State Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, made it known over the weekend that she is “seriously” considering running for governor next year.
I say let it be known because a number of state Democratic delegates showed up at the state Democratic Convention on Saturday wearing “Draft Karen for Governor” buttons.
Morgan said the group has asked her to consider the race. The candidate filing deadline for 2012 is in mid-March.
Not addressing Morgan’s case specifically, I can say that when one sees such “draft” movements, rarely if ever do they just spring up on their own.
Usually the would-be candidate is either directly behind the group or is at the least encouraging it.
Morgan told UtahPolicy that she is honored that a gaggle of supporters are asking her to run against GOP Gov. Gary Herbert.
While other lesser-known Democrats may also get in the gubernatorial race next year, Morgan’s real concern is whether U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, decides to get into the governor’s race.
Matheson is the 800-pound gorilla in Utah Democratic politics.
His late father, Scott M. Matheson, was the state’s last Democratic governor, serving from 1977 to 1985.
Jim’s older brother, Scott Jr., ran for governor as a Democrat in 2004, losing to former GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
Jim Matheson has never run a statewide campaign. But in various polls he 1) shows up well matched against Republican candidates in various 2012 races and 2) has a lot of cash that, while raised under federal election rules, can be used in a state race as well.
Asked what she would do if Matheson got into the governor’s race, Morgan told UtahPolicy, “We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it.”
Asked at the Democratic convention on Saturday what his political plans are, Matheson gave what he himself calls his stock answer.
“My possibilities are Congress, the U.S. Senate and the governorship, but not necessarily in that order.”
Matheson pointed out that he doesn’t really have an incumbent district now (he’s served in the 2nd Congressional District since 2000.)
That’s because under Utah law a U.S. House member doesn’t have to live in his district, only be a qualified resident of the state.
“After all, Jason Chaffetz is my constituent,” said Matheson with a smile.
Chaffetz is the 3rd Congressional representative. He lives several miles outside of his 3rd District, in a small northeastern section of Utah County in the 2nd District specifically carved out by 2001 GOP state legislators to give Matheson more Republican voters.
As you know, redistricting by the Legislature is going on right now, and Matheson (who has declined to participate in the process) and his 2nd District could be divided up into an even more GOP area.
That’s why Matheson is talking publicly about jumping out of the U.S. House and running for a statewide seat – with the hope that such talk will cause the Legislature and Herbert to be kinder to him in redrawing the 2nd District boundaries.
For her part, Morgan said her main issue if she runs for governor will be education, education and education.
A former public school teacher herself, Morgan said if it’s right and proper for Utah to be No. 1 in business climate, No. 1 in tourism or economic development (which the Republicans love to tout), why is it OK for Utah to be 30th in the nation in education achievement, and last in the nation in per-pupil public school spending?
In short, it is not OK, she said, and Morgan wants Utah voters to know that the state has a vital role to play in developing a top-flight education system.
Morgan was first elected to the Utah House in 1998. She moved up to the Senate in 2008.
When the GOP-controlled Senate redistricts this year, the Republican majority can change the election dates of the different districts.
But they can’t turn a four-year seat into a six-year seat. They could take a senator who won in 2010 and make him run again in 2012 – and in past redistricting some Democratic incumbents have been forced to run again after just two years in office.
Regardless of redistricting, since Morgan was elected in 2008, should she run for governor in 2012 she must give up her District 8 seat.
Leaving the Senate “will play in my decision” on whether to run for governor or not, she said.
In no Senate redistricting map she’s seen has her district been combined with either another Democrat incumbent or an incumbent Republican, she said.
So at least at this point she wouldn’t be pushed into running for governor because she was badly treated in the GOP-controlled redistricting.
“I don’t think (the outcome in) redistricting will be a determining factor” in whether she runs for governor or not, she said.
Utah has never elected a woman as governor.
Former Gov. Olene Walker, who also served in the Legislature, was former Gov. Mike Leavitt’s lieutenant governor. And she stepped up to the governorship when Leavitt resigned to move into the George W. Bush administration.
Walker sought re-election, but a recognized moderate she was eliminated in the conservative 2004 state GOP convention.
“There are a lot of variables I have to consider before I decide” to run for governor, said Morgan.
Matheson said: “I think the Republican National Committee has already drawn Utah’s (U.S. House) redistricting map. I can run for any of the four new seats – I don’t have to live in my district.
“Or I can run for some other office.”
Matheson said he’ll make his decision before the end of 2012. In the meantime, he’ll continue the aggressive fund raising he’s done before every one of his U.S. House elections – and he can spend that money in any race he’s considering.