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Stewart’s impending last day means more than just one fewer Utah vote in Congress

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Al Drago
Pool via AP
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks during a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2021.

After Republican Rep. Chris Stewart leaves Congress on Sept. 15, there will be a more than two-month gap before voters elect a successor on Nov. 21.

Stewart’s absence comes at a critical time in Congress, with the GOP holding a slim 9-vote majority in the House of Representatives and rumblings of a looming government shutdown on the horizon.

“That extra vote is going to matter when it comes to a government shutdown that some of the House members have been threatening,” said Mary Weaver Bennett, director of the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service at Southern Utah University. “I can see that being the first and biggest impact that the loss of a vote will have for Republicans in the House.”

Beyond the immediate impact of one less Utah vote in Congress, Stewart is also the only Utah voice on two powerful House committees: Appropriations and Intelligence. The former Air Force pilot has been an outspoken voice on foreign policy issues like the ongoing war in Ukraine and the rising global influence of China.

Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Utahns probably haven’t realized what we’ll lose “when we don’t have Chris Stewart” anymore.

“Whether you like him or not or you support his politics or not, he was on some very important committees,” Perry noted. “He is the only member of our delegation that is actually on a committee that can appropriate funds for things in the state of Utah.”

Losing that state voice at the table where money is doled out could be the biggest consequence of Stewart’s resignation. The Appropriations Committee has a wide range of power and is responsible for allocating funding for most of the functions of the federal government, including for various projects across the country — like ones needed in Utah.

There's really no replacement for that,” said Weaver Bennett. “A seat on appropriations is a very big deal, and it will be a loss for Utah to not have the ability to have its issues explained in the Appropriations Committee.”

It’s possible, Weaver Bennett agreed, that Utah could get short-changed.

“The voices inside the appropriations committee will be from states other than Utah. There won't be a firsthand accounting of what Utah needs and why.”

There’s also no guarantee that another member of Utah’s congressional delegation would fill that spot. Committee assignments are determined by party leadership and are not reserved on a state-by-state basis.

“Whoever wins this race does not get those assignments. It gets reshuffled, which is going to be interesting,” Perry said. To him, the question then becomes “How do you build some seniority back for the state so we get in those committees that are going to help us out?”

You have this every time you are electing a new freshman member to the House,” added Weaver Bennett. “They don't necessarily get the best, most coveted committee assignments and it will be a loss.”

The silver lining, said Weaver Bennet, is that whoever is chosen to replace Stewart would have earned a year of experience and standing over any new incoming House members if that person is reelected.

“It would be January 2025 when a whole new freshman class comes in,” she said. “[Stewart’s successor will] have a year of seniority over them, and they’re not really competing with anybody else now for committee assignments.”

Celeste Maloy won the special GOP primary for CD2 on Sept. 5. and will face Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Riebe in the special general election on Nov. 21. Other challengers include United Utah Party nominee January Walker, Constitution Party candidate Cassie Easley, Libertarian Brad Green and independents Joseph Geddes Buchman and Perry Myers.

Stewart won reelection in 2022 by more than 25 percentage points and the 2nd Congressional District is considered a safe Republican seat.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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