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Herbert to testify on behalf of Bell

Gov. Gary Herbert is taking the unusual step of appearing this week at a legislative hearing to support his choice for lieutenant governor, Senate Majority Assistant Whip Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights.

Not that Bell should have any trouble with the Senate Government Operations and Political Subdivisions Confirmation Committee on Thursday.

"It may be a very brief meeting," said the committee chairman, Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City.

Only one person has asked to appear before the committee — Herbert.

Knudson, a state lawmaker since the mid-1990s, said he couldn't recall a governor testifying at a legislative hearing on behalf of any nominee.

"I've never heard of it before," he said.

But Herbert wanted to be there for his new No. 2, especially because this is the first time a lieutenant governor pick has had to be confirmed by the Senate.

That's because Herbert, who took over earlier this month after former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. resigned to become ambassador to China, is subject to a new amendment to the state constitution dealing with succession.

"It was important to him to show up and just make a brief statement on Sen. Bell's behalf," Herbert spokeswoman Angie Welling said. "It's his choice to speak at the confirmation hearing. The reason he chose to do that is this is the first time this has happened."

There had been talk of not holding the hearing at all because senators already know Bell, who has been out of town on a long-planned cruise with his family.

Both Knudson and Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said it was important to set the right precedent for future nominees.

"This will be the norm," Waddoups said. Still, he expects nothing new to come out of the hearing. "Based on the information we have, he's a slam-dunk candidate," the Senate president said.

The committee will make a recommendation to the full Senate. A vote on Bell's nomination is set for Sept. 1 at 2 p.m., during an extraordinary session of the Senate called by Herbert.

Bell is expected to resign as senator and take the oath of office as lieutenant governor immediately after the vote. Welling said his swearing-in ceremony will be held in the Capitol's ceremonial Gold Room and "will be a very low-key but stately affair."

She said the ceremony won't cost taxpayers, but the extraordinary Senate session to confirm Bell carries a price tag of about $7,500.

His replacement in the Senate will be nominated by Davis County GOP delegates and appointed by the governor. The new District 22 senator is expected to be sworn in on the Legislature's next interim day, Sept. 16.

Waddoups said several senators have already expressed interest in running for Bell's position in GOP leadership. He said he expects the race to be between the two senators who initially ran against Bell for the majority assistant whip slot, Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, and Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy. Waddoups said he will not endorse a candidate.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com