SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who’s already decided not to run for another term in Congress, announced Monday he is not getting in the governor’s race, either.
“I don’t need to be governor. I don’t need it to validate my feeling of self-worth,” Bishop told KSL, describing himself at 68 as “old” after a political career that began at age 26 when he first ran for the Utah Legislature.
Instead, Bishop said he will endorse former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright for governor out of the crowded Republican field vying to take over after Gov. Gary Herbert, who is not running for reelection after more than a decade in office.
But Bishop said he would consider joining a Republican ticket as a lieutenant governor candidate, although he made it clear “that’s not my decision or choice to do,” while making his announcement on KSL Newsradio on a program hosted by his former spokesman, Lee Lonsberry.
He said in an interview with the newspaper that he reached his decision only recently, after Wright announced his bid for governor earlier this month. Bishop said he was looking to see if there was a candidate “who was very strong in coming up with creative, pragmatic solutions that had to be based on conservative, constitutional principles.”
Wright, he said, “brings some fresh experience to it, a new approach,” in part because he has not held elected office. Bishop also said he likes all the Republicans in the race and that it was difficult to stay out of the running himself, but he feels “at peace that it’s the right decision.”
Wright said in a statement, “Bishop is someone that I have long admired. He’s the consummate statesman, conservative and friend. I am completely humbled that he would consider me the best candidate for Utah,” and that while “representing Utah in Washington, D.C., he always put Utah first, and I promise to do the same.”
However, Wright declined to comment directly on whether he’s considering making Bishop his running mate, saying that beyond what he labeled a “prized” endorsement from the congressman, “my only plan is to continue to work hard.”
Bishop said what kind of role there might be for him has come up in conversations with several Republican candidates, but he tried to avoid focusing on “what I get out of it.” He said he would think about running as lieutenant governor if he felt he could add to the ticket.
“I do know the legislative process. I do know Congress. I am a teacher,” Bishop said. “If that can be a benefit to the state and he wanted it — I guess (endorsing Wright) kind of rules out everybody else, doesn’t it — and he wanted that, then we could consider that.”
So far, six Republicans are in the Utah governor’s race: Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., Salt Lake County Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton, businessman Jeff Burningham, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, and Wright. The two Democrat candidates are Zachery Moses and Nikki Pino.
Cox’s campaign had no comment on Bishop’s announcement. Huntsman said, “Rob has been one of the most effective political leaders Utah has had during my lifetime. I commend his time in Congress and look forward to his continued efforts on behalf of all Utahns.”
Winder Newton said she appreciated “the years of service Congressman Bishop has given to the people of Utah. He’s a friend and I’ve always appreciated his viewpoint and sense of humor.”
Burningham said that with Bishop not running, “the field for governor in 2020 appears to be set. I imagine my opponents and I largely agree on the issues. The question, then, is who can actually get it done?” He said the state’s “next governor needs to be someone who is politically unentangled, someone with a fresh perspective.”
Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said this is a big endorsement for Wright.
“The reality is, Rob Bishop has been a very popular member of Congress. He’s very popular with Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans. Since his first race, he’s won by big margins. Utah Republicans do care about his opinion,” Perry said.
Rumors have been “circulating so loudly for so long” that Bishop might be interested in being chosen as a running mate, Perry said, if he could put his experience in Congress on public lands and other issues to work as a new governor’s No. 2.
Bishop confirmed in July he would not run for a ninth term representing the 1st Congressional District in northern Utah, a pledge he had made to voters years earlier because under congressional term limits, he wouldn’t have been able to continue as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee beyond 2020.
He lost the chairmanship when Democrats took control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections and is now the committee’s ranking member. He is also a member of the House Armed Services Committee and serves on a subcommittee that oversees programs related to military installations, including Utah’s Hill Air Force Base.
Bishop has kept Utahns guessing about his political plans since news surfaced in the spring of 2018 he was eyeing a possible bid for governor. Before succeeding longtime Utah Rep. James Hansen in Congress in 2002, Bishop was a state lawmaker and served as Utah House speaker in the early 1990s, and later as chairman of the Utah GOP.
The governor’s seat has not been open since 2004, when voters chose a Huntsman-Herbert ticket to lead the state. The pair won a second term in 2008, but Huntsman stepped down a year later to become U.S. ambassador to China under then-President Barack Obama, elevating Herbert.
Five of the Republican gubernatorial candidates have filed to gather voter signatures to guarantee they are on the primary ballot, while Hughes has said he will compete for the party’s nomination only at the GOP state convention. That could mean Republican voters will have a long list of choices when they go to the polls in June.