ST. GEORGE — Every day in the Utah Legislature felt like Christmas for Travis Seegmiller, the freshman House member representing much of St. George and Washington City.
“I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning,” said Seegmiller, a Republican from St. George who was elected Feb. 12 by neighborhood caucus delegates in an emergency special election. “It was exhilarating and so exciting being part of something so important.”
Starting fast and fresh
When Seegmiller was sworn in as a representative for House District 62 three weeks into the 2018 general session, there was little time for congratulations or to learn the ropes. He was in Salt Lake City the day after being elected, having put his job as a professor of law and executive leadership at Dixie State University on hold.
His predecessor, Jon Stanard, abruptly resigned from the Utah House amid a report that emerged from a British newspaper that he had an affair with a prostitute multiple times during trips to Salt Lake City. But despite the rocky end to Stanard’s time in the state Capitol, Seegmiller said he didn’t let that hold him back from doing his best work while starting his new role as a lawmaker.
“All the bills (Stanard) had, I dropped,” Seegmiller said. “People asked me if I was going to pick up his bills and start working on them, but I ended up dropping all of his bills and starting from scratch.”
Seegmiller would spend late nights researching all of the topics coming in front of the Legislature to catch up with all of his peers, he said.
It didn’t take long, Seegmiller said, until he got the hang of the process and started participating as much as he could. Even though he had no formal political experience before entering the Legislature, Seegmiller’s 20 years of experience working with businesses and as a law professor were the best kind of preparation he needed for becoming a lawmaker, he said.
Seegmiller even formed a group of like-minded fiscal conservatives in the Legislature, he said, a group he called the “cost-cutting coalition” to work toward doing just that — cutting unnecessary costs.
Representing District 62
Coming in as an outsider, there were some things about the Legislature that Seegmiller said bothered him, like how involved lobbyists are in the lawmaking process. Lobbyists were always trying to get lawmakers to come to a free lunch or talk with them between meetings, he said.
“It got to the point where I said ‘I’m not even going to take all these meetings,’” Seegmiller said. “I’m here to represent District 62. My constituents are not these lobbyists.”
Inspired by all the money from lobbyists being thrown around the Legislature, Seegmiller is currently working on a bill for next year that would significantly cut down on the amount of lobbyist money that can come from activist groups outside of Utah.
“Big money has too much influence,” Seegmiller said. “It should be and must be shrunk.”
Instead of meeting with lobbyists, Seegmiller said he met with many people from Southern Utah who came to him with concerns, including St. George Mayor Jon Pike and representatives from the Washington County School Board.
“It didn’t hit home until I was in the Legislature how special District 62 is,” Seegmiller said. “It is full of very politically-active people.”
Republicans he represented in Southern Utah do not have the same values as Republicans from the more urban areas of Utah, Seegmiller said. Many people in District 62 want a “nonintrusive frugal government that respects local sovereignty.”
Hundreds of people from Southern Utah contacted Seegmiller and asked him to oppose bills that would increase taxes, move authority out of local school boards and rename a stretch of Southern Utah highways after President Donald Trump.
“I got hundreds of texts and calls from people — pleading with me not to support (these bills),” Seegmiller said.
As a public figure, Seegmiller also received his fair share of hate mail, he said. One person sent him a message calling him “the brother of Kim Jong-un” after the Associated Press quoted him as saying he was “nervous about the concept of empowering the citizenry” regarding the high number of ballot initiatives during this year’s legislative session.
“That quote was totally taken out of context,” Seegmiller said. “It was hashtag clickbait — a real sucker punch. If anything, I adamantly care about voters’ opinions.”
Now that his first session as a lawmaker has come to an end, Seegmiller said he is seeking re-election for the same seat. He has returned to his job at Dixie State, but said he’s not going to wait until after elections to start work on some new bills.
In addition to a bill limiting lobbyists, he is also drafting legislation to prevent lawmakers from increasing taxes in a surplus year, to require state government to pay off debts before spending money on extra bills and to limit pork barrel spending to $5,000 per legislator each year.
“The biggest takeaway from being a legislator is realizing how one well-prepared representative can really make a big difference,” Seegmiller said.
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