State Sen. Brian Shiozawa — a moderate Republican voice in the Legislature who led out on issues from medical marijuana to Medicaid expansion — resigned Monday to take a federal health care position.
That prompted Kathie Allen, the Democrat who just lost the special 3rd Congressional District race, to jump back into politics. She said she will run for his seat next year. Like Shiozawa, she is a doctor and a resident of Cottonwood Heights.
On Monday, Shiozawa became the new regional director of intergovernmental and external affairs for Region 8 of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
He announced the news on Facebook and said he is resigning his state Senate seat effective immediately to take the new job in Denver. He also retired as an emergency room doctor at St. Mark’s Hospital.
“As regional director, I will ensure the department maintains close contact with state, local and tribal partners and address the needs of communities and individuals in these states,” he wrote on Facebook.
“As a presidential appointee, I will serve as the personal representative of the [HHS] secretary for the states of Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota,” he added.
“I want to thank the citizens of Utah Senate District 8 for whom I have had the honor to serve these two terms,” wrote Shiozawa, who was first elected in 2012. “While my role with you will now be different, I am honored to serve in this new capacity and will strive to continue to serve this great state in all the ways I can.”
Shiozawa added, “We face big challenges like never before. But I am confident that, together, we can reason, work and bring forth positive change in health care in our state and nation.”
He also thanked his patients and staff at St. Mark’s, where he practiced for 27 years.
Shiozawa is among the sponsors of an initiative now trying to qualify for the 2018 ballot seeking voter approval for large-scale Medicaid expansion that would give an estimated 120,000 Utahns health care coverage.
As a doctor, he often pushed medicine-related measures — including successfully passing legislation calling for more scientific research into the use of medical marijuana and one that required all motorcycle riders under age 21 to wear helmets.
Voting studies have shown that Shiozawa has been one of the most moderate Republicans in the Utah Legislature, one who leans more to the center or left than most GOP members.
Brigham Young University political science professor Adam Brown described Shiozawa as a political bridge between the parties. He said a chart of where senators currently fall ideologically puts Shiozawa exactly in the middle.
He was enough of a moderate that even Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Daisy Thomas issued a statement Monday saying that her party will miss the Republican.
“Sen. Shiozawa is truly an admirable leader who believes in promoting good policy over politics,” Thomas said. “Sen. Shiozawa’s absence will be noticed during the upcoming legislative session,” which begins Jan. 22.
GOP delegates must now meet to select a nominee to be appointed by Gov. Gary Herbert to replace Shiozawa. The replacement will serve until next year’s general election. The winner of that election will serve only two years until 2020, rather than the normal four-year Senate term.
Allen quickly jumped in as a Democratic candidate for the election next year and even launched a fundraising website.
She said in an interview that district residents “are used to having a doctor represent them, so hopefully they will want another one.”
Shiozawa’s Senate district, covering parts of Cottonwood Heights, Murray and Midvale, is considered one of the most competitive in Utah.