Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser decides not to seek re-election

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser announced Wednesday he will not seek re-election.

“It’s time for a new face with fresh energy and ideas,” the Sandy Republican said in a written statement.

He was elected to the Senate in 2006 and served as its president for the past six years.

“Serving the people of District 9 and as the Utah Senate president has been the honor of a lifetime,” he said. “I will forever cherish the relationships, the policy, the process and being so intimately involved in shaping our great state for the future.”

The Senate president said that, until recently, he had intended to seek re-election. “However, as this last legislative session concluded, I began to question that decision.”

He weighed the pros and cons of running, and “the pros outnumbered the cons almost 3 to 1. While on paper the decision seemed obvious, an inner voice said, ‘This is the very reason you shouldn’t run for office again.’ ”

While that message appears contradictory, he explained, “To me the meaning is clear: When you begin to think you are even a little indispensable, it is time to step away.”

Niederhauser expressed gratitude to fellow senators, staffers and his constituents.

“Thank you for taking a chance on me — a bean-counting budget wonk,” he said. “Most importantly, thank you for your incredible kindness and friendship.”

Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Niederhauser is “very fair. Not only is he articulate, he kept the interest of the state first in whatever he has done. He is a great leader, someone who is trusted and who is a very close friend. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Adams added that one of the strengths of Niederhauser, a certified public accountant, “has been tax policy. Some of the economic developments in the state can be traced back to some of the tax policies he put in place.”

Even though he is a Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis of Salt Lake City said Niederhauser is “probably one of the best presidents I’ve worked with” — and Davis has served in the Legislature since 1986.

He praised Niederhauser for having a weekly meeting with him to air concerns between Republicans and Democrats.

“So he steered a good clear ship, and you knew where you were at. He has allowed everybody to speak. He didn’t shut people down,” Davis said. Sometimes Niederhauser even helped Democrats with proposals he liked, such as pushing for more affordable housing. “I found him to be a very compassionate person.”

Earlier this year, House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, also announced that he will not seek re-election — meaning both chambers on Utah’s Capitol Hill will have new top leaders next year.

Senate leadership may soon change dramatically. The No. 2 Republican — Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund of Monroe — is awaiting a heart transplant and is in frail health. Majority Leader Pro Tempore Keven Van Tassell of Vernal, who took over most of Okerlund’s duties this session, is not seeking re-election.

Adams is the next highest-ranking Republican as the whip. He said Wednesday that if he is re-elected this year, he would consider running as Senate president.

Niederhauser enjoys the reputation as an approachable leader — even with the news media. He held daily media availabilities during the legislative session (while Hughes and the House had canceled that practice) and was known for returning reporters’ calls.

While Senate presidents traditionally sponsor few bills, Niederhauser passed one this year to allow expansion of toll roads statewide — likely beginning with one to address congestion in Little Cottonwood Canyon, in his district.

He said new electronic tolling technology — including taking photos of license plates to deduct tolls from accounts set up by drivers or to send bills to their homes — could someday even replace gasoline taxes as a way to ensure those who use the roads also pay for them.

Interestingly, Niederhauser wrote an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune in 2016 apologizing for using negative literature against his opponents in his original election.

“One of the mailers gave a misleading and inaccurate impression that [Democrat] Trisha Beck was in favor of legalizing marijuana and cast her in an extreme negative light. A decade later, this decision still troubles me,” he said, adding he wished he could undo it.