Utah’s legislative leadership authored a statement last week criticizing the Governor’s authority to call a special election to replace Rep. Chaffetz.
Leadership in the House criticize Utah’s current midterm vacancies law as being vague. While the Utah Senate passed an overhaul bill, S.B. 252, in 2017, the House failed to decide on it before the session ended.
"We hadn't had the issue of a mid-term vacancy in the U.S. House since 1929, so it might've been lost on us how urgent that last day was when we weren't able to come to an agreement," said Speaker Hughes of the Utah House.
Hughes, along with other leading officials, worry that, by not calling a special legislative session to address Congressional vacancies, the governor is undermining Utah’s separation of powers.
"We have important powers and duties that we should be exercising and I don't think, without calling us into special session, the special election process you see right now is one that is comporting with our check and balances," said Hughes.
Minority Leader Brian King agrees with Hughes. "I think our feeling as legislators was pretty strongly felt and pretty equal across party lines that we're just defending the turf of the legislature on this issue more than anything else," he said.
Despite the possibility of more radical candidates being selected to replace Chaffetz, King said process is more important.
"This kind of worse-case scenario as some people envision in terms of 'oh, the legislature got together and just gave the power to the parties -- the caucuses -- to choose who the candidates were going to be,' but, I guess my feeling about that is, look that's the way the system works," said King. "That's what the process calls for under certain circumstances, and that is the legislature gets together, makes decisions about these things, and if people don't like it we vote them out of office."