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The 2021 Utah Legislature: Who are they?

They’re mostly LDS, male, Republican and white.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the House of Representatives are partitioned by plexiglass as the Utah State Legislature opens the 2021 legislative session at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021. Utah's lawmakers are a pretty homogeneous group: mostly LDS, white, male and Republican.

They’re overwhelmingly members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (86%).

They are mostly white (93%).

They’re predominantly men (76%).

They are very Republican (78%).

They’re mostly urban dwellers (84%).

And they are a mix when it comes to legislative experience (a slight majority have been in office five years or less).

They broadly reflect the majority of Utahns, who are mostly city-dwellers, Latter-day Saints and Republican. But they significantly overrepresent the LDS and GOP majorities of the state, 60% and 50%, respectively. And they vastly underrepresent Utah women, who make up 49.6% of the population.

The incoming group of lawmakers has some slight differences from the Legislature of last year.

The gender gap got a bit wider, with two fewer women than last year.

The Republican supermajority in the Utah Legislature got a tiny bit smaller as Democrats flipped one seat on the west side of Salt Lake County. The GOP new controls 81 of the 104 seats.

They’re also slightly more inexperienced: 20 of them (one out of five) are newly elected.

Gender

The Utah Legislature is dominated by men. Just one of four lawmakers are women.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

There are five women in the Utah Senate, and just one of them is Republican: Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, who is a member of leadership, serving as the majority whip. The other four are Democrats, who outnumber men in that caucus 2-to-1.

Women also dominate the House Democratic caucus, 12-to-5. In the majority GOP caucus, there are just eight women among the 58 members.

Women lost ground in the Utah Legislature this year, after reaching a record 27 in the last group of lawmakers. Two of the retiring female lawmakers were replaced by men elected to the posts (Sen. Deidre Henderson, who stepped down to run for lieutenant governor, was replaced by Sen Mike McKell and the seat of Rep. Patrice Arent, who retired after two decades in the Capitol, is now occupied by Rep. Doug Owens.

Partisanship

Republicans in both chambers have sufficient numbers to easily roll over Democrats on partisan issues, and even enough to pass legislation that is veto-proof against a Republican governor who is seen as more moderate than many lawmakers.

Not only does the GOP majority decide the outcome of votes on bills that divide along party lines but it controls the agenda, chairing all of the committees and deciding which pieces of legislation get heard early in the session and which make it to the floor.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Republicans make up 49.6% of the registered voters in Utah. Democrats account for just 14.6%. However, because the Utah Democratic Party does not have closed primaries, an unknown number of unaffiliated voters regularly or occasionally vote for Democratic candidates (President-elect Joe Biden received 37.7% of the Utah vote) and unaffiliated voters make up the second largest bloc of registered voters in the state, 34%.

The number of Democrats in the Legislature has been rebounding a bit in recent years. The minority party was down to just four seats in the Senate after the 2014 elections. It’s been more than two decades since they numbered in the double-digits in the Senate, when there were 11 in 1998. That’s also the last time Republicans did not have a supermajority in that body.

Democrats in the House have been on the upswing as well after dropping to the lowest point in the last three decades when there were just 13 in 2014 and 2016. The last time there were more than 20 Democrats in the House was 2008 when there were 22. Republicans have held a supermajority in the House since 1992 when there were 26 Democrats.

Ethnic diversity

Utah lawmakers are overwhelmingly white. Just seven among the 104 are ethnic minorities. That is just about 7% compared to a statewide population that is some 22% minority, according to the most recent Census estimates.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

There is one Black lawmaker (Rep. Sandra Hollins); four Latinos or part Latino (Reps. Angela Romero, Mark Wheatley and Ashlee Matthews and Sen. Luz Escamilla); and two Asian members (Sen. Jani Iwamoto and Rep. Karen Kwan).

Experience

This year, more than 60% of the legislators in the House have 5 years or less of experience under their belts as they head into the session. That includes 15 new members who will take part in their initial session this year.

The Senate roster is much heavier on experience. There are five new senators but three of them have served in the House and only five more who have 5 years or less of experience. The majority of the members have between 6 and 14 years of legislative experience.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

There are four “new” legislators who are either returning to the Hill or switching chambers. Rep. Ryan Wilcox, who served in the Utah House from 2009 to 2015, is returning. Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is moving from the House seat he held since 2013; Sen. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, shifts over from his House seat of four years; and Sen. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, comes back to the Legislature after previously serving in the House for six years.

There are four members of the Legislature who have been on the Hill for two decades or more.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, is the Legislature’s “iron man” or “Methusela,” depending on what comparison you choose. First elected in 1986, this year will be his 34th on the Hill.

Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, is entering his 25th year in the Legislature this year, while Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is set for his 22nd session.

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, holds the record for longevity in the House. Her freshman year was in 2000.

And of the newest Democratic members of the House, Rep. Ashlee Matthews of West Jordan defeated the longest-serving Republican, Eric Hutchings, in the last election. That leaves Reps. Jim Dunnigan, Taylorsville, and Brad Last, Hurricane, as the longest-serving Republicans at 18 years. Rep. Paul Ray of Clearfield also has been in the House 18 years, but his service wasn’t continuous as he was out for a single term before returning.

Urban flavor

The makeup of the 64th Legislature is mostly big city folk, as 83% of the membership comes from an urban area, while just 17% hail from the rural parts of the state. Most Utahns also live in urban areas, with about 73% of the state’s population residing in the four (mostly) urban counties of the Wasatch Front: Salt Lake, Utah, Davis and Weber counties.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Legislature’s leadership in both chambers and both parties is dominated by residents of the Wasatch Front. House leadership has a single member from Washington County (Rep. Brad Last of Hurricane is the House chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee). In the Senate, Majority Leader Evan Vickers is from Cedar City and Sen. Don Ipson, of St. George, is a vice chair man of executive appropriations.

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