SALT LAKE CITY — State Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon wants Democrats to be able to compete to replace Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who was recently named to head the Utah State Tax Commission.
But because Valentine doesn't intend to resign before the Aug. 31 deadline for setting up a special election to fill his District 14 seat, Republicans will end up choosing his replacement.
"Whether it would have become a Democratic seat or not, the issue whether the citizens should be selecting their next elected official or the Republican Party should be," Corroon said.
He said not holding an election discourages voters.
"When we see things like this happen, it breeds more cynicism about our election process," Corroon said. With an election, he said, "at least we have the perception that there's a two-party system."
Valentine said he does not want to step down until his appointment by Gov. Gary Herbert is confirmed by the state Senate. Because the Legislature is not holding interim meetings in August, the soonest that can happen is mid-September.
"If I resign before I actually have the appointment, that just seems presumptuous to me," Valentine said. He said he still has to go through a confirmation hearing that has yet to be scheduled.
State law would allow political parties to select candidates to appear on the November ballot for the remaining two years of Valentine's term if he were to leave office by Aug. 31.
Valentine said he took some to consider whether to take the tax commission post, but "there wasn't any kind of calculation" about the election deadline. The governor announced the appointment on Aug. 4.
Utah Director of Elections Mark Thomas said his office contacted the Senate to see if there were plans to hold a confirmation session in August and was told it was not possible.
Lawmakers skipped interim meetings this month because many are participating in gatherings out of state, including the National Conference of State Legislators summit in Minneapolis.
Thomas said the law requiring a vacancy that occurs before Aug. 31 to be put on the November ballot is recent and had not yet been used. Political party delegates from the vacant district nominate the candidates, but voters have the final say.
Once the deadline has passed, only delegates from the political party that held the office get to choose. In this case, it would be Republicans in the heavily GOP Utah County district sending their pick to the GOP governor to appoint.
Voters would benefit from an election, Thomas said.
"The advantage is to the voters," he said of having candidates from different political parties vie for the seat. "If there's an election and we can get it on the ballot, the voters are the winners."
Corroon said even though he sees Valentine's confirmation as "pretty obvious," he doesn't expect the longtime state senator to heed his call and leave office in time for there to be an election.
"I'm not hopeful," the party leader said. "But I do hope it will send a message for future resignations."