'Fight over process' to replace Rep. Chaffetz

'Fight over process' to replace Rep. Chaffetz (Photo: KUTV)

Beyond Jason Chaffetz's stunning resignation, the announcement of his quick departure from Congress, and the sudden jockeying of candidates in the hunt for his seat, is a palpable Utah drama over how to replace him.

"There's a fight over process," said state Senator Todd Weiler, R-Davis County, who outlined two conflicting options, setting Governor Herbert against legislative leaders of his own party, and raising constitutional and legal questions.

"You've got one camp, that is sort of the governor's camp," he said. It, according to Weiler, would allow candidates to collect signatures to get on the ballot for a special election.

"Then you have another camp, which I call the (Utah House Speaker) Greg Hughes camp," Weiler said, adding it would have party delegates select candidates---perhaps one Republican and one Democrat---and then have the election.

The governor on Thursday said he has the legal authority to call the election. A spokesman for Hughes said the legislature has the authority.

Who wins the argument could heavily impact what role voters will play in deciding the next member of Congress from Utah's 3rd District.

The governor's method would seem to voters more say, and could track with the controversial SB 54, the grand compromise that allowed GOP candidates to either win enough delegates at the party's state convention, or bypass delegates altogether and reap signatures of voters to win a place on the ballot.

But the governor's way could also take longer---he thinks four months---but could drag out further.

Hughes' plan would likely be shorter, maybe much shorter, and be more in line with traditional Utah Republican thought the party should choose its candidates.

A special election may also cost Utah taxpayers.

State Elections Director Mark Thomas said it's possible the special election could be partnered with municipal races, which have primaries in August, and the general election in November.

That, he said could cost little or nothing; but if the special election is created "from scratch," it could run up to a million dollars, and double of there are two elections---primary and general.

Lawmakers have asked the governor to call a special session to set the path for the election, but he sounded opposed to that idea on Thursday.

"We don't even have a consensus with the legislators on what they want, in fact, to pass in a special session," Herbert said. "This ought not to be a free-for-all."

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