Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What will new Utah speaker mean for the state?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 14 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

The 2010 elections are now history, but the conjecture, hypothesizing, ruminating and otherwise having fun conjuring up various scenarios and possibilities from the results is just beginning. We review current items of discussion:

Many insiders were surprised when House Republicans did not return David Clark to a second two-year term as speaker, and chose Rebecca Lockhart instead. This is a monumental shift in Utah politics. What does it mean to politicians and to the state?

Webb: For one thing, it shows that conservative Republican women are, in Utah and across the country, ascending to high political office. These women are smart, capable, committed and passionate, and are showing that the Republican Party isn't just the party of old, white, boring males (like me).

Lockhart's win, along with the pickup of five seats by conservative Republicans, also means the House becomes a little more ideologically conservative. Clark is a solid conservative, but was also a practical problem-solver. The business community and others may be concerned that the new House will focus too much on message bills and tilt at ideological windmills, rather than tackle the problems facing the state. My prediction is that Lockhart will perform well and the Legislature will, as usual, take care of state needs. A big bonus for Lockhart: She gets to help preside over redistricting in 2011. Members of Congress, and every legislator, will want to be her friend.

Pignanelli: "Now I have to go home and send 35 thank you notes for 21 votes!" (Attributed to Nolan Karras upon learning of his loss for Majority Leader; he was elected Speaker four years later.) For years, this column compared Rep. Lockhart to the famed British Conservative Prime Minister ("Iron Lady") Margaret Thatcher — a juxtaposition proved correct. Lockhart demonstrated incredible courage and moxie in her bid for speaker. Lockhart is no longer just a competent Utah County lawmaker, she is now a potent symbol of conservatism in the Western United States. Long after she retires from the speakership, she will be on the shortlist for statewide and federal candidates.

Regardless of the setback, Clark retains his incredible skillset and deep goodwill among Utahns. He remains a contender for higher office. The interesting question is the future of Utah's version of health care reform, authored by Clark. Will he be allowed to continue his personal involvement, or will conservative legislators reconstruct it? This is important because congressional Republicans will refer to Utah as an alternative to Obamacare.

The GOP victories in the U.S. House and Senate will change the face of the federal government. How will this impact the individual careers of Utah's congressional delegation?

Pignanelli: In varying degrees, the change in congressional control benefits our representatives. As the senior Senate Republican, Orrin Hatch is a key figure in opposing Obama initiatives, while Mike Lee is the brains in the tea party caucus. Rob Bishop will be appointed to the Rules Committee or a committee chairmanship vital to Utah interests. Jason Chaffetz' media exposure will be enhanced while investigating administration officials. House Republicans will solicit bipartisan support of their legislation and will be rebuffed by liberals. Therefore, Matheson and his moderate Blue Dogs — although decreased in numbers — will be more influential in the next Congress.

Webb: Life just became a lot more fun for Utah's two Republican congressmen, now part of the majority instead of the minority. Bishop will have major clout on Western public lands issues. Sen. Hatch will be angling for the Senate Finance Committee chairmanship, an incredibly powerful position, if the GOP takes over the Senate in 2012, which appears possible. With power comes responsibility. The Republicans now must show how they will get the economy on track and tackle the deficit, entitlements, immigration and health reform. They share responsibility for policy direction in the divided government, and will help determine if there is stalemate or progress.

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