Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: A look back on a year that was full of amazing political highlights

Published: Sunday, Dec. 19 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Pignanelli and Webb: 2010 was an amazing and tumultuous year, both nationally and in Utah. In order to beat the rush on year-end analysis, we offer our perspectives on the important 2010 political highlights in Utah.

The domino effect on steroids. The U. S. House of Representatives passes highly controversial health care reform on the Sunday before Utah's neighborhood precinct caucus meetings on March 21. President Barack Obama signs the act, hated by conservatives, on caucus day. Opponents and proponents of the landmark legislation are energized, greatly impacting the 2010 election cycle.

We are mad as @#$%! Tea Party activists and others angry at the federal government flood the Republican precinct caucuses in unprecedented numbers — receiving national recognition as an early show of conservative strength.

We are Utah conservatives ... hear us roar! At the Republican state convention, aggressive GOP delegates capture global attention by unceremoniously sacking Sen. Bob Bennett, a popular national icon of mainstream bipartisanship and a member of Utah's political aristocracy.

We are Utah liberals ... in numbers easy to ignore ... except at the convention! Utah's left wing, irritated that Utah's lone Democrat in Congress spurned many of their high profile initiatives (i.e. health reform, cap and trade, etc.), dominate the delegate-selection process at the March Democratic caucus meetings. Similar to their GOP counterparts, at the Democratic State Convention they dismiss another Utah family political legacy and force Rep. Jim Matheson into a primary against unknown Claudia Wright.

Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of another U.S. Senator. Immediately after the Republican convention that dumped Bennett, Third Congressional District Rep. Jason Chaffetz makes it clear he may run against Sen. Orrin Hatch. Chaffetz is extremely popular with far-right delegates, and the threat is real. Having watched the Bennett debacle unfold, Hatch immediately begins to bolster relationships with Tea Party activists, conservative legislators, and other prominent delegates.

We're sending a message! Despite coming in second to Tim Bridgewater at the convention, Mike Lee defeats Bridgewater in the June Republican primary in what is heralded by national media as another Tea Party victory. Lee's focus on the Constitution and conservative positions set the standard for Tea Party candidates in other states in their upcoming primaries.

Rise of the street brawler. In late summer, gubernatorial candidate Peter Corroon launches an unprecedented negative media barrage against Gov. Gary Herbert. Because Utahns are unaccustomed to such tactics, both the content of the ads — and the use of them — become vigorous topics of conversation for politicos and the voting population. The advertising blitz ultimately backfires.

Back to caucusing in the phone booth. Utah Democrats suffer significant legislative losses, further diminishing their role in the Legislature, holding 17 of 75 House seats, 7of 29 in the Senate. The only Democratic lawmaker outside of Salt Lake County is Christine Watkins of Price. After reapportionment, Democrats are likely to lose another handful of seats through consolidation.

Vengeance is best served cold. Gov. Herbert is more than just re-elected by Utahns. Although Corroon spent more than $2 million, Herbert beats him soundly with more than 63 percent of the vote. The additional sweetener for Herbert is that he won Salt Lake County (where Corroon is the popular mayor), an achievement even popular Gov. Jon Huntsman could not claim in his first election.

She's the man! Two days after the general election, Utah County lawmaker Becky Lockhart unseats incumbent Speaker David Clark in a surprising upset. One reason Republican caucus members wanted a change in leadership was Clark's unrelenting push for health care reform. His efforts were even denigrated by a few colleagues as "Obamacare lite " or "ClarkCare". Conservative legislators, feeling their oats from a number of victories (including taking down Bennett, electing Lee, capturing legislative seats, etc.) were anxious to further demonstrate their newfound clout.

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