ST. GEORGE – Sen. Steve Urquhart announced Wednesday that he is retiring from the Utah Senate, four months ahead of what would have been the conclusion of his last term with the Legislature.
In a letter to Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, the Republican senator from St. George detailed his initial intent to finish his last term in the Legislature, but “things are moving faster than I had anticipated with my post legislative life,” he said. His last effective day as a Utah legislator will be Friday.
Urquhart has taken a job with the University of Utah as a global ambassador. The position requires he and his family relocate to Salt Lake City where remodeling on their home there is nearing completion, he said in the letter.
Urquhart is currently splitting time between St. George and Salt Lake City, he said, and will soon move, which will take him out of Senate District 29.
“I will live outside my district and, therefore, meaning that I will need to resign my Senate seat,” Urquhart wrote.
Urquhart has served in the Legislature since 2001 – eight years in the House and eight in the Senate.
During that time he’s taken on issues that have, at times, stood at odds with Southern Utah’s conservative Republican base. This has included his very public support of LGBT rights and trying to get the state to abandon the death penalty.
Though he will no longer be a part of state government, Urquhart told St. George News Wednesday that he will continue to push for policy changes related to issues he supported while in the Legislature.
For his support of LGBT rights, such as sponsoring 2015’s nondiscrimination legislation that provided housing and employment protections for the LGBT community, Urquhart was recently appointed to the board of directors for Equality Utah, an LGBT advocacy group.
The 2015 legislation had been praised as a workable compromise between LGBT rights and religious liberties.
Through his new position with Equality Utah, Urquhart said he will continue to push for full equality for the LGBT community, which includes the push for hate crime legislation. Urquhart attempted to get a hate crimes bill passed in the 2016 Legislature, but it did not survive the general session.
As for abolishing the death penalty, Urquhart said he will continue to work with lawmakers and others to see that goal brought to fruition.
Urquhart has also been an avid supporter of higher education and has, with fellow lawmakers, helped gain state support and funding for projects related to Dixie State University and the Dixie Applied Technology College.
“Now I work in higher ed,” Urquhart said laughing.
In addition to supporting equality, killing the death penalty and higher education, one particular issue Urquhart has pursued throughout his time in the Legislature has been what he refers to as “access to civil justice.”
“If there’s one policy issue that I’ve been put on this earth to do,” he said, “it is to make it so liberty and justice for all actually has meaning rather than being a cruel lie told to the majority of Americans.”
In relation to civil justice – the other side of law not related to criminal justice – people lose by default, Urquhart said. This is because they do not have equal access to lawyers or anyone else who could offer legal advice.
Currently under the law, it is illegal for an individual to seek legal advice from anyone other than a lawyer, and lawyers alone can be cost-prohibitive for people. So only businesses and the wealthy are really able to take advantage of lawyers in civil cases, Urquhart said.
“They can hire their gladiators,” Urquhart said, while regular folk are left to fend for themselves.
Urquhart proposes that nonlawyers be allowed to offer legal advice to individuals in civil cases versus costly attorneys, and is working with others to accomplish that end.
Urquhart said he is optimistic that an issue that originally got his “butt kicked” during his early days in the Legislature now appears to be moving forward for the better, in his opinion.
As for leaving the Legislature, Urquhart said it feels “weird” due to it being so sudden. As he wrote in his letter to Niederhauser, he thought he would be able to finish his term in office.
“I went in just now to clean out my desk and clean out my office,” he said, adding that he ran into Niederhauser and that they had a bittersweet conversation over the matter. “It’s weird to give up the title and responsibility.”
The soon-to-be former senator has no aspiration of getting back into elected politics anytime soon, he said. However, he said he is willing to continue serving the public through other means, such as serving on public boards and the like.
“Sen. Urquhart exhibited exceptional talent and courage in his legislative career,” Niederhauser said in a statement. “I have admired his character and ability. His capacity as a legislator will be greatly missed, along with his distinct wit and candor.”
Urquhart’s term would have concluded Dec. 31. With his resignation, an interim senator – yet to be selected by Washington County Republican Party delegates – will fill the position for the remainder of the term.
The full text of Urquhart’s letter to Niederhauser is set forth below:
I write to inform you that I will I resign from the Senate effective September 9, 2016.
I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause the Senate. I wanted to – and anticipated that I would – finish my current term at the end of this year, but things are moving faster than I had anticipated with my post-legislative life. I will be working for the University of Utah as a global ambassador, looking to make the U’s international efforts bigger and better by bringing on corporate, government, and others to partner with the U and its students. As you can imagine, I am very excited to work to make the University and higher education better.
As part of this assignment, I will live in Salt Lake City. Currently, I am splitting time between St. George and Salt Lake (and various locations throughout the world). However, with remodeling nearing completion on a property I purchased in Salt Lake and my work at the U progressing nicely, I need to permanently move to Salt Lake City – meaning that I will live outside my district and, therefore, meaning that I will need to resign my Senate seat.
It has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life to serve in the Utah Legislature and the Utah Senate. It is still just absolutely amazing and humbling to me that I have been able to do this. I love our State and the good people of Washington County. I hope and believe I leave the State a bit better than I found it when I entered the Legislature in 2001. The experience surely has left me a better person.
I want to thank you for your leadership and friendship. Mine was the privilege of working with many great leaders, and I place you at the top of that outstanding group. Whether you have personally agreed or disagreed with my position on issues, you always have respected and supported my desires to represent my constituents as I thought best and as I was uniquely charged to do as the Senator from District 29. You believe in the process, the Constitutions that direct us, and – I have always felt – you believe in me. That means a lot.
I will miss you, our colleagues, and the Senate. I will miss working daily for my constituents. But the work goes on. Please guide our beautiful Senate and the wonderful State of Utah. God bless them both!
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.