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State Sen. Brian Shiozawa resigns for Trump administration post

State Sen. Brian Shiozawa, pictured in November, has resigned from the Utah Legislature to take a post in the Trump administration.
State Sen. Brian Shiozawa, pictured in November, has resigned from the Utah Legislature to take a post in the Trump administration.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — State Sen. Brian Shiozawa has resigned from the Utah Legislature and taken a post in the Trump administration.

The Cottonwood Heights Republican also is retiring from his career as a doctor to become one of 10 regional directors for intergovernmental and external affairs for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Shiozawa announced his new position Monday in a Facebook post.

He was sworn into office Monday after being appointed to the Denver-based position by President Donald Trump. He will represent the department in Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"We face big challenges like never before," Shiozawa said in the post. "But I am confident that together, we can reason, work and bring forth positive change in health care in our state and nation."

As regional director, Shiozawa said he would keep close contact with state, local and tribal leaders and address the needs of communities and individuals in those six states.

An emergency room doctor, Shiozawa practiced at St. Mark's Hospital for more than 27 years. He was elected to the Utah Senate in 2012, where he was viewed as a political moderate and a strong voice on health care issues.

He was a key backer of Gov. Gary Herbert's proposed Medicaid expansion plan, known as Healthy Utah, that passed in the state Senate but failed in the House in 2015.

Shiozawa is among the sponsors of a new voter initiative that seeks to put Medicaid expansion on the 2018 ballot. Last session, he successfully advocated for state funding for medical marijuana research.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said Shiozawa's medical background and legislative experience helped make him "such a great candidate" for the federal position.

But Okerlund, an early Trump supporter in last year's presidential race, said Shiozawa's appointment shouldn't been seen as "a signal of what the administration is going to do" on health care issues.

"I think it was a signal they wanted someone who was going to do a good job, not necessarily a moderate on the issues or anything like that," Okerlund said. "He's the guy for that."

Utah Democratic Party Chairwoman Daisy Thomas praised Shiozawa.

"Sen. Shiozawa is truly an admirable leader who believes in promoting good policy over politics," Thomas said in a statement, adding his "absence will be noticed during the upcoming legislative session."

The news release from the Democrats offered appreciation for Shiozawa's support for Medicaid expansion and called on Republicans to choose a new senator "who will be as honest, professional and personable as Sen. Shiozawa."

Salt Lake County GOP delegates in Senate District 8 will name a replacement who will serve until a new senator can be elected in November 2018 to fill the remaining two years of Shiozawa's term.

No date has been set for the party decision.

Democrat Kathie Allen, who lost last month to Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, in the special election for the vacant 3rd Congressional District seat, said Monday she's ready to run in next year's election for the state Senate seat.

"This news has changed my fortunes a bit," Allen, also a Cottonwood Heights physician, said. She said she was optimistic about running in the district, which has been represented by Democrats.

"Since the people of the district are used to having a doctor be their voice, I'm hoping they'll continue that," Allen said. "I want to be a practical voice and I want to find bipartisan solutions as much as that is possible."

Allen had kicked off a new fundraising campaign on CrowdPAC Monday to collect pledges for campaign contributions for a possible run in either the 2nd or 3rd Congressional districts next year.

She switched the campaign to the state Senate race rafter seeing Shiozawa's announcement.

Allen raised more than $520,000 on the web site for her congressional campaign, much of it after attracting national attention for a tweet criticizing then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, for comments he made about health care costs.

Chaffetz resigned from Congress on June 30 and is now a Fox News contributor. Curtis was elected in November to serve the remaining year of Chaffetz's term.