The slow pace of Utah Senate confirmation for Rep. Joel Ferry

Jul 19, 2022, 1:35 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 10:26 am
Rep Ferry...
FILE: Rep. Joel Ferry, R-Brigham City, presents SB31, Water Rights Proofs on Small Amounts of Water, in the House chamber during the 2022 session of the Utah Legislature at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)
(Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has appointed Rep. Joel Ferry to be the new executive director of the Department of Natural Resources. In his announcement, the governor said “his legislative experience, as well as his foundation as a farmer and rancher, will help shape our vision around natural resources and I’m grateful he’s willing to take on this new challenge.”

The problem is that Mr. Ferry is also Rep. Ferry, and currently represents District 1 in Brigham City. The Utah Constitution forbids his serving in both roles, simultaneously.

Article V of the Utah Constitution

According to Article V, Section 1 of the Utah Constitution, “The powers of the government of the State of Utah shall be divided into three distinct departments, the Legislative, the Executive, and the Judicial; and no person charged with the exercise of powers properly belonging to one of these departments shall exercise any functions appertaining to either of the others, except in the cases herein expressly directed or permitted.”

Attorney Greg Skordas joined KSL at Night to explain whether the governor is violating the constitution by allowing Representative Ferry to serve in the cabinet without requesting his immediate resignation from the legislature.

“At the current time he probably is,” Skordas said. “Rep. Ferry is a great legislator. He’s going to be a great executive director of natural resources, but he can’t do both.”

Rep. Ferry is also running for reelection

There is precedent for legislators being tapped to serve in the executive branch. Longtime Rep. Paul Ray stepped down to run the Utah Department of Human Services in 2021.  Greg Skordas remembered another example: “When a former legislator, I think it was Hall, was appointed to the bench, he resigned immediately.” Skordas was referring to Rep. Craig Hall who Gov. Cox appointed to the 2nd District Court.

Skordas then zeroed in on the real problem. “Ferry is in an awkward position because he’s standing for reelection right now.”

This is the key to the dilemma. The period to replace Rep. Ferry with another Republican candidate on the ballot has already passed. So while Gov. Cox can appoint a Republican to replace him for the rest of the term, the Democrat candidate would run unopposed in the next election if Rep. Ferry stepped down now.

Why the slow pace? Politics.

The Senate has not yet scheduled a hearing on Joel Ferry’s appointment to head Natural Resources, and the governor has not yet sent the letter to the Senate that he is required to send announcing that appointment. He is required to do that within 30 days.

Why the slow pace? Skordas says what they’re trying to do is “stall the appointment in the Senate until after the election. When he’s reelected, which is pretty much a foregone conclusion, then he can resign and (GOP delegates) can appoint someone in his place.”

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The slow pace of Utah Senate confirmation for Rep. Joel Ferry