Herbert worried lawmakers eying Congress may ‘game system’

FILE - In this April 23, 2016, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during the Utah Republican Party 2016 nominating convention in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert said he doesn’t want to call the Legislature into a special session to settle how Utah would fill a vacant congressional seat because a number of legislators are interested in replacing Rep. Jason Chaffetz if the congressman leaves office early.

When Chaffetz announced last week that he would not seek re-election next year and may leave early, a number of Utah Republicans, including several legislators, said they’re considering running for his seat.

Utah law says if there’s a vacant U.S. House seat, the governor will call a special election, but the law doesn’t spell out how quickly that must happen or offer more details.

Herbert said he thinks the current law offers enough direction. He’s worried about legislators with ambitions for higher office who might “game the system” if they start adjusting the law.

“We don’t want it to look like they’re somehow trying to help their own political futures by changing the system on the books now,” Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/2p8RPVY ).

The Republican governor said the election will follow a process similar to the one used in any other election year and the state elections office can work out the logistics.

But leaders of Utah’s Republican and Democratic parties disagree and sent a letter to the governor this week requesting a special session.

James Evans, chairman of Utah’s GOP, no one knows what the process will look like, “but it should be spelled out in the law, just like other election processes.”

Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon agreed.

“We need a process and we can’t have it be at the whim of whomever is governor at the time,” Corroon said.

Greg Hughes, the speaker of Utah’s House of Representatives, is among the legislators who’ve said they’re considering a run for Chaffetz’s 3rd District seat.

Hughes said he appreciates that there could be “perception problems” that someone may try to game the system, but he said the bipartisan support for a special session should trump that. Legislators are concerned that the law doesn’t specify if there should be a nominating convention or primary election, he said. That could lead to a large number of candidates and someone winning the seat despite only capturing a slice of the vote.

The only time Utah filled a vacant U.S. House seat was when Rep. Elmer O. Leatherwood died in office in late 1929. The Republican’s seat was empty for 10 months as political parties nominated their candidates through caucuses and a nominating convention. The election was held on a regular day in November.

The potential Republican candidates for Chaffetz’s seat include state Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, state Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, Provo Mayor John Curtis and American Fork lawyer Damian Kidd. A Democratic candidate who was already planning to challenge Chaffetz, Dr. Kathryn Allen, has raised more than half a million dollars for the race.

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