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Rolly: Chon battle was loyalty vs. principle

Published August 18, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During Wednesday's Senate confirmation fight over Third District Court nominee Su J. Chon, there was more at stake than whether Gov. Gary Herbert's first minority appointment to the bench would be approved.

This was a referendum on the leadership of Senate President Michael Waddoups. And Waddoups lost.

The fight wasn't an ideological one between Republicans and Democrats. This was conservative Republicans vs. conservative Republicans. It was a battle, however, between follow-the-leader vs. standing for principle. And there were heroes in the Senate Republican Caucus that day who stood for principle.

To recap: The Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee voted 4-2 on Monday to give Chon, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Korea, a thumbs down, although her fate still rested with the full Senate's vote during interim committee day.

Her opponents on the committee, a panel that included Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said they couldn't send her to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation because of her lack of trial experience, although there were some troubling developments during the hearing that suggested the experience issue was a smoke screen.

Chon initially had decided to withdraw her name because she didn't want to embarrass Herbert at the full Senate hearing. But the governor and his staff persuaded her to stay the course and they would back her. Herbert was not going to back down on his first minority nominee to the bench.

That was the first act of heroism in this story.

Freshman Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful, then stood directly in the headwind of Senate leadership pressure to abide by the committee's wishes and sent an email to all the senators urging them to reject the committee's recommendation and confirm Chon on Wednesday.

That was the second act of heroism.

That was followed by strong recommendations from veteran Sens. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, urging their colleagues to reject the admonition that party loyalists should do what leadership says.

Urquhart, I'm told, said during the hour-long closed caucus meeting prior to the vote on Wednesday that his loyalty was to his constituents, not to the leadership of the Senate. That was a bold statement in the presence of those with power to determine who in the body will get plum committee assignments and who will not.

Weiler and Urquhart, both attorneys, recounted their experiences with Chon in her role as attorney for the state's Office of Property Rights Ombudsman.

In the end, the Republican floor vote was split 10-10. With all seven Democrats voting in favor of Chon, that gave her a 17-10 margin for confirmation.

It's revealing that nearly every member of the Senate leadership team voted against Chon after Waddoups gave an impassioned plea in the closed caucus to back the leaders and abide by the committee's recommendation.

Besides Waddoups and Jenkins, that included Majority Assistant Whip Peter Knudsen, R-Brigham City; Rules Committee Chairman Margaret Dayton, R-Orem; and Appropriations Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, who voted for Chon in the committee, only to fall back in line with leadership for the final vote on the floor. Another "no" vote was registered by Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, who Waddoups had appointed as Senate chair of the Redistricting Committee last year and who reportedly plans to run for majority leader this fall, as does Dayton.

The only member of leadership to vote "yes" on Chon was Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, who is the majority whip and plans to run against Jenkins for Senate president in the fall.

Bramble, on the victorious pro-Chon side, plans to run for majority leader against Dayton and Okerlund. —