Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop confirms he's leaving Congress, undecided about governor's race

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's longest-serving member of the state's congressional delegation confirmed Monday he will not seek a ninth term, keeping a promise he made to voters in 2012 that he would "retire" next year.

The GOP member from the 1st Congressional District discussed his decision during a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards Monday morning.

What does the future hold for Rep. Rob Bishop, who also has said he's toying with running for Utah governor in 2020?

"I am not going to run for governor because I am bored or want a job," he said, adding that there has to be a reason to jump into that race. Bishop said he is looking at areas where he can make a difference, and the governor's chair is something he is "thinking about." Education, he added, is one arena where he believes he might be able to make an impact.

Ending his congressional career was a tough decision for him personally and politically, he said, because of urging by multiple people for him to stay on for at least another term and because he also didn't want to go back on his word.

He mentioned a constituent from Fruit Heights in particular who once said Bishop would not get his vote because he had been in office "too long."

Bishop said he personally reached out to the man and explained his reason for running for yet another term a few years back.

"Do I go back to him and say 'I conned you once. I am going to ask you for one more term, or even two more terms?" Bishop said. "I need to stick to my original goal."

The silver-haired, tan former teacher announced in 2012 he would not run for reelection once his ability to serve in a committee leadership position was exhausted — which would be 2020. The GOP has rules that its congressional representatives can't serve longer than six years in those positions.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, leaves a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards at KSL Broadcast House in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, leaves a meeting with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards at KSL Broadcast House in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)

Named chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources in 2014, Bishop now serves as its ranking member. That position of ranking member dissolves in 2021.

The House Natural Resources Committee handles issues of critical importance in Utah because of the state's heavy public land ownership and concerns over forest land management, wildfires, wild horses, funding for national parks, and oil and gas revenue.

Over the years, he's had his hand in multiple issues key for Utah lands.

He and then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, shepherded the successful passage of a bill in 2014 that authorized the state of Utah to relinquish a tract of school trust lands for subsurface mineral rights to the benefit of Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation.

The Hill Creek Cultural Preservation and Energy Development Act signed into law involved swapping roughly 20,000 acres of Utah's mineral rights from ecologically and culturally sensitive lands in the Desolation Canyon region of the Uintah-Ouray Reservation for federal mineral rights in a less ecologically sensitive part of the reservation.

I've always been amazed at how much time and energy he dedicates to maintain the viability of military installations in Utah.

–Tage Flint, Utah Defense Alliance

Even though it was a land swap that often brings condemnation from multiple environmental groups, this deal brought praise by some groups especially protective of Desolation Canyon. It was praised by multiple conservation groups.

David Ure, director of the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration in Utah, said Bishop played a vital role in boosting revenues on behalf of the administration's Permanent School Fund.

"As chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Congressman Bishop has served Utah’s trust land beneficiaries by furthering federal/state land exchanges, which has helped to maximize revenue development on their behalf," Ure said. "As a former schoolteacher, the congressman understands the significance of trust land and endowment principles."

Bishop said he likes to think his team was able to get some critical things done because of its willingness to be bold, and use its creativity.

One such accomplishment was helping to stop spent nuclear fuel rods from being stored above ground near the Utah Test and Training Range, and another was getting a runway extended at Michael Army Airfield to accommodate F-16s.

More recently, one of Bishop's bills was cobbled into the most massive public lands conservation act signed into law in more than a decade.

The Natural Resources Management Act, signed this year by President Donald Trump, elevated the status of the Golden Spike Historic Site to that of a national historical park, giving Utah a sixth national park to boast about.

The remote site at Promontory Summit is where the transcontinental railroad joined 150 years ago, forging a transformational accomplishment in the transportation of both people and goods.

Over the years, the plain-spoken Bishop — with his dry sense of humor and candor — has stoked the wrath of multiple environmental critics. He's been blasted for his repeated attempts to rein in the scope of monument designations, his criticism of the Endangered Species Act and his oft-repeated argument that local and state governing is the ideal kind of governing.

Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, sees Bishop's departure as a new opportunity for Utah's public lands and the ensuing political conservation.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, third from right, talks with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, third from right, talks with the Deseret News and KSL editorial boards in Salt Lake City on Monday, July 29, 2019. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)

"We hope Congressman Bishop’s retirement opens the door to representation that recognizes Utah’s incredible public lands benefit us all and deserve protection," Groene said.

Like many of his conservative Western counterparts, he's been accused of being in the "pocket" of the mining and oil and gas development industries, but he insisted Monday that land in Utah in particular is so plentiful there is enough to accommodate development, recreation and conservation — all in a responsible manner.

Bishop also serves as the senior member on the House Committee on Armed Services, a position people in the defense community have said is critical for Utah interests.

"He has been the point man in the House of Representatives for Utah who has championed the defense of the nation, No. 1, and the viability of Hill Air Force Base and other military installations in the state," said Tage Flint, president and chief executive officer of Utah Defense Alliance, which supports Utah's military missions and seeks to strengthen the state's aerospace industry.

Sixteen years ago, when Hill Air Force Base was rumored for placement on a base closure list, Bishop and other Utah congressional members fought vigorously to save one of the state's largest employers.

I am not going to run for governor because I am bored or want a job.

–Rep. Rob Bishop

The base, covering nearly 7,000 acres in Weber and Davis counties, was again rumored for closure as part of a budget proposal pushed by then-President Barack Obama in 2013.

Bishop worked closely with the defense community and aerospace industry to help secure the northern Utah base as not only the site for repairs for the fifth-generation fighter, the F-35, but as a home to a significant number of the stealth fighters.

"He recognizes the importance of the contribution to the economy of the state that come with that big enterprise. I've always been amazed at how much time and energy he dedicates to maintain the viability of military installations in Utah," Flint said.

Flint, who also is general manager of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, said Bishop also successfully passed legislation to allow the district to prepay its debt to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on an accelerated schedule. The district operates several bureau dams in northern Utah, including East Canyon and Rockport.

The long-term congressman has also earned kudos from his conservative counterparts in Western states that have long argued for more state autonomy.

He was co-founder of the 10th Amendment Task Force in the U.S. House of Representatives, a coalition of House members committed to working toward disbursing power in Washington back to the people and states and also co-founded the Western States Coalition advocating more states' rights.

Bishop is a Kaysville native with a long history in politics. He served 16 years in the Utah Legislature, including as House Majority leader and was unanimously elected as House speaker.

In 2003, he was sworn in as the new congressman from Utah's 1st Congressional District, replacing the retiring Jim Hansen.

Bishop, who turned 68 on July 13, is married to Jeralynn Hansen Bishop. They have five children and seven grandchildren and reside in Brigham City.

Flint said Bishop will be missed, for both his role in supporting the nation's military and Utah's defense infrastructure and for his work on the natural resources committee.

"When he was chairman of that, he was huge in terms of steering national policy on natural resources," Flint said. "We miss him being in that seat by the way."

Bishop would not speculate on who might run to fill his seat, but possible candidates include Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, and Bruce Hough, former state GOP chairman.

Morgan County Councilwoman Tina Cannon issued a statement Monday that said she's been encouraged to run for Bishop's seat, and is mulling the decision.

Kaysville Mayor Katie Witt announced Monday that with Bishop's retirement, she is forming a congressional exploratory committee to probe a possible run.


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Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.


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