Leader of effort to block tax reform bill wins Utah House special election

Judy Weeks-Rohner will replace Rep. Craig Hall in District 33.

Well, this could be awkward. A leader of the successful effort to derail the Legislature’s 2019 tax overhaul is about to become a member of the Utah House.

Judy Weeks-Rohner, who helped organize a massive signature-gathering effort to put changes to the state’s tax law on the ballot, won a special election to replace Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, in House District 33.

“I am humbled by the faith the delegates have in my ability to represent their concerns. I am going to do the best of my ability to not let them down,” Weeks-Rohner said via text message on Friday.

Hall, who is in his fifth term in the House, is resigning on Nov. 8 after he was appointed to the Second District Court by Gov. Spencer Cox. GOP delegates in House District 33 chose Weeks-Rohner over businessperson Russell Moore by a 21-7 vote Thursday night. Once Hall officially resigns Cox will appoint Weeks-Rohner to take over.

In December of 2019, lawmakers approved sweeping changes to the state’s tax code. The bill cut income taxes for many Utahns but raised sales taxes on many items including groceries. That sales tax increase proved to be so unpopular, a group with Weeks-Rohner as a leader gathered enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot for voters to either approve or defeat. Lawmakers swiftly repealed the tax overhaul at the beginning of the 2020 session.

House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, was clearly perturbed by the failure of the tax reform effort when he spoke at the opening of the 2020 session.

Later in 2020, Weeks-Rohner helped lead a successful effort to oust one of the architects of the tax reform plan. Longtime Sen. Lyle Hillyard saw his 40-year legislative career end as he lost the GOP primary election to newcomer Chris Wilson. Her group also backed Wilson’s unsuccessful challenger that year.

It would be easy to assume there would be tensions between Weeks-Rohner, Wilson, and the rest of the House leadership team as she prepares to join the House GOP Caucus. She says that’s not the case.

“The Tax referendum was important, but we need to move on with a clean sheet,” Weeks-Rohner said. “We need open dialogue, and I am coming to the table with an open mind and a fresh start.

“I’ve worked in the public policy arena enough to know that we can disagree on one issue and be fierce allies on others. I look forward to working with the great leadership team in the House, and they have all reached out and made me feel very welcomed. I’m ready to get to work.”

“I’m excited to work with her,” Wilson said succinctly in a Friday text message.

Weeks-Rohner is no stranger to state government. The retired telephone executive also served as Gov. Mike Leavitt’s liaison to the State Board of Education.

She says she hopes to work on homelessness issues once she officially takes office.