Although the next race for Utah governor is three years away, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, it appears, has launched her pre-gubernatorial campaign concert tour.
In recent weeks, Lockhart has conducted two town hall meetings, with fellow Republican legislators representing the particular areas where she appeared. She has another such meeting scheduled in July and hopes to attend as many as she can across the state before the end of the year.
A speaker regularly showing up at legislators' town hall meetings is unprecedented and lends credence to speculation that Lockhart is trying to build momentum for a run at the governor's perch in 2016.
I wrote recently about Ryan Sims, a former legislative intern for Lockhart ally, Sen. Curt Bramble, making calls to lobbyists to set up luncheons for their clients and Lockhart to talk about contributing to her PAC.
Lockhart has confirmed to me that she will not seek re-election to an eighth term in the House when her term expires at the end of 2014. So she is amassing a political nest egg and meeting with constituents in intimate settings, acknowledging she won't be a public official after 2014.
But even if her motives are at least partially political as she meets with Republican voters in as many districts as she can, her appearances have produced positive results, according to the legislators who have shared town hall podiums with her so far.
At a town hall in Draper, with Reps. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, and Derek Brown, R-Cottonwood Heights, Lockhart gave constituents a tutorial on the mechanics and legal issues surrounding the investigation toward possible impeachment of Utah Attorney General John Swallow, which seemed to be on everyone's mind.
"She was able to explain the process in a way that I couldn't because she has educated herself so well on that issue," said Brown.
He and Eliason both were glad to have her there to set the record straight about Common Core, the controversial set of education standards the state school board adopted, as have dozens of other states.
Her other town hall meeting, so far, was at Daybreak in southwest Salt Lake County with Republican Reps. Rich Cunningham of South Jordan, Jim Bird of West Jordan, John Knotwell of Herriman and Dan McKay of Riverton.
"This is the first time since I've been in the Legislature that a speaker has taken an interest in our little corner of the Salt Lake Valley," said Bird.
He said it was good for the speaker to hear local constituent concerns, which centered mostly on education funding.
Lockhart says that as House speaker, it is good to hear first hand what issues people are concerned about. She plans to use the information in a list of discussion points for the last legislative interim meeting of the year before January's general session, her last.
Lockhart says she hasn't decided exactly what she will do as an ex-legislator. She is a registered nurse with a degree from BYU.
Her political allies have told me before that if Lockhart does run for governor, it might be better for her not to be in the Legislature leading up to the 2016 campaign because every vote she cast could be criticized as politically motivated.
That suspicion plagued former House Speaker Marty Stephens in his final session as a legislator prior to his unsuccessful run for governor in 2004.
Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who Lockhart criticized at times during the last session, has not indicated whether he will seek reelection in 2016.