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Former legislators seek return to the Hill

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's 104 part-time lawmakers like to complain about the long hours, the low pay and the sometimes severe criticism by the public and media.

If the Legislature is so rough, why are at least eight former lawmakers trying to get back to Capitol Hill in the 2010 elections?

"I have a new perspective, and I believe I can contribute," said former House Democratic leader and senator Patrice Arent, who seeks the Salt Lake County east-side district seat of Rep. Phil Riesen, D-East Millcreek, who is retiring.

A review by the Deseret News of the 266 candidates who filed for state House and Senate seats this year shows several interesting attempted comebacks, a handful of heated campaign rematches and a few registered lobbyists who want to get on the other side of the chamber doors.

Both in Utah and nationally, 2010 already is marked as an election year of discontent.

Longtime U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, has several credible GOP challengers.

More than 20 Republican state lawmakers, even a handful of Democratic incumbents, have challengers from within their own party.

Several moderate House Republicans have two GOP challengers — who no doubt are unhappy with the incumbents' voting records.

As usual, open seats that are safe wins for either major party bring a lot of candidates. Five Republicans filed for the seat of former House Majority Leader Kevin Garn, R-Layton, who has resigned. And four Democrats seek the seat of retiring Rep. Chris Johnson, D-Salt Lake.

Surprisingly enough, two of the most conservative and outspoken House Republicans — Reps. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, and Mike Noel, R-Kanab — have no Democratic challengers. Noel has no opponent at all, and Wimmer likely will cruise to re-election, opposed by a Libertarian and an unaffiliated candidate. No minor party or independent candidates have won a Utah legislative seat in more than 75 years.

A complete list of all statewide, legislative and state school board candidates can be found at the Utah Elections Office Web site, elections.utah.gov/2010Candidates.htm.

The former lawmakers seeking to come back into office range from a few who left only a couple of years ago to Craig Call, who served in the mid-1980s.

Call made a name for himself in the Utah House by bringing his own, bulky personal computer onto the floor (the first ever to show up there) to show his colleagues how his proposed then-radical-idea state flat-rate personal income tax could help most Utah families. (His bill ultimately failed, but Utah now has a modified flat-rate tax system 20 years later).

Back again as candidates are such well-known former incumbents as Arent (who was seen as an up-and-comer in state Democratic politics before retiring from the state Senate in 2006) and LaVar Christensen, a noted conservative/constitutionalist who left the Utah House to run (unsuccessfully) against U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.

Already back in the Legislature is former Utah House representative Stuart Adams, who was appointed to a state Senate seat last year, and former House and Senate member Bill Wright, who was appointed to the House in 2009.

Two well-known paid lobbyists, Eric Isom and Stephen Handy, also are running as Republicans for Utah House seats. Both men say they will not be registered lobbyists should they win their races.

Isom cut his political teeth working as a top GOP aide for Republicans in the Utah Senate. He is now government affairs director for Qwest.

"I will not be a registered lobbyist should I win," said Isom, adding that his bosses have said that would be a clear conflict of interest the company would not allow. Isom would either leave Qwest or take a non-lobbying job in the telecommunications firm.

Handy said he has done little actual lobbying the past several years. A former Deseret News marketing director, Handy said, "Heavens no," when asked if he would be a registered lobbyist should he win office.

Davis Education Association lobbyist Joel Briscoe, also a former Deseret News employee and a longtime schoolteacher, is running as a Democrat for a House seat from Davis County. Briscoe said he would take a leave of absence from his DEA job during the 45-day general session, as some other labor union employee/legislators do now.

Call, who seeks the open House District 6 seat in northern Utah, said he wants to show that an "independent" Republican can win and serve in the House without taking any special interest or lobbyist campaign donations.

"I believe that you can be an independent representative," said Call, who has retired from a decade-long stint as the state's special private property ombudsman, where he was an advocate for private property owners whose land was being taken through eminent domain by the state.

Besides Arent, Christensen and Call, other former legislators who filed for legislative offices include: Dave Hogue, Dixon Pitcher, Terry Spencer, Conrad Maxfield (who has since withdrawn) and Mike Thompson.

Some are running for their old seats; served in the Senate and are running for the House, or vise versa; or have moved and seek election from a new district.

A previous Deseret News story said that Rep. Jack Draxler, R-Logan, had no opponents. But the state's official Web site lists fellow Republican Elaine Nelson also filing for House District 3.

e-mail: bbjr@desnews.com