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Utah Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack resigns from Senate

He says he feels like a ‘distraction,’ doesn’t rule out future in politics

SHARE Utah Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack resigns from Senate

Senate Majority Leader Sheldon Killpack resigned from the Legislature Saturday, the day after his arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence, telling the Deseret News that wasn't the first time he'd taken a drink.

"I feel very strongly that there is personal responsibility. I feel very strongly that an individual should be an addition to what's happening and not a distraction. And right now, I feel very much like I am a distraction," Killpack said in what he called his only media interview, his voice cracking with emotion. He said he made his decision after talking with his wife, Nicole; their four children, ages 11 to 20; and some trusted friends.

He told the newspaper his resignation did not rule out a future in politics.

"I don't know that this is necessarily the end of the road for me," Killpack said. "Many people have said this is overcomeable politically."

The Syracuse Republican, 41, had been seen as a rising star in Utah politics. He was elected to the second-highest position in Senate GOP leadership last year and was considered a likely candidate for higher office someday.

But that was before a Utah Highway Patrol trooper pulled Killpack over in Millcreek early Friday morning. Killpack, who had former state Rep. Mark Walker in his vehicle, was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail then released.

Killpack declined to talk about the specifics of his arrest or the events that led up to it, other than to confirm he did not identify himself as a lawmaker or seek any special treatment.

"This was an incident that involved me and the decisions I made. No one forced any of those decisions on me," he said. "When people want to ask why, I'm not sure I can answer that."

Killpack is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which counsels its members to abstain from alcohol, but he acknowledged that evening was not the first time he'd taken a drink.

"It was an occasional, social thing," he said of his drinking. Asked if he was giving up alcohol, Killpack said, "I don't know that I have a lot of interest in that anymore." He said he expected to undergo some sort of court-ordered treatment.

He said he is in contact with his church leadership about his drinking and that it is something he and his wife were already talking about. "This was nothing that came as a surprise to my wife," Killpack said. "We've been in conversations of, was this a problem."

First appointed to the Senate in 2003, Killpack was up for re-election this year. He served as co-chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee in addition to other committee assignments. Among the issues he advocated was strengthening Utah's DUI laws, telling his fellow lawmakers last year during a debate on a DUI bill that when he was just a teenager, his father was killed by a drunken driver.

"Nothing has been more painful as part of this process than knowing that," Killpack said, aside from the impact of his arrest on his wife and children. "My siblings and my mom have been amazing."

Killpack said he will continue as vice president of Academica West, a company that provides business management and support services for charter schools.

In a statement posted to the Senate majority's Web site after his interview with the Deseret News, Killpack said his "heart weighs heavy. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the legislative process, my legislative colleagues and for my constituents." He said he was "sincerely grateful and touched for the outpouring of support and love expressed to my family by so many of my constituents and friends."

In an e-mail to the Deseret News sent early Saturday morning, Killpack said, "I'm not sure what lies ahead for me" but gave no indication he was considering resignation. He had apologized Friday for the incident in a statement released by the Senate.

State GOP Chairman Dave Hansen said Saturday he was not surprised Killpack resigned. "How do you focus on issues and have that be the center of attention?" Hansen asked. "His desire not to be a distraction to the Legislature or the legislative process is admirable. He will be missed."

Gov. Gary Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling, said that "as a respected leader in the Utah State Senate, Sen. Killpack has been a great public servant and achieved a great deal for the people of Utah. This turn of events is certainly disappointing, but Gov. Herbert understands and respects his desire to focus on his family at this time."

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said Killpack "is doing what's best for him and his family. We respect him and hope they get through this OK."

Waddoups, who returns Saturday from Florida where he has been attending a meeting of Senate presidents, said the situation presents some difficulties since the legislative session begins Jan. 25.

"We'll have an empty seat on the floor for a while," Waddoups said. "Sheldon's got a lot of legislation he was running. That's all up in the air right now." Senate Republicans also have to choose a new majority leader. That will likely happen at their next GOP caucus, set for Wednesday, Waddoups said. He said he expects Senate Majority Whip Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, to move up in leadership and another senator to take the No. 3 spot in leadership.

Hansen said Republican delegates from Senate District 21 will meet as quickly as possible to choose Killpack's replacement, who then has to be appointed by the GOP governor.

Killpack's passenger did not return telephone calls. Walker is a former state representative from Sandy who resigned in 2008 in the midst of an investigation into whether he attempted to bribe an opponent in the state treasurer's race.

Walker pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor election law violation in connection with the case and became a lobbyist. He was recently hired by West Valley City as a business development manager but quit Friday, just six days after starting, according to city spokesman Aaron Crim.

Crim said Walker cited "personal reasons" for resigning, but the incident involving Killpack was not discussed.

Killpack and Walker had attended a fundraiser for Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, at a Murray karate studio that ended around 9 p.m. Alcohol was not served at the event. Killpack was pulled over by a Utah Highway Patrol DUI squad trooper in Millcreek shortly after midnight with Walker in the car. The vehicle was stopped at 700 E. 3300 South after the trooper noticed "a poor driving pattern." The trooper cited "the odor of alcohol coming from the subject's breath" according to the probable cause statement filed.

Killpack allegedly refused to take a breath test, and the trooper obtained a warrant to take blood for testing. Killpack was booked into the Salt Lake County Jail for investigation of DUI, a class B misdemeanor; and unsafe turn/lane change, a class C misdemeanor. He was then released.

Contributing: Rebecca Palmer, Bob Bernick Jr.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com