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Parties — not voters — would select nominees in future special congressional elections, according to proposed bill

John Curtis, Republican candidate for 3rd Congressional District celebrates his win at the Marriott Hotel & Conference Center Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Provo, Utah. The Republican mayor of the Mormon stronghold of Provo, has won a special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Newly elected U.S. Rep. John Curtis likely should rejoice that he ran for Congress in a special election last year. Legislators are now proposing big changes that, had they been in place then, would have defeated him.

HB344 unveiled Wednesday by Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, would eliminate primaries in special elections — allowing only a general election. It most cases, it would give parties 30 days to determine their nominees in any way they choose.

For the Utah Republican Party, that would almost surely result in state convention delegates choosing the nominee. The bill’s structure and timing would not allow qualifying by collecting signatures.

Last year, ultraconservative former state Rep. Chris Herrod qualified for the primary by winning the GOP convention where delegates — who tend to be more conservative than voters in general — rejected Curtis.

But Curtis, then the mayor of Provo, had also gathered signatures to qualify for the primary — which he won easily, and then prevailed in the general election by a landslide.

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, votes in the Utah House of Representatives, Wednesday, February 8, 2017.

McCay said he was too busy Wednesday for an interview about his bill. But House leaders have talked about such legislation as pushback against Gov. Gary Herbert for refusing to call them into special session last year to set rules for the special election and instead unilaterally establishing the rules and timeline.

House Speaker Greg Hughes in an opening-day speech this year urged part-time legislators to seek more power against the full-time governor.

HB344 would also take away a key power from Utah governors. If a U.S. senator resigned or died in office, current law allows the governor to appoint a replacement.

The bill instead would require the chief executive to appoint whoever is nominated by the political party of the former senator — again likely giving delegates the power to choose.

Paul Edwards, spokesman for Herbert, said his staff is reviewing the bill.

But he said it is wise for the Legislature to enact rules for special elections, which it had not done previously. “We agree that the state would benefit from having greater specificity in statute for conducting the special elections needed in the case of a congressional vacancy.”

TRACK THIS BILL

Eliminate primary elections in filling mid-term congressional vacancies, giving political parties the power to choose nominees. It also would remove the governor's power to appoint mid-term replacements in the U.S. Senate. - Read full text

Current Status:

Filed Law Introduced in House House Committee House passage Senate Committee Senate passage Governor's OK