New Beehive Buzz

Who Will Run if Utah Gets Seat?

Posted February 11, 2009 at 6:35pm

Washingtonians — whose license plates still carry the “Taxation Without Representation” slogan — aren’t the only ones with a major stake in the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, which is starting to move its way through both the House and Senate.

The bill also has major political implications for Utah — which stands to gain another House seat before the 2010 elections if the measure is signed into law.

As the bill gains momentum, several GOP names are already being mentioned as potential candidates for what would certainly be a Republican-friendly fourth seat for the state. They include state Rep. Greg Hughes, state Sen. Steve Urquhart, former state Speaker Greg Curtis, well-known Utah radio personality Doug Wright and even Josh Romney, son of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). Former Rep. Chris Cannon (R), who lost his seat in a 2008 primary, also shouldn’t be counted out, nor should wealthy former state Rep. LaVar Christensen (R), who loaned his campaign over half a million dollars when he challenged Rep. Jim Matheson (D) in 2006.

But Utah political insiders say any talk of a potential candidate field is putting the cart before the horse. When it comes to a fourth Congressional seat, they’ve been disappointed before.

The product of years of delicate negotiations, the bill was designed as a political compromise. If passed, the legislation would permanently expand the size of the House by two seats, creating one voting seat for heavily Democratic Washington, D.C., and one new seat for staunchly conservative Utah, which just missed gaining a seat in the last Census. It’s a seat Utah is all but certain to keep once reapportionment takes place after the 2010 Census.

On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee cleared the way for the bill to be sent to the Senate floor, and the bill also appears to be on track to win passage in the House in the coming weeks.

The D.C. House Voting Rights Act of 2007 came three Senate votes shy of passing in the 110th Congress, and nine years ago, after the 2000 Census, state officials were so sure they deserved a fourth seat that they initiated a federal lawsuit that eventually failed.

“Congress has been talking about this issue for so long that it’s kind of off most people’s radar screens,” Utah Republican Party Chairman Stan Lockhart said.

Besides, as of now, the House and Senate aren’t even on the same page when it comes to what type of district Utah would get if the measure passes.

The House proposal would make the Utah seat an at-large seat in 2010, but it would then revert to a traditional district in 2012 after the Census. But the Senate version of the bill calls for the 4th district to be drawn as part of an overall redistricting plan enacted by the state Legislature. The Legislature already drew such a plan in 2006 in anticipation of the bill being passed in the 110th Congress.

And even if those differences can be resolved, the bill is likely to be immediately challenged in federal court. Opponents of the bill, including Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R), argue that since D.C. is not a state, it violates the Constitution’s Composition Clause, which stipulates that Representatives must be chosen by “the People of the several States.”

For Utahns, the prospect of getting another Congressional seat before 2012 “is a giant if,” Hughes said.

“That’s a seat we have been anticipating for some time and there’s a lot of excitement about it,” he said. “We know there will be a lot of constitutional issues and we’re not making any judgement on the constitutionality of any of it. We’re saying Utah deserved that seat in the last Census and we are anxious to see that representation in Congress.”

Hughes, who lives in what would be the new 4th district as it was drawn up for the 2006 map, said he’s “not discounting the prospect of running” if the seat were to be created by 2010.

In a general election, Utah Democrats might be able to give Republicans a race if they were able to entice a top-tier candidate such as well-known Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon into the race. But Corroon isn’t well-known in the rural parts of the state, which would be a problem if the hypothetical 4th district were to be drawn without including Salt Lake County.

But GOP operatives brushed off any notion that Democrats could be competitive in a new Congressional seat in what is perhaps the most Republican state in America.

“Whether it is at-large or a newly drawn district, there is no shortage of qualified candidates for Republicans to draw from in Utah,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said.