With Rep. Chris Stewart’s resignation looming, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said on Monday he’s willing to call the Legislature into a special session so lawmakers can set new dates for a special election.

“We want Utah’s 2nd District to be represented. And so making that vacancy as short as possible is important to all of us. ... If we have to change the law to do that, we’re willing to call them into a special session,” he told reporters during an event in North Salt Lake.

Rep. Chris Stewart still unsure of exit date

Under Utah law, Cox will have seven days after receiving a resignation letter to issue a proclamation setting the dates for a special primary and general election. The primary must coincide with an existing election, and be at least 90 days after the proclamation. And the general must be at least 90 days after the primary.

However a special election can be held outside of those dates if Cox calls the Legislature into a special session and lawmakers appropriate the necessary funds to run the election.

An option being discussed with county clerks is holding the primary election for the congressional seat at the same time as the August municipal primary and then electing a new representative in the November general election.

That would require a change in the law, since a municipal primary election is not currently eligible for a special election to fill a congressional vacancy. A decision could be announced by the end of the week.

If Stewart were to resign tomorrow, the closest eligible date is a general municipal election in November — but on Thursday, the congressman suggested he could be resigning in September. If he does, the special election primary would be held in March 2024, the next eligible date, unless the Legislature intervenes.

Cox says Stewart has not yet chosen a resignation date.

“We’ll nail this down over the next couple days. We’re still working with Congressman Stewart to decide how long he is able to stay on, and that will determine the actual timeline,” he said.

As lieutenant governor, Cox was in the middle of a rift between then-Gov. Gary Herbert and state lawmakers over filling the vacancy left when former Rep. Jason Chaffetz resigned his seat in Congress in 2017. 

Herbert frustrated lawmakers by taking control of the special election, sparking talk of the Legislature suing the governor. That never happened, but the law was changed in 2020 to make it clear lawmakers ultimately control the process. 

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Not only does the law now mandate that the governor must call a special session to approve the appropriation needed to hold a special election, but it also gives lawmakers the power to void a date they don’t like simply by withholding funding. 

The tensions between the two branches of government also led to an amendment to the Utah Constitution to allow lawmakers to call themselves into special session. Previously, only the governor had that authority.

Cox, who oversaw elections as lieutenant governor, had downplayed the situation caused over Herbert’s call for a primary election in the race to replace Chaffetz. House and Senate Republicans wanted to let party delegates choose the candidates for the general election ballot.

Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, backed a special session to deal with the upcoming vacancy.

“We are working through options and coordinating with the governor’s, lieutenant governor’s and Congressman Stewart’s offices on the most suitable timeline to fill the vacancy that ensures Utah has full representation in Washington, D.C.,” Adams said in a statement.

“I am supportive of a special session to address this pressing issue,” he said.

On Sunday, KSL Newsradio reported that Utah’s House Majority Leader, Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, suggested lawmakers would be on board with shortening the state-mandated timeline.

“I think it will happen sooner. … The Chaffetz race was like 60 days,” Shultz told “Take 2” podcast host Maura Carabello, who is also a KSL Newsradio host.

Cox echoed that sentiment on Monday, saying his “preferred timeline is I’d love to have it done tomorrow.”

“We’re working closely with the Legislature as well so we’re all aligned on this. I don’t want to leave this seat open any longer than we have to. That’s what’s driving all of this conversation,” he said.