SALT LAKE CITY — In an announcement that took even members of the House of Representatives by surprise, a powerful state lawmaker abruptly resigned his post to go work for Utah's Department of Human Services.
It's an agency Rep. Paul Ray knows well: he oversaw their budget as chair of the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee and serves on the House Health & Human Services Committee.
"My passion my entire time in the legislature has honestly been health and human services," Rep. Ray, R-Clearfield, said in an interview with FOX 13. "I volunteered for that committee my freshman year in the legislature and everybody thought I was nuts. And I've been on it the entire time."
As an assistant legislative affairs director, Rep. Ray will find himself on the other side of the dais, advocating for agency positions before the Utah State Legislature. He applied for the open job after his predecessor retired in August. Though it is an appointed position, the Department of Human Services said he went through a competitive interview process. Rep. Ray said agency leaders asked about some of the bills he has run that impacted them in the past.
"I'd say 99% of what they've advocated for, I've been supportive of. As a legislator, you control a $7 billion budget you only have so much money. And I always had to choose between three and four different agencies. And that's what I like now is I don't have to make that choice anymore. I can go in and say, 'Give us the money,'" he said.
Utah Department of Human Services Executive Director Tracy Gruber said she had full confidence in Rep. Ray.
"Not only has Paul worked on the policy side of human services and public health, but he also has experience creating and adjusting budgets to get initiatives off the ground in ever-changing environments," she said in a statement announcing his hire. "He is knowledgeable in strategy and the inner workings of state government and has a proven track record of bringing stakeholders and elected officials to the table to find solutions that benefit the people we serve."
The Utah Democratic Party blasted his hiring in a statement Thursday morning.
"Weeks after falling on the sword for Republican leadership by pushing through egregiously gerrymandered maps that will harm our state for the next ten years, Paul Ray is now being rewarded with a cushy, high-paying state job," said acting party chair Diane Lewis. "Even worse, he will now be working in the department in charge of social services. We’ve seen his record in the House: he has stood firmly against working Utah families, and he will now be able to use his influence to continue fighting against the best interests of Utahns, without the accountability of constituents."
With Utah's Department of Health merging with the Department of Human Services, Rep. Ray will soon have to advocate for both agencies. Some of his previous legislation has not been fully supported by UDOH. He successfully passed a bill lifting COVID-19 restrictions, something the agency was forced to negotiate and make concessions on.
Rep. Ray defended that bill in light of his new job.
"We talked about it," he said. "There are going to be times, with any job, where I will give my input. Whatever the agency decides that their position is, is what I will go out and advocate with the legislature."
Because he is resigning from the Utah State Legislature, there is no issue with conflict of interest rules in the House. His day job was in real estate and finance (and his resume includes work as a circus trapeze artist). His resignation takes effect on Dec. 15. Davis County Republican Party delegates will select his replacement to fulfill his term.
Rep. Ray, who served 20 years in the legislature and recently chaired the legislature's redistricting committee, said he was not intending to seek another term anyway. He said the ugly redistricting battle was not a reason for his change of career path.
"The legislature will feel the absence of Rep. Ray," House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said in a statement. "He has been a pillar of the House of Representatives and a hard-working and dedicated member of our community. He has mentored his colleagues, led out on some of the most difficult issues facing the state, and kept the body on track as our resident Parliamentarian. I wish him the best and know he will work incredibly hard for the citizens of the State of Utah in this new capacity."