Utah Democrats Pick Up One Seat in State House, Republicans Maintain Supermajority
After a series of several competitive Utah state House races, the partisan makeup of the Legislature remains almost exactly the same, as only one seat flipped.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, officially lost his re-election bid Tuesday when the Salt Lake County Board of Canvassers certified the results of the election. The vote margin is too wide to qualify for a recount.
Still, Republicans will keep supermajorities in the House and Senate, and Democrats will gain just one seat.
Democrats had hoped to pick up three other House seats and Republicans were looking to flip two. All but one spot eyed by party leadership were in Salt Lake County, the other was in Weber County.
Rep. Jefferson Moss, R-Saratoga Springs, who was involved in the Republican party’s election efforts, said the Legislature would feel the loss of Hutchings as a lawmaker, because of his institutional knowledge and work on criminal justice reform. However, since the partisan makeup of the Legislature is mostly unchanged, Moss expects that Republicans will continue to work across the aisle.
“There's obviously going to be certain bills that are going to be more controversial on both the far left and the far right that create a lot of press,” Moss said. “But overall, I think our body works very well with each other”
“At the end of the day, we have some really big problems in our state, growth being probably the primary issue that we're dealing with,” he said.“That's not a Democrat or Republican issue.”
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said he expected Democrats to gain more ground after several candidates took leads in their races shortly after Election Day. King said the parties will continue to work collaboratively, but he’s disappointed that problems that come with a large supermajority will persist.
“When you have supermajority control by any party in a legislative body, it makes the discussion and the evolution and the development of good policy that takes into account the best of what two strong parties bring to the table, less likely,” King said. “So you have a greater likelihood that some of the extreme ... policies that are simply out of the mainstream thinking come to the forefront and be promoted.”
Here’s a look at some of those key races.
House District 10: Stays Democratic
Rep. Lawanna Shurtliff, D-Ogden, has served 10 years in the House and won re-election this year by just 283 votes, or 2%. During the last two years, she has sponsored legislation that would have lowered the minimum age to start kindergarten and voted against the 2019 tax reform law, which controversially increased the sales tax on food and was ultimately repealed.
House District 22: Stays Democratic
Democrat Clare Collard won the race for this open seat to replace Rep. Sue Duckworth, D-Magna, who is retiring from the state Legislature after 12 years. Collard, a member of the Magna Township Planning Commission, won by 266 votes, or 1.9%. She ran against Republican Anthony Loubet who is a Deputy Utah County Attorney in the office’s civil division.
Collard said, as a lawmaker, she will focus on balancing job creation and environmental concerns from the Inland Port, as well as increasing education funding and access to healthcare.
House District 33: Stays Republican
Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, held on to his seat by 146 votes, or 1.4%. Hall has served in the state Legislature since 2013. In the past two years, he’s pursed bills regarding data privacy, criminal justice reform, and banning conversion therapy. Hall voted against the 2019 tax reform law, which controversially increased the sales tax on food and was ultimately repealed.
Hall’s challenger was Democrat Fatima Dirie, a former Somalian refugee who works as the Policy Advisor for Refugees and New Americans under Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall.
House District 38: Flips Democratic
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, has represented this District since 2001. In recent years, Hutchings has worked on criminal justice reform and education. He also voted for the controversial 2019 tax reform law.
Hutchings was ousted by Democrat Ashlee Matthews, who works at the Utah Department of Transportation. Matthews won by 396 votes, or 3.3%. Matthews criticized Hutchings for supporting the tax reform law, and said as a lawmaker she would focus on making childcare more affordable and improving infrastructure on the west side of Salt Lake County.
House District 39: Stays Republican
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, has been in the state House since 2003 and won re-election this year by just 84 votes or 0.5%. In the past two years, Dunnigan ran a bill that altered the Medicaid expansion program approved by voters via Proposition 3, and then a bill that expanded Medicaid further for mental health treatment. Dunnigan voted against the controversial 2019 tax reform law.
His challenger was Democrat Lynette Wendel, a member of the Taylorsville Planning Commission. She listed her campaign priorities as air quality, housing and transportation.
House District 45: Stays Republican
On the east side of Salt Lake County, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, held on to his seat by just 77 votes, or 0.4%. In the state Legislature, where he’s served for 10 years, Eliason has focused on improving mental healthcare. Earlier this year, he ran a package of bills that allocated nearly $22 million to mental health treatment.
Eliason was able to eke out a victory over Democrat Wendy Davis, who served on various PTA boards for 10 years and recently got a Ph.D. in political science. Davis listed her policy priorities as education, housing affordability, and childcare, among other things.