Wednesday, June 21, 2017

OFFSIDES: Legislature Throws Flag on Guv's Special Election

So, a lot of hullabaloo has been made in the press lately about the Legislature's grievances with the way Governor Herbert chose to execute a Special Election to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seat of Congressman Jason Chaffetz.

The state constitution and statute clearly give power for setting election law to the Legislature.  Without getting into the weeds on this subject (and they are deep and thick) the bottom line is that the Legislature believes the Governor violated statute by moving forward with the Special Election.  But, to agitate the grumpy Legislature even more, it also appears that the Governor's office blocked a legal opinion requested by the Legislature from the Attorney General's office from being delivered to the Legislature.  This particular action by the Governor's office is unprecedented in Utah history.   

So, the question is what does the Legislature do about it?  There are several scenarios:

The Legislature Throws a Monkey Wrench in the Works

It is possible that the Legislature could file a lawsuit and put a stop to the Special Election under the premise that Congressman Chaffetz's House Seat is not vacant.  A vacancy is required first in order to initiate a special election.  In this scenario, the efforts of the candidates, delegates, and state parties up to this point would all be for naught.  The Special Election as it has occurred would grind to a halt until Chaffetz officially ended his tenure and then the process could begin again.  

This scenario is very disruptive and would make the make the Legislature look bad.  While the separation of powers issue is very important, the perceived tit-for-tattiness of it all would smack of political gamesmanship in the eyes of the public.   

The Legislature's Cousin Throws a Monkey Wrench in the Works

Another scenario is that a grieved third party outside of the Legislature may file suit and bring the Special Election to a halt.  Who would this person be?  Ask Jim Bennett with United Utah how he feels about his arbitrary mistreatment.  While Jim's lawsuit will not put a stop to the election, there are still 10 days left of anyone with a beef about the process to file suit.  If that happens, the Special Election could get scrapped and the Legislature is likely called into a Special Session by the Governor to write the rules on a new Special Election.  

This scenario is also very disruptive and would cause a lot of Xanax prescriptions to be written.  The Legislature would likely consider itself vindicated, however.

The Legislature Waits Oh, So Patiently...for Revenge

The most likely scenario, in my view, is that nothing happens right now.  The Special Election proceeds as planned.  Meanwhile, the Legislature toils away in the bill foundry and forges a tall stack of veto-proof bills to pass in the 2018 General Session.  

In this scenario, the public is fine with the work of the Legislature. Although, the media may make attempts to vilify its efforts to clarify the separation of powers issue and the its efforts to reign in some of the authority of the Governor.  Such efforts could likely include giving the Legislature the ability to call itself into special session if the need arises (presently only the Governor can do that), clarifying Special Election law, and potentially some other issues.  

For sure, the Governor wouldn't be happy.  But not to worry, the Legislature would be ecstatic.

What Now?

For now, we watch and wait to see what happens as the calendar days pass.  Once we get to a certain point on the calendar, it will be very difficult for the monkey wrench scenarios to play out.  Which means that the Legislature will be left to tap its fingertips together, offer up an wry grin, and  menacingly laugh in anticipation of the 2018 Session.  



  1. It would seem that the governor has aspirations of writing executive orders of his own. This election should not take place. If the constitution gives the power to the legislature, then that's who should make the determination.

  2. I'm a former Utah resident (2x's actually). There are good things and bad things to say about the legislature in Utah. But come on now, you live in Utah, and you know who really runs the laws there.
    Things will go just like they always have. If you are not Mormon or republican or both, then you don't have a snowballs chance in hell of ever getting what you want.
    The government in Utah has more double and triple standards than you can shake a stick at.

    These actions don't surprise me, because they never change.


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