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Legislative Leaders Push For Special Session To Address Congressional Vacancy

Julia Ritchey, KUER
Congressman Chaffetz speaks at a press conference Dec. 15, 2016.

Legislative leaders are advocating for a special session to hammer out the details of an election in the event Rep. Jason Chaffetz vacates his seat. 

After dropping the bombshell announcement that he wouldn’t run for re-election, Congressman Chaffetz signaled Thursday he may be leaving even before his term is up.

Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser says he’s spoken with other lawmakers and they want to move fast to make sure the seat doesn't go unfilled for months. 

“If that’s, in fact, the case, we need to act, put some process in very quickly, so that we’re not sitting out without somebody in office,” he says.

Niederhauser says right now Utah's law for special elections is vague, instructing the governor to issue a proclamation for an election, but without guidelines on issues like plurality or number of candidates per ticket.

“Not that we don’t think they can come up with something; we think we ought to come with something and put it in statute, so it needs to go through the legislature,” he says. “Plus, there needs to be funding of an election.”

A bill introduced during the last session to codify what should happen in case of a Congressional vacancy didn’t pass.

But Niederhauser thinks the state should avoid a situation like the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District — with a large field of candidates in which no one gained a majority. That election is now scheduled for a run-off vote in June.

Republican House Speaker Greg Hughes agrees.

“An interim appointment should be, in my opinion, something that’s more expeditious than a general election that we would have every other year,” he says.

The leadership’s comments came during a two-day trip through rural Utah with about 70 other state lawmakers.

Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday dismissed the idea of a special session. Herbert had already indicated he would gather lawmakers later this summer to address issues with the new DUI law.

But Niederhauser and Hughes say lawmakers need to weigh in on the process for special elections and that it should happen sooner rather than later.  

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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