‘It’s going to be hard to keep the lights on’: New Utah House speakers says energy will be a priority

Rep. Mike Schultz was elected by Republican lawmakers to lead the Utah House.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) House Majority Leader Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, during a special legislative session in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Schultz was elected by Republican lawmakers to lead the Utah House.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, took another step in his meteoric political rise on Tuesday evening, winning the election to succeed Brad Wilson as speaker of the Utah House of Representatives.

House Republicans met behind closed doors to pick a replacement for outgoing Wilson, who is resigning to focus on his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney. Romney revealed in September he would not seek another term in Congress next year. Schultz defeated Rep. Melissa Garff-Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, to become speaker.

The other members of the new House leadership team mirrored Schultz’s quick rise up the leadership ladder. Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, was elected as majority leader after seven years in office. New House Majority Whip Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, was elected to the House the same year as Schultz. Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, jumps from chair of the House Rules Committee to assistant majority whip in his fifth year on Utah’s Capitol Hill.

“We have an amazing group of people in our caucus, any of whom could be sitting in these chairs tonight,” Schultz said after the vote and while introducing the GOP leadership for the upcoming session.

It took Schultz nine years to move from freshman lawmaker to leader Utah House speaker, but that leap is not unprecedented. Wilson also became speaker in his ninth year in the House. Greg Hughes, who preceded Wilson, didn’t ascend to the top spot until his 14th year in the Legislature.

Schultz officially takes the gavel on Wednesday afternoon when the House meets in an extraordinary session to ratify his election.

(Bryan Schott | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah House Reps. Jefferson Moss, Mike Schultz, Karianne Lisonbee and Casey Snider, from left to right, answer questions from reporters after being elected to House leadership on Nov. 14, 2023.

Schultz has been on the leadership fast track from the moment he first won election in 2014. Then, Hughes gave him a spot on the powerful House Rules Committee, an almost unheard-of assignment for a freshman legislator. His ascension to House speaker comes just over two years from the day he was elected House majority leader following the retirement of former Rep. Francis Gibson.

Schultz was cagey about his priorities for the upcoming session on Tuesday night, saying he planned to unveil his game plan for the 2024 session on Wednesday.

“Energy is an issue you’re probably going to hear a lot about (in the upcoming session,” Schultz said. “We have some issues. Utah doesn’t produce enough energy, and that’s not a place we want to be. With the switch to electricity, it’s going to be hard to keep the lights on.”

While he wouldn’t give specifics, Schultz said he plans to take the same approach as Wilson.

“We need to focus on the big things. We want to think long term. The state is at a crossroads on so many fronts,” Schultz said.

Tuesday’s leadership elections should kick off another shuffle in the House.

Schultz and his team need to make committee assignments for Wilson’s replacement, Ariel DeFay, who was picked by Republican delegates to fill out his term earlier this month. She will be sworn in on Wednesday afternoon, Wilson’s last day in office. Additionally, Snider’s move to the leadership team should set off jockeying among House Republicans to take his spot on the House Rules Committee.

Utah House Republicans will repeat Tuesday night’s process just under a year from now when they meet to elect their leaders following the 2024 election.