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Lots of new faces, GOP leaders coming to 2019 Utah Legislature

SALT LAKE CITY — Starting at the top, the Utah House and Senate will see major turnover this year.

House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, both will be gone not only from leadership positions but from the Legislature altogether. Neither is running for re-election.

In the House, 17 of 75 members, or about 23 percent, won't be returning in 2019. Some are not seeking re-election, some are running for other offices, including state Senate, and one is moving from Utah.

In the Senate, five of 29 senators, or 17 percent, are not running for another term.

Those numbers aren't all that different from recent years, at least when looking at the percentage of incoming freshmen after each election cycle as BYU political science professor Adam Brown has done.

Turnover percentage the past two decades has been in the high teens or low 20, peaking at 27 percent in 2013.

"We're still not matching the 20 new faces that came into 2013 after the 2012 elections," said Brown, who posts his legislative analyses at

All 75 House seats and half of the Senate seats are up for election this year. The candidate filing deadline was Thursday, and there is no shortage of challengers to the incumbents. A list of candidate filings can be found at

Maybe how many isn't as significant as who isn't returning, starting with Hughes and Neiderhauser.

"I think those two guys leave a void in different ways," said LaVarr Webb, publisher and Deseret News political columnist.

Niederhauser brought a calm, steady voice of reason. He was conservative but mainstream and practical, Webb said.

"I think that’s been needed in the Legislature," he said.

Hughes brought passion and a willingness to wield his power and buck the opposition, Webb said. He is a strong conservative but an advocate for public transit and addressing the state's homeless problems, which are traditionally more Democratic issues.

"He openly emerged as more complex than a lot of us viewed him previously," he said.

Brown said Hughes' and Niederhauser's departures means "drama and excitement." There will be a lot of politicking among those vying for leadership roles and likely money flowing from their campaign accounts into their colleagues' accounts.

"The last several times there's been open leadership races in the House and Senate, legislator-to-legislator campaign contributions tended to be a really helpful way of narrowing down who was a credible candidate," Brown said.

In addition to leadership, departing lawmakers take with them decades of institutional memory, which Brown said is a real thing when it comes to process and policy. Also, some legislators who carved a particular niche — for better or worse — won't be back.

"Some of the more colorful characters are retiring, so that will be interesting. But turnover is good; new blood is good," Webb said.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, a champion for lower taxes and who immersed himself in public education, served for 26 years.

In his six years, outspoken Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, made himself a thorn in the side of Republicans, often comically, while pushing liberal causes.

On the House side, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, was a powerful and polarizing figure on public lands issues for 16 years, even proposing this past session to name a southern Utah highway after President Trump as a thank you for reducing the sizes of two national monuments. He pulled the bill amid sharp criticism.

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Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City — Not running for re-election.

Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City — Not running for re-election.

Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy — Not running for re-election.

Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal — Not running for re-election.

Howard Stephenson, R-Draper — Not running for re-election.


Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City — Not running for re-election.

Lavar Christensen, R-Draper — Running for Utah Senate.

Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake — Not running for re-election.

Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden — Moving out of state.

Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville — Running for Weber County Commission.

Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove — Not running for re-election.

Keith Grover, R-Provo — Running for Utah Senate.

Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine — Running for U.S. Senate.

Greg Hughes, R-Draper — Not running for re-election.

Dan McCay, R-Riverton — Running for Utah Senate.

Mike Noel, R-Kanab — Not running for re-election.

Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden — Not running for re-election.

Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden — Not running for re-election.

Ed Redd, R-Logan — Not running for re-election.

Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton — Running for Utah Senate.

Curt Webb, R-Logan — Not running for re-election.

John Westwood, R-Cedar City — Not running for re-election.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, had decided to run for the Senate. Instead, Eliason changed his mind just prior to the candidate filing deadline and decided to seek re-election to the House. That changed the number of House members not returning in 2019 from 18 to 17.