Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Who owns the soul of the Utah Republican Party?

Published: Sunday, April 24 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

A battle is underway between mainstream conservatives and far-right conservatives for the heart and soul of the Utah Republican Party. Who's winning?

Webb: As a mainstream conservative, I agree with far-right conservatives that we need limited government and low taxes. Most of our ultimate goals are similar. But I differ in tone and approach.

Clearly, the Tea Party, Eagle Forum, Patrick Henry Caucus, and 912 groups have been highly visible and influential and have successfully framed the issues. Republican leaders pay attention to them, even fear them.

But the far right and their brand of conservatism doesn't represent the majority of Republicans, and they must not be allowed to control the Republican Party. And I'm sensing that the pendulum is swinging back toward traditional, mainstream Utah conservatism.

It isn't right-wing conservatism that built this state into what it is. Mainstream conservative legislators, governors, and city and county leaders, along with active business and non-profit communities, have balanced budgets and kept government from growing too much, while also investing in infrastructure, public education, higher education, and a safety net for those who need it.

Mainstream conservatism is practical, problem-solving, get-it-done conservatism. It isn't overly divisive, or aggressively ideological, and it doesn't use litmus tests that alienate anyone not 100% "pure."

Mainstream conservatism champions robust but civil debate and discourse. It recognizes that the other side sometimes has some good points, that finding common ground isn't surrender, and that getting 70% of what you want in politics is usually pretty darn good.

It's the kind of leadership provided by some great governors: Gary Herbert, Jon Huntsman, Olene Walker, Mike Leavitt, Norm Bangerter and, yes, even Scott Matheson and Cal Rampton.

It's a brand of conservatism that works, that balances the need for low taxes and limited government with the legitimate tasks of government.

It's the kind of practical conservatism that has made Utah, as Ronald Reagan might describe it, "a shining city on a hill," a place where government works and problems get solved.

This is the kind of conservatism that should define the Utah Republican Party, and it's time for mainstream conservatives, backed by the intellectual firepower of groups like the Sutherland Institute, to take back their party.

Pignanelli: "There are few things more amusing than watching moderate Republicans charging to the right in pursuit of greater glory." — Governor Mario Cuomo (D-NY)

I am surprised to learn that some politicos still wonder who controls the Utah GOP. The answer was delivered in May 2010 when popular incumbent Bob Bennett was thoroughly decimated at his convention by ultraconservatives.

Since then, almost every Republican office holder, regardless of mainstream belief, has boasted of their deep conservative credentials. Currently, GOP candidates for president and state office must appease Tea Party and other extreme elements. With the exception of Ambassador Jon Huntsman, no high profile Republican officials are proclaiming their "moderation."

The final struggle for the soul of the Utah GOP will be immigration. In the recent legislative session, courageous lawmakers with bona fide conservative credentials (Sen. Curt Bramble and Rep. Bill Wright) crafted an alternative to the Arizona act. Their legislation respects the rule of law, allows compassion and provides Utah business with hard workers.

Though probably unconstitutional, their effort garnered respect nationwide. Yet, the far right promised retribution for their efforts — a real threat because of the delegate system.

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