Utah legislators serve longer than they used to

Legislators today stick around longer than legislators in the past.

Bob Bernick reports today that retirements and nomination upsets will bring 15 freshmen to the 75-member Utah House of Representatives. November may bring us even more freshmen. I reported last year that the Utah legislature has fewer freshmen these days than in past decades. After reading Bernick’s column, I took a look at how long Utah legislators tend to stick around.

Legislators serve for more terms

If you looked around the Utah House on opening day of the 2011 session, the average Representative was entering into his or her sixth legislative session. Meanwhile, the average Senator was beginning a tenth year of cumulative legislative service, with 2.8 years served in the House and 7.1 in the Senate.

These averages have risen steadily since 1900, as seen in the graph below. From 1900 through 1940, the average Utah Representative was in his second year of service at any given time, while the average Utah Senator was in his third year in the Senate (blue line) and fourth year overall (red line). These numbers rose over the next 60 years. Legislators today stick around longer than legislators in the past.

Average tenure in the Utah legislature

Freshmen are an endangered species

The flip side is that there are fewer freshmen at any given time than used to be the case. The figure below shows the percentage of legislators in each chamber that were in their first term at any given time. (The percentage is consistently lower in the Senate than the House, partly because many “new” Senators served previously in the House, so they aren’t really “freshmen” when they arrive in the Senate.) Bob Bernick’s column today identifies 15 Representatives who definitely won’t return next year. If another 5 lose in June or November, then 26% of the House will be freshmen–only slightly higher than usual for recent years.

Percent of legislators in their first year of service

Who serves the longest?

Right now, the senior Senator is Lyle Hillyard, who just completed his 28th session in the Senate. Because he also served 4 years in the House, he now has 32 years of combined experience in the Utah legislature.

Only two other legislators have served longer. Mike Dmitrich served 24 years in the House and 16 in the Senate for a combined 40 years of service. Haven Barlow served 3 years in the House and 38 in the Senate for a combined 41 years of service.

This table shows the legislators who have served 25 years or more. There is a four-way tie for sixth place, which Gene Davis will break next January.

Rank Legislator House years Senate years Total Years Final year
1 Haven Barlow 3 38 41 1994
2 Mike Dmitrich 24 16 40 2008
3 Lyle Hillyard 4 28 32 running
4 Omar Bunnell 0 28 28 1992
4 Alonzo Hopkin 1 27 28 1961
6 Brent Goodfellow 21 5 26 2010
6 Lorin Pace 22 4 26 1990
6 Michael Waddoups 10 16 26 retiring
6 Gene Davis 12 14 26 current
10 Wilford Rex Black 0 25 25 1997
10 LeRay McAllister 8 17 25 1997


Maybe you’re wondering why legislators are sticking around longer than they used to, or why there are fewer freshmen than used to be the case. For discussion, see my previous post.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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1 Response to Utah legislators serve longer than they used to

  1. Todd Weiler says:

    I’m pretty sure that Lyle Hillyard will win in November. He has no opponents.

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