Republicans expand control of Utah House ahead of 2023 session, while Democrats make history

Utah Democrats have elected two Latina women to lead both the Utah Senate and House minority caucuses in 2023 — a first in Utah history.

(Rachel Rydalch | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah State Capitol building is pictured in March 2022.

Democratic lawmakers in Utah have elected all-women leadership teams to both the state Senate and House, including a pair of Latina women who lead the state’s minority party in each chamber — a first in Utah history.

Utah House Rep. Angela Romero and Sen. Luz Escamilla, both of Salt Lake City, will lead Democrats in their respective chambers.

And, following a contentious year of redistricting, Utah Republicans have increased their supermajority in the Legislature. Three additional House seats went to GOP hands, with two seats on the west side of Salt Lake County being outright flipped and a third being lost to redistricting. Utah’s House will be made up of 61 Republicans and 14 Democrats for the 2023 session.

Here’s what Republican’s veto-proof supermajority will look like in the Utah Legislature in 2023:

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

During next year’s state lawmaking, the Utah House minority caucus will be led by Romero, state Rep. Jennifer Dailey-Provost will be the minority whip, Rep. Sandra Hollins will serve as assistant whip and Rep. Rosemary Lesser as caucus manager.

Romero told The Salt Lake Tribune she had strong support from fellow House Democrats when she said she wanted to run for leader, especially from freshmen members.

“It made me feel confident to know that our newer members could see the vision I have for our caucus and for Democrats as we move forward,” Romero said.

Romero said she’s been friends with Escamilla since college, and are the first Latinas to hold minority leadership simultaneously, but that that doesn’t define them as lawmakers.

“Although we are Latinas, we’re not monolithic, and our community’s not monolithic, and it’s like any other community,” Romero said. “They see things through a variety of lenses.”

She added it’s an honor to serve in leadership alongside Escamilla, and she’s excited to serve alongside someone that she considers a mentor and a successful lawmaker.

And with Escamilla to lead the Utah Senate Democrats, outgoing minority leader Sen. Karen Mayne will now be party whip, with Senators-elect Jen Plumb and Stephanie Pitcher filling the roles of assistant whip and caucus manager, respectfully.

Escamilla said it’s important to emphasize the significance of having an all-women minority leadership in both chambers, and she hopes it sends a message for more women to run for elected office.

“I think it’s important for Utah,” Escamilla told The Tribune. “We have a great history of women in positions of leadership, we need to do more.”

Escamilla said she’s no stranger to being in leadership, but it’s a responsibility she won’t take lightly.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing,” Escamilla said. “It was the right time, I think, for me to move to this position, and I’m excited for the opportunity.”

Both minority leaders said addressing education gaps and environmental issues like air quality and water are among their top legislative priorities in 2023.

The Utah Senate will remain the same for the session in the coming months, with the GOP holding a majority with 23 seats to Democrats’ six. On the other hand, House Republicans gained three votes.

In House District 26, which comprises parts of northwestern Salt Lake County, Republican candidate Quinn Kotter defeated incumbent Democrat Elizabeth Weight, with Kotter winning 50.68% to Weight’s 49.32% — a difference of 127 votes.

To the south of that district lies House District 27, where incumbent Democrat Claire Collard was defeated by GOP candidate Anthony Loubet, with the Republican grabbing 50.36% of votes to Collard’s 49.64%. Loubet won the seat by just 67 votes.

The GOP gained a third seat after redistricting led to Draper Democrat Suzanne Harrison being moved from House District 32 into the new House District 46, which would’ve potentially pitted her against Republican Jeff Stenquist. Instead, Harrison ran for Salt Lake County Council, which she won. Stenquist ran for the District 46 seat, and he won handily.

Utah House Republicans will also need to find a replacement for former Rep. Joel Ferry, who resigned in August shortly after the Utah Senate confirmed him to lead the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Because he was still on the midterm ballot — and after Democrats unsuccessfully sued to have Ferry’s name taken off — Republican delegates will pick Ferry’s replacement.