2023 Utah Legislature: Lots of new faces, but women still underrepresented in Utah Capitol

Utah Republicans strengthened their supermajority in the Legislature during the 2022 midterm elections.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Capitol building Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023.

There are a lot of new faces on Utah’s Capitol Hill as the 2023 Legislature gets underway this week.

At least 17 of the 104 state lawmakers will enter their first legislative session. That number could increase to 18 depending on the outcome of a special election to fill a vacancy in the Utah House.

The average Utah lawmaker is a Republican and male. The Utah GOP holds 84 seats in the Legislature, while Democrats have just 20.

While women make up nearly half of the population in Utah (49.4%), there are 26 female lawmakers in the Legislature — 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats, which accounts for just one-quarter of the body.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Twelve of the 13 Republican women are in the Utah House of Representatives, with only Ogden Sen. Ann Millner in the upper chamber. Most of the Democrats in the Legislature are women, holding five of six seats in the Senate and eight of 18 seats in the House.

A GOP supermajority

Republicans dominate the Utah House and Senate, holding supermajorities in both chambers. The GOP added three seats to its margin in the House, going from a 58-17 advantage to 61-14. The divide in the Senate remained unchanged, with 23 Republicans and six Democrats.

The 14 House Democrats are far from the 26 seats they held in 1992. This year’s total is the second-smallest number in the past three decades, tied with the 2012 session. Democrats had 13 seats in the 2014 and 2016 sessions.

Republicans’ veto-proof majority not only means they can pass legislation over the objection of Democrats and the governor, but also have a stranglehold on legislative committees that decide which bills make it to the floor.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The GOP is also punching far above its weight in representation at the Capitol.

Republicans make up 52% of the registered voters in Utah, but the GOP controls just over 80% of the seats in the Legislature. Democrats make up less than 15% of Utah’s electorate but nearly 20% of the Legislature. Unaffiliated voters comprise the second-largest bloc of voters in Utah at approximately 29%.

All but one of the seats held by a Democrat are in Salt Lake County, with Rep. Rosemary Lesser in Ogden.

Years of service

The average length of service for Utah’s 104 part-time lawmakers is 6.3 years. Over a third of legislators have been in the House or Senate for two years or less.

At least a third of Utah lawmakers have two years or less experience. The 2022 midterm elections ushered in 17 newcomers: three Democrats and 14 Republicans. Three other Republicans, who have recently replaced retired legislators, have just one session under their belt.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Republican delegates in Utah County selected Tyler Clancy, another newcomer, to replace Adam Robertson in House District 60. Robertson resigned in December after winning a second term in the House, citing increased demands from his drone technology company. Clancy is just 25 years old.

Two of this year’s newcomers are in the Senate: Democrats Nate Blouin and Jen Plumb. In the House, 16 of this year’s rookies are Republicans, with a lone Democrat.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A school group observes the Senate Chamber, as they tour the Capitol, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023.

Four legislators have been writing and passing laws for 20 years or more.

State Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, is the longest-serving lawmaker and begins his 27th general session this week. He began his legislative tenure in the House in 1997, where he served 16 years, before spending the past decade in the Senate.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is heading into his 24th year. Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, R-Holladay, is marking her 23rd year in the Legislature, and Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, heads into his 21st session.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Baby boomers and Gen X’ers make up the lion’s share of the Legislature. About 42% of lawmakers are boomers between the age of 58 and 76, while 41% belong to the Gen X cohort, which encompasses those between 42 and 57 years old. Millennials account for about 16% of lawmakers.

Close to the Capitol

Three-quarters of lawmakers come from the four counties along the Wasatch Front — Davis, Salt Lake, Utah and Weber. Another five legislators come from the rapidly-growing area in Washington County.

The leadership in both chambers and parties is also dominated by legislators from the Wasatch Front, with all but three coming from Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties.

Three of the four top Republicans in the House — Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, and Assistant Whip Karianne Lisonbee, R-Syracuse — hail from Davis and Weber counties. House Majority Whip Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, is from Utah County.

Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, is the only legislative leader from southern Utah. Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden, are from Davis and Weber Counties, while Assistant Majority whip Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, is from Salt Lake County.

The entire leadership teams for the House and Senate Democrats are from Salt Lake County, with the exception of Lesser in Weber County.

On Monday, Utah Democrats picked Rep. Karen Kwan to fill the vacant seat previously held by Karen Mayne in the Utah Senate. Mayne stepped down in January due to health issues after 15 years of representing the Kearns area. Later in January, Democrats will pick a replacement for Kwan in the Utah House.