Despite an outcry from the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, incoming Gov. Gary Herbert named Greg Bell, a moderate voice among state GOP senators, to serve as his No. 2.
"This hasn't been just a casual walk in the park for me in trying to determine who's going to be my partner," Herbert said Wednesday. "I've had a lot of counsel and advice, a lot of it unsolicited, and I feel very comfortable in choosing Senator Greg Bell to be second in command."
Bell had emerged as a clear front-runner in recent weeks as Herbert narrowed his list and several top candidates removed themselves from consideration. Herbert and Bell had discussed the lieutenant-governor position several times, and Herbert finally offered him the job in a phone call Tuesday night.
"I'm honored to serve the people of Utah in this full-time capacity. I love this state," said Bell, who still must be confirmed by the state Senate. "I pledge to the people of Utah and to Governor Herbert that I will serve the people of Utah with all my heart."
The selection comes despite an opposition campaign mounted by the Utah Eagle Forum, which sought to cast Bell as too liberal, particularly on gay-rights issues.
Some, including Senate President Michael Waddoups, said this push may have helped cement the deal.
Herbert said the calls and e-mails he got from the Eagle Forum played almost no role in his decision, and the input from those backing Bell far outweighed those opposing him.
Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said she met with Herbert and Bell on Monday, and Bell clarified his position on some same-sex issues.
"After some of the conversations we've had," Ruzicka said, "we'll find that Senator Bell, in many ways, will be just as conservative as Gary Herbert."
Bell, an attorney and former mayor and city councilman in Farmington who now lives in Fruit Heights, said those who sought to portray him as supportive of gay marriage distorted his actual stance. He said he backed Amendment 3, which banned gay marriages in Utah.
"I'm pleased we have that in place, because that essentially ends the debate in the state," he said. "I do not support gay marriage. I do not support a statute that would create domestic partnerships, civil unions or anything like that."
Bell noted he has sponsored and supported bills that would have extended some civil rights to couples, regardless of sexual orientation.
In the 2005 Legislature, Bell sponsored a Huntsman-backed bill that would have allowed unmarried partners, including gay couples, to enter into contracts regarding property ownership and health matters. The bill failed.
And, in the 2008 session, Bell helped negotiate a deal that enabled Salt Lake City to keep a registry -- albeit under a different name -- of domestic partnerships.
"Conservative in principle, moderate in tone, that's who I am," Bell said.
Will Carlson, Equality Utah's manager of public policy, said he appreciates Bell's support for some protections for gay and lesbian couples.
"Our organization supports full marriage equality, and Senator Bell never supported that," Carlson said. "At the same time, he recognized there was a gap in the law between the needs of gay and transgender Utahns and the desire to restrict the definition of marriage. He tried to do something to fill that gap."
Carlson was especially pleased Herbert didn't cave in to the Eagle Forum.
"We applaud him on making a choice based on what's best for Utahns," he said, "instead of a smear campaign by a few anti-gay extremists."
Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said he was sad to lose Bell from the Senate family, but agrees it was a wise pick.
"I've said all the way along this is who I'd pick if I was Herbert," Waddoups said. "He [Bell] is capable, intelligent, respected in his area."
Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, said Bell will make a "fantastic" lieutenant governor.
"Greg's open-mindedness and basic sense of fairness toward the gay and lesbian community is one of the things that distinguished him as a centrist in the Senate," McCoy said. "But also his views on election reform and ethics reform ... made him stand out as one of the more kind of middle-of-the-road [senators]."
Bell has been a strong supporter of strengthening the rules on the gifts legislators may accept from lobbyists and last session sponsored a bill requiring more disclosure of such meals and handouts.
Lobbyist oversight and elections management are among the lieutenant governor's chief responsibilities.
Aside from those, Bell said he isn't looking to take responsibility for a set of issues -- as Herbert has under Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Instead he plans to be act as the governor's senior adviser and "be at the table on policy decisions."
In making his choice, Herbert said he was looking for someone with whom he is compatible and who complements his own strengths.
"I'm not looking for someone who was a clone of myself. One of me is enough," Herbert said. "I think Senator Bell fills in my cracks."
Paul Mero, president of the conservative Salt Lake City think-tank The Sutherland Institute, said he likes Bell personally, but predicted that selecting a "moderate to liberal lieutenant governor" ensures "you won't see Gary Herbert longer than 2010. That's a reality. He just won't make it through the [Republican] convention."
But Herbert doesn't anticipate Bell will be a liability, and said people will like him as they get to know him during the campaign.
"In any rational way you want to measure Greg Bell," Herbert said, "he comes down as a conservative."
Herbert is expected to be sworn in as Utah's 17th governor Tuesday, assuming Huntsman is confirmed by the U.S. Senate this week to be ambassador to China. Bell also must be confirmed by the Utah Senate, but Waddoups doesn't expect any problems, since his Senate colleagues already know him.
Tribune reporter Rosemary Winters contributed to this story.
The U.S. Senate will vote, perhaps as early as Thursday, on Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s nomination to be ambassador to China.
If confirmed, as expected, Huntsman then would resign as governor Tuesday and Gary Herbert would be sworn in the same day as the state's 17th chief executive.
Herbert then would submit Sen. Greg Bell's name to the Utah Senate for confirmation as lieutenant governor. The state Senate could confirm Bell as early as Aug. 19.
Within 30 days of his resignation, the 268 Republican delegates in Bell's Senate district would meet to select a replacement, whose name ultimately would be sent to the governor. Reps. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, and Doug Aagard, R-Kaysville, have expressed interest in the seat as has Utah Transportation Commission Chairman Stuart Adams, who was on Herbert's short list for lieutenant governor.
State Sens. Wayne Neiderhauser, R-Sandy, and Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, plan to run for Bell's Senate post as assistant majority whip.