Facebook Twitter

Hughes may not get Rules post

SHARE Hughes may not get Rules post
Greg Hughes

Greg Hughes

One of the most powerful appointed positions in the Utah House and Senate is chairman of each body's Rules Committee.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, likely looked forward to becoming the House Rules chairman in the 2009 Legislature, a post he had hopes for because he's the Rules vice chairman now, and the Rules chairman, Rep. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, won a Senate seat and so isn't coming back to the 75-member House.

But Hughes may not be the House Rules chairman next year, mainly because of accusations made in an official ethics complaint this past summer, charges that Hughes had bragged to certain lobbyists that their clients' interests could be harmed by Hughes as Rules chairman if they didn't support his political causes financially in 2008.

Hughes was cleared of all ethics charges brought against him. And on that specific charge concerning the Rules Committee, the vote for innocence was 8-0 in the House Ethics Committee in October.

Yet Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, the incoming House majority leader, said Monday that because of Hughes' problems it "would be difficult" to name Hughes to that top post.

"I'm sure Greg would like to be Rules chairman," said Garn. "And he is so talented that he certainly will be in leadership in some form — yet to be decided."

Hughes said Monday he "has no expectations" that he should be appointed Rules chairman just because he is vice-chairman of that committee. Still, like all legislators, Hughes said he hopes his influence increases with time and proven good work.

At the same time, Hughes said he "should not be penalized" because of the cleared charges against him. "Unless they put me in a box, those same arguments (that he could be unfair to fellow representatives' bills) could be made no matter where I served" on House committees.

Perhaps true, but the Rules committees have extraordinary power: Members decide which bills will be heard by standing committees, or whether a bill will be held in Rules and not heard at all, thus effectively killing it.

While House and Senate Rules committees are now held in the open, the reasons why bills aren't advanced are rarely explained. And in the final days of each general session, Rules members "sift" bills, sending them to the House and Senate floors for final votes.

"Your political opponents can always manipulate why you do something," said Hughes, referring to fears that he could be unfair as Rules chairman. "But you can't give in to that" unfairness and stop trying to be "an effective legislator for your constituents."

Further, Hughes and Garn point out that as Rules vice chairman in the 2008 Legislature, Hughes worked with two Democrats who later became his worst critics during the ethics investigation to get some of their own bills "refined" into measures that actually passed into law — successful lawmaking that may not have happened without Hughes' efforts.

No decisions of House committee chairs and vice chairs, or even who will sit on various committees, have yet been made because the newly elected House GOP speaker, Rep. Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, left the country right after leadership elections on a tour of Turkey as member of a national legislative association's board of directors.

Clark returns this weekend, when serious discussions about committee assignments will begin, said Garn. The new committee assignments take effect in January's 2009 Legislature.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com