A leading House conservative is suggesting that Democrats lose part of their membership in two of the Legislature’s most powerful committees.
Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, wants Democratic legislators to have the same percentage of representation on the Legislative Management Committee and the Executive Appropriations Committee as they have in the Legislature as a whole.
Currently, the management committee is split evenly; eight Republicans and eight Democrats, all of them in elected leadership, both parties, both the House and Senate.
The Executive Appropriations Committee, the all-powerful budget committee, has 20 members, 16 members of leadership, both houses, both parties with four more members of the majority party – a GOP budget co-chair and vice chair from the Senate, a GOP budget co-chair and vice chair from the House.
Republicans now outnumber Democrats in the House and Senate by more than two-to-one margins, 58-17 in the House and 22-7 in the Senate.
Under current rules, the make-up of the House and Senate standing committees (which hear bills) and of the joint budget subcommittees (which hear budgets) are on a proportional basis. That is, if there were 50 Republicans and 25 Democrats in the House, then there would be two Republicans for every Democrat, under Herrod's bills, on the Legislative Management and the Executive Appropriations committees. Same for the Senate.
To make the changes, Herrod has three measures, HJR25, HJR30 and HB387. All three have been numbered by short title only, no text yet.
House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, hadn’t heard of Herrod’s bills when UtahPolicy asked for comment.
He said if Republicans go through with the changes (and Democrats don’t have enough numbers in either body to stop them) “it’s a pure power grab, nothing more.”
Litvack says that the current system of management and EAC membership have been around longer than anyone can remember.
“The current system works well. There are no problems, no reason to change.”
But Herrod says there are practical and philosophical reasons to make the membership of those two committees the same formula as most other committees in the Legislature.
First, said Herrod, legislative conservatives are going to start pushing a number of bills and resolutions that may well require that the state sue the federal government.
Such states’ rights measures may cost some money, and in order for the Legislature to join lawsuits such legal actions must be approved by the LMC.
If Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, who make up half of the LMC, vote against such lawsuits, then a split vote means any motion approving the lawsuits will fail, said Herrod, “and we can’t move forward.”
And even though Republicans have a four-vote majority on the EAC, it isn’t fair to either legislative Republicans or Utahns in general that Democrats have more power on the EAC than their numbers in the Legislature reflect.
“Utahns have made clear (political) philosophical decisions” in the election of a super-majority (of Republicans) – and of many conservative Republicans in that group as well, said Herrod.
Those Utahns deserve to see their political philosophical superiority reflected in two of the Legislature’s most powerful committees. To do less is, in a way, shunning citizen desire, made at the ballot box, he added.
Clearly upset, gesticulating and pacing up and down after being told of Herrod’s bills, Litvack said: “This is just clearly unnecessary. Legislative management is not partisan, we make decisions on how the Legislature is run, and both parties should have equal say in that.”
He denies that Democratic leaders on LMC have tried to block or harm the majority’s desires in any way. “The only power we (LCM) has over legal suits is to say if the Legislature should file friend of the court briefs,” he added.
But Herrod said that in the future the Legislature itself might well want to start legal proceedings, not just respond after being sued itself. And if there were a split vote on LMC, that effort could be thwarted.
“Isn’t a four-vote majority enough on Exec Approps?” asked Litvack. “Do (Republicans) need to strengthen the stronghold they already have over the budget?”
Herrod’s “power play” would “inject partisan politics into the LCM, partisanship that hasn’t been there before,” said Litvack. “It would be very bad for the Legislature” as a whole, he said.
Worse, it could push the rhetoric and unpleasantness now seen in Congress into the Utah Legislature – where it hasn’t been, Litvack said.
“It would be overtly divisive. We could become as political as Congress – we could slip into that same boat.”
If the changes are made in LMC and EAC, that would only leave the joint audit subcommittee and the ethics committees in the House and Senate as the only committees made up equally of Republicans and Democrats – a great loss, said Litvack.
But Herrod says he’s looking down the road, maybe far down the road.
“What if we have elected to the House or Senate some third party member, or an independent. Are we going to say if there are three Libertarians in the Legislature that they get two or three seats” on the EAC and LMC? He asks.
(No third party has held a seat in the Utah Legislature since the 1930s.)
Herrod says GOP House leadership knows about his bills, but has not taken a stand yet.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she has talked to Herrod about the membership changes. “I see that he has a legitimate concern,” she said. She said she has no personal opinion yet, hasn’t read the bills.
Actually, she can’t. The bills were introduced over the weekend and as yet have no text in them, although Herrod said wording is coming soon as he works through some of the issues.
“All I can say,” said Litvack, “Is that I hope cooler heads will prevail and (the Republicans) won’t do this. There is clearly a lack of need.”