Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: It's never too soon to talk about the next election
For political junkies, it's not too early to start speculating about future elections.
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker faces re-election in less than a year, and the buzz is already starting about his prospects. Will he face strong opposition or have an easy ride? In light of Republican successes in Salt Lake County, does a mayoral candidate with GOP credentials pose a threat?
Pignanelli: "The first requirement of a statesman is that he be dull. This is not always easy to achieve." — Dean Acheson. For most political observers, Mayor Becker has provided a solid positive performance in leading the city. Salt Lake City is reviving, with great hopes for the new downtown development to come online next year. Becker's approval ratings are in the stratosphere and state officials enjoy a decent relationship with the capital city. Further, the city is devoid of scandal and antagonistic feelings with neighboring communities. Thus, the Becker administration is quiet, competent, successful ... and boring — just what the city needs.
However, former mayor Rocky Anderson is upset at Becker's pragmatism of dumping his predecessor's loony legacy. Rocky is recruiting candidates to challenge Becker, and may perform the task himself. (Any Salt Lake resident wishing the return of Anderson has a stale muffin for brains.) There are whispers that City Councilman Soren Simonson is also considering a run. This is interesting gossip of potential disloyalty; Becker's endorsement of Simonsen made the difference in his very close 2009 council race. A Republican — no matter how qualified — cannot menace Becker in this liberal bastion.
Webb: In an otherwise conservative state, Salt Lake City remains a snake pit of liberalism. It's a lonely place for Republicans. Living in the heart of downtown, I may be the only Republican for miles. I'm the token Republican in my Sunday School class.
Becker's stint as mayor hasn't been spectacular, but it's been serviceable and solid. He hasn't been a liberal ideologue like his predecessor, and has likely disappointed some wild-eyed progressives. But things are looking up in the city. It's, uh, rising. Besides, Becker will get on his bike, ride all over the city, and out-campaign any opponent. And my wife says he looks pretty good in spandex. A good Republican mayor would never wear such an outfit. So Becker is poised for re-election.
Is Sen. Orrin Hatch really running for an unprecedented (in Utah) sixth term? That would be a whopping 42 years in the U.S. Senate.
Webb: Of course he is. He is spry, doesn't drool, and still remembers my name. He'll be 78 by election day 2012, just a kid in some Utah leadership circles. Seriously, having replaced influential Sen. Bob Bennett with a newbie, Utah needs to keep Hatch in the Senate to maintain some clout in Washington. And Hatch will have plenty of power if he ascends to the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, as is likely in 2012. Anyone really concerned about deficit spending and entitlement reform should remember that Hatch will be positioned to actually do something about it.
Pignanelli: Orrin Hatch remains the 800-pound gorilla of Utah politics — he started his re-election campaign two years ago. An original leader of the 1970s' "Reagan Revolution" (what the tea party was called back then), he is aggressively solidifying credentials with conservatives. "Mr. 73 percent" a.k.a. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, is still considering a challenge, and so is up and comer State Sen. Dan Liljenquist.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing over Utah's continuing low voter turnout. Should state leaders do something about this?
Pignanelli: Some politicos blame voter apathy on a variety of dynamics: one-party domination, the delegate system, reapportionment, etc. But these all existed 20 years ago when Utahns led the nation in election participation. Indeed, many of the highest turnouts in 2008 and 2010 were in Republican homogeneous communities where Democrats are roadkill. A populace that disregards its democratic responsibilities will soon hold other important traditions in contempt. Our leaders must investigate what cultural phenomenon is discouraging this imperative civic responsibility.
Webb: Actually, voter turnout improved quite a bit this year, reflecting more interest in the election. Personally, I think the emphasis should be on voter education, not voter turnout. I would just as soon not have a lot of uninformed, apathetic people voting. Let those who don't care and don't have a clue, stay home. Let crucial decisions about representation and ballot measures be made by engaged citizens who have studied the issues and the candidates. We need more informed, intelligent voters, not just more warm bodies at the polls.
Low turnout is caused by a lot of things: satisfaction with the status quo; a feeling that voting won't change anything, so why bother; good, old-fashioned apathy; disgust with the way campaigns are run and covered by the news media; and disengagement and disenchantment with government because it seems so far away and unapproachable. Just making it easier to vote won't change those underlying problems, and won't get more knowledgeable people to the polls.
By the way, have a great Thanksgiving week!
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. E-mail: email@example.com.
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