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Rolly: Expect another spirited fight for Utah House speaker


| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Jun 20 2014 05:03 pm • Last Updated Jun 20 2014 06:37 pm

The Utah House of Representatives has always been a turbulent arena when it comes to who gets to be the leader and who has to wait in the wings.

This year is no different, and the race for House speaker, which won’t be voted on by the Republican caucus until after the general election in November, has already begun.

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There loosely has been an unspoken rule that when the speaker steps down, the House majority leader, as next in line, is expected to step into that seat.

Each leadership seat under that is usually filled the same way, with assistant majority whip running for whip, whip running for majority leader, etc.

But this year, when assistant whip Don Ipson announced to the caucus he would run for majority leader in November, it seemed to leaving the incumbent whip, Greg Hughes, out in the wilderness.

Majority leader Brad Dee, as expected, will run for speaker to replace the departing Becky Lockhart. She did not run for re-election and is expected to spend the next two years building an arsenal to run against Gov. Herbert in the Republican State Convention in 2016.

Hughes, given the leapfrog Ipson is attempting from assistant whip to majority leader, has decided to do his own leapfrogging from whip to speaker, challenging Dee even though the two have always been amiable and been in camp when it comes to various blocs in the House GOP caucus.

Divisions were rampant in the House in 2010 when House members were caught by surprise with a last-night public confession of inappropirate behavior with a minor by then House Majority Leader Kevin Garn.

Shortly after that, a meeting was called by Lockhart and others in which they blamed then Speaker Dave Clark for allowing that embarrassing situation to take place before the television cameras.

Lockhart then decided to run against Clark and oust him from the speakership, which she did, leaving the caucus deeply divided between the two camps.

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Hughes and Dee were both supporters of Clark, which caused some discomfort in the leadership team when Dee became Lockhart’s majority leader and Hughes became the whip.

In 2012, Lockhart recruited fellow Utah County lawmaker Francis Gibson to run against Hughes, who was running for re-election as whip.

Despite Lockhart’s heavy support for Gibson, Hughes survived by one vote and he and Gibson have since become allies in the House.

Tension arose a few times when some in the caucus talked of a no-confidence vote against Lockhart. Much of that stemmed from the Clark supporters still resentful of what happened to him.

At one point, during a discussion about that in a caucus meeting while Lockhart was busy with a separate leadership meeting, one of the members ran to her office to alert her to a possible coup taking place.

She then went to the caucus room and called Dee out in the hall for a chat.

It remains to be seen whether a drawn-out battle for speaker between Hughes, who has a strong base in Salt Lake and parts of Utah counties, and Dee, whose strength is in the northern Utah counties and the sunbelt area of Washington County, causes any riffs like the Lockhart-Clark donnybrook and the expected Lockhart-Herbert battle for governor.

But whoever is speaker, expect a continued effort to fund personal electronic devices in the classroom for public school students and more resistance to Medicaid expansion.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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