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Rep. Chris Stewart resigns from Congress, setting Utah up for a special election

FILE - Utah's 2nd District Republican incumbent U.S. Reps. Chris Stewart speaks during an Utah Republican election night party on Nov. 3, 2020, in Sandy, Utah. U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is planning to leave Congress due to his wife's illness by the end of this year, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Tuesday, May 30, 2023.
Rick Bowmer
/
AP, file
FILE - Utah's 2nd District Republican incumbent U.S. Reps. Chris Stewart speaks during an Utah Republican election night party on Nov. 3, 2020, in Sandy, Utah. U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, is planning to leave Congress due to his wife's illness by the end of this year, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Citing his wife’s health concerns, Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart has announced he is stepping down from his seat in Congress.

“My wife and I have made so many dear friends and memories throughout our journey,” he said in a statement. “I can say with pride that I have been an effective leader for my beloved home state, and I’m honored to have played an important role in guiding our nation through some troubled times.”

Stewart, the longest-serving representative in Utah’s federal delegation, was elected in 2012 and overwhelmingly won a sixth term in November 2022. He represents Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers part of Salt Lake and Davis counties. It also includes large swaths of rural Utah and southern parts of the state, like St. George.

It’s the second such resignation in the last six years in Utah. In 2017, former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who represented Utah’s then-3rd Congressional District, decided to leave Washington for an on-air job at Fox News.

Jim Curry, a political science professor at the University of Utah, called Stewart’s departure a “surprise” that “no one saw it coming.” Throughout Stewart’s time in Congress, Curry said he has risen through the ranks and landed on “very powerful” committees such as the House Appropriations and Intelligence committees.

The impact of Stewart leaving, Curry said, gives the largest congressional district in Utah a softer voice.

“A more powerful member of Congress or more influential member of Congress means that your voices, the voices of the people who live in that district and in that state, in the case of a smaller state like Utah, those voices that have bigger sway when policy decisions are being made,” Curry said.

It also means Utah will have a junior delegation, and the influence Stewart has needs to be rebuilt. Curry said whoever replaces Stewart essentially has to “start from scratch” and learn the ropes of Capitol Hill before gaining positions of power within the House, which “could take two to four years or longer.”

In order to land on prominent committees, Curry said members of Congress must “prove themselves” and show “that you're a legislator who's serious, who is engaged, who takes policymaking seriously.”

Stewart didn’t give a retirement date in his original statement but said he will leave Washington “after an orderly transition can be ensured.” He later told Roll Call that they're looking for the “best date for the state and also we want to help with appropriations bills” before adding it'll be in September.

Curry said Stewart is most likely waiting until a new representative is elected to keep a crucial vote for important legislation. Congress is expected to vote on raising the national debt ceiling Wednesday and there isn’t much wiggle room for House Republicans to lose votes. Republicans have a very narrow majority, with the GOP representing 222 seats and Democrats holding 213.

Curry added House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican leadership “have no margin of error on every single thing that happens.” Without Stewart, House Republicans can only miss out on three votes instead of four. Additionally, Curry noted Stewart often sides with McCarthy and the Republican establishment, meaning his lost vote “is far from ideal.”

A special election will take place to pick Stewert’s replacement. Within seven days of Stewart’s resignation, Gov. Spencer Cox will declare the dates of the special primary and general election. Per state law, those elections must be held in conjunction with another election, like municipal general elections or a presidential primary. The earliest of those dates would be the statewide municipal elections in November.

Republican Sen. Mike Lee called Stewart a “true statesman” and praised his time in Congress and respect from colleagues on both sides of the aisle on issues like national security and veterans affairs.

“[Stewart] has left an indelible mark on the House of Representatives,” his statement continued. “We owe him a debt of gratitude for his unwavering dedication, principled leadership and tireless advocacy for the American people.”

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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