Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he may step down early from his House seat, leaving a vacancy that would be filled by a special election that is fuzzy under current state law.
“I might depart early,” Chaffetz told The Tribune on Thursday. “It very well might happen.”
Chaffetz surprised Utah political circles on Wednesday when he said he wouldn’t run for re-election or for any other seat in 2018, though he hinted he could run for governor in 2020.
Utah law says simply that if U.S. House members resign, “the governor shall issue a proclamation calling an election to fill the vacancy.”
But it doesn’t lay out any process of winnowing the field of candidates or when the election must be held. If, say, a dozen candidates ran, the winner could be elected with a small percentage of the vote.
State lawmakers pushed legislation earlier this year when President Donald Trump was considering Rep. Chris Stewart as the civilian head of the Air Force. That job went to former New Mexico Rep. Heather Wilson and Utah lawmakers, no longer faced with an imminent need for a special-election law, punted when it became entangled in Republican Party politics over how candidates would get on the primary ballot.
Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday at his monthly news conference that he does not believe a special session of the Legislature is needed to clarify the law for a special House election.
He conceded “there is probably a little bit of uncertainty” about the process. But he said the law simply says the governor shall call a special election to fill a vacancy.
“That means we will go through the same process you would do for a regular election, but it will be held at a different time of the year,” he said.