Senate shakes up leadership as Majority Leader Okerlund prepares for possible heart, kidney transplants

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Senators J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, left, and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe speak with each other on the floor of the Utah Senate, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. On February 21, 2013, at a meeting of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality subcommittee, Okerlund proposed that $300,000 from the general fund be appropriated to pay a firm in Washington, D.C. to lobby against Òwolf-reintroductionÓ in Utah.

Utah Senate Republicans are shaking up their leadership team temporarily because of poor health by Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund.

Okerlund has begun the process of being evaluated by doctors for potential heart and kidney transplants, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said in a press release.

He said the “intensive medical process requires more of Senator Okerlund’s time and attention.” In 2014, Okerlund collapsed in the Capitol with a heart attack near the end of the legislative session, then-Sen. John Valentine performed CPR as he was rushed to a hospital.

With unanimous support from the Senate GOP Caucus, Niederhauser named Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, as Senate Majority Leader Pro Tem to temporarily cover Okerlund’s responsibilities.

Van Tassell has been serving as vice chairman of the Executive Appropriations Committee. So Niederhauser also appointed Sen. Even Vickers, R-Cedar City, to temporarily fill that job.

“I want to express our love, appreciation, and respect for Senator Okerlund. While the work of legislature continues, these temporary changes will allow him to focus on what is most important — his health and family,” Niederhauser said.

“I appreciate Senator Van Tassell and Senator Vickers for helping temporarily fulfill these duties. I have complete confidence in them and look forward to their contributions to the success of this legislative session.”

He said that upon Okerlund’s return, Van Tassell and Vickers will return to their prior positions.