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‘I might depart early,’ Chaffetz says

First Published      Last Updated Jun 28 2017 09:51 am

What’s next? » Congressman’s future plans are unclear; a special election would be required to fill the vacancy, but Utah’s law on the procedure is fuzzy.

Washington • Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he may step down early from his House seat, leaving a vacancy that would be filled by a special election that is fuzzy under current state law.

"I might depart early," Chaffetz told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. "It very well might happen."

If he resigns, he said, it will not be right away.

"There are all these silly rumors that it's going to be tomorrow. No. No. No," he said. "If I do it, it's going to be months from now."

And he noted that he has been in negotiation with a prospective employer but wouldn't say what job he may take. He declined to say whether it would be a TV gig, though the congressman has a background in corporate communications and is a frequent guest on the cable circuit.

Chaffetz surprised Utah political circles Wednesday when he said he wouldn't run for re-election or for any other seat in 2018, though he hinted he could run for governor in 2020.

The Utah Republican said that he wouldn't run again, and possibly step down early, because he's tired of being away from his family so much.

He said unequivocally that no scandal was involved in his decision to leave before his term was up.

"No," he said. "I have had more enemas about my background than just about anybody, so absolutely, positively no. That's ridiculous. No way, shape or form."

Chaffetz said if he does resign, the timing would have nothing to do with whether state lawmakers had figured out a fix for the unclear law on special elections to fill a vacant House seat.

"They're going to have to figure that out," he said.

Utah law says simply that if a U.S. House member resigns, "the governor shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy."

But it doesn't spell out any process of winnowing the field of candidates or when the election must be held. If, say, a dozen candidates ran, the winner could be elected with a small percentage of the vote.

State lawmakers pushed legislation earlier this year when President Donald Trump was considering Rep. Chris Stewart as the civilian head of the Air Force. That job went to former New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson, and Utah lawmakers, no longer faced with an imminent need for a special-election law, punted when it became entangled in Republican Party politics over how candidates would get on the primary ballot.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday at his monthly news conference that he does not believe a special session of the Legislature is needed to clarify the law for a special House election.

He conceded "there is probably a little bit of uncertainty" about the process, but said he would see such an election going through "the same process you would do for a regular election, but it will be held at a different time of the year. … That means delegates will have to get together and will draft a convention process for anybody who wants to run. It may require a primary, and then we will have a general [election]."

"We'll let the attorney general and the legal experts guide us," he added.

But the governor did not address a prickly issue for Utah Republicans — signature gathering to get on the primary ballot without going through a convention, a topic that remains the subject of a party lawsuit against the state. It was GOP infighting on this issue that caused the scrapping of a special election bill, SB252, on the final night of the recent legislative session.

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