votes cast in the 4th District are counted. More vote totals are expected to be released Tuesday and likely Thursday before final county canvasses on Nov. 20.

Bishop, a former Utah House speaker first elected in 2002, is the only member of Utah's congressional delegation there long enough to have served when Republicans were last out of power in the House, for four years starting in 2006

"I had never served in the minority in the state Legislature, either, so I was somewhat naive about what to expect," Bishop said. As speaker during his legislative days, he recalled, he frequently invited Utah House Democrats to fill in for him on the dais.

"You just don't do that back here (in Washington)," he said. "In Utah, the minority is always treated as the minority but they're treated a lot nicer because they're always the overwhelming minority. Here, there's always a lot of fighting for control."

With Democrats taking over the House, Bishop will lose his chairmanship of the House Natural Resources Committee. But given his seniority, he's likely to become the committee's ranking Republican and stay on the Armed Services Committee.

During the lame duck session, Bishop said he'll try to get a package of public lands legislation through Congress focused on transferring federal facilities such as a fish hatchery to the state.

He said it remains to be seen whether that legislation would deal at all with the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, slashed in size last year by President Donald Trump.

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For Curtis, the newest member of Utah's congressional delegation, moving to the minority after just a year in office could mean losing some committee assignments as Republican seats are turned over to the Democrats.

Curtis is currently serving on the natural resources, foreign affairs and small business committees and had hoped to get on the energy and commerce committee, something made more difficult after the midterm election.

First elected last year to fill the remainder of former Rep. Jason Chaffetz's term, Curtis said he's trying to be optimistic that the bipartisan support behind the five bills he passed in the House last year will help him.

"This is all very new for me," said Curtis. "I'm confident we can still, through hard work and creativity and working across the aisle, advance Utah's causes. … I'm ready to go back to work."

Stewart said he has enough seniority to stay put on two key committees, intelligence and appropriations, since he was first named to both after being elected in 2012.

"We won't be in as strong a position as we were before, but we'll still be in a position where we can take care of priorities for Utah, or at least many of them," Stewart said of his Appropriations Committee assignment.

But the House Intelligence Committee may be a different story, he said.

"That one worries me quite a lot," Stewart said, because the incoming chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, has talked about launching investigation into the Republican president, including his ties to Russia.

"I think Congress should have an important oversight role. That's one of the important responsibilities we have," Stewart said. But he said more important intelligence issues will be overshadowed "by frankly, meaningless investigations."

All three Utah Republicans said they hope Democrats will focus on getting more done under their leadership rather than taking on Trump, who is already campaigning for re-election in 2020.

"If they decided to spend all their time on oversight," Bishop said, "it's just going to be a very miserable and very boring and very long two years."

A former Utah congresswoman, Enid Mickelsen, who was elected in 1994 as part of the first GOP House majority in 40 years, said the state could be most hurt by a Democratic majority when it comes to securing funding for defense programs.

Democrats are "going to have some differences on the budget. That's where the biggest impact on Utah can come in, anything our congressional delegation members were able to insert because of their positions on committees," she said.

That includes funding for Hill Air Force Base and other defense spending, "which are huge for Utah," Mickelsen said. But she said Stewart, who served as a U.S. Air Force pilot, has the respect of his colleagues on appropriations.

Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said there's a long list of significant issues Utahns want to see tackled in Congress, including public lands, health care and immigration.

Perry said House Democrats may be distracted by their new oversight authority over the White House, which includes subpoena powers, "an enormous tool" that can be wielded without the minority party.

"I believe the Democrats are going to have a very powerful oversight opportunity here and I believe they're going to use it," Perry, a former chief of staff to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, said. "But Utahns have an interest in what happens in key areas."

Scott Howell, the Democratic co-chairman of the Utah Debate Commission and a former state Senate leader, said Democrats will be making a mistake if they pursue impeachment before the special counsel probe into Trump is complete.

"I really think it's a time for healing," Howell said. "It's so contentious. Democrats can learn a big lesson and take some leadership and be more welcoming and more of a team" despite what he terms a "problematic" president.

For the Republican members of Utah's congressional delegation, Howell said this is also a learning experience because now "they'll better understand some of the frustrations we've had as Democrats in Utah."

Love, who remains in Utah while votes in her race continue to be counted, did not comment on the impact of Democrats taking control of the U.S. House.

McAdams said voters have sent a message that they're "tired of a dysfunctional Washington. They're tired of the partisanship and the bickering. We've got some important issues that have got to be addressed."

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