Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Occupy Wall Street protesters won't influence local elections

Published: Sunday, Oct. 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Occupy Salt Lake City in Pioneer Park, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011.

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Utah is a unique state with a peculiar but robust culture. However, we are subject to national movements and issues. We explore how a few national trends are impacting Utah.

As with other metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City has its own version of the Occupy Wall Street movement that is protesting the Federal Reserve, banks and large corporations. Will Occupiers have any influence on politics at the national or state level?

Pignanelli: "We've been having a team of alchemists and faith healers and doctors of physics working together to develop a mathematical formula to levitate the building." — Tim Franzen, "leader" of Occupy Atlanta. With rare incidents of aggressive behavior, Occupy Wall Street remains a harmless gathering of activists. They are nonviolent, non-focused and lack any agenda. Thus, I do not understand why so many grouchy Republicans are wasting their energy to publicly badmouth the protests.

This movement (and that's a generous description) includes members with legitimate grievances resulting from the Great Recession. "Occupiers" despise the GOP, and have little regard for President Obama and Democrats. Politically liberal, they do share similarities with the tea party: affinity for ridiculous conspiracy theories, moronic hand made signs, weird clothing, etc. However, tea partiers eventually figured out that change in democracy happens through traditional institutions and swamped the Republican Party (the rest is history). Occupy Wall Street will remain an interesting, but ineffective, sideshow until they develop an agenda and legitimate plan of action. (The group hates lobbyists, so I'm not cheering them on.)

Webb: Many of the positions and much of the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement is wrongheaded and downright dumb. But the protesters strike a note that resonates with many citizens regarding Wall Street's bad behavior that contributed to the economic nosedive. Many Wall Street executives made money on the upside and downside, enjoyed golden parachutes and few were punished for their greed and abuses that contributed to the worst economy since the Great Depression. That's enough to make all of us mad.

So the protests are another manifestation of the angry times in which we live. But it doesn't make sense to rant against capitalism, regular banks and business in general. National Democrats are trying to capitalize on the Occupy Wall Street protests, but the ramshackle movement isn't winning the hearts and minds of very many voters.

While Obama still stands a reasonable chance of being re-elected, most pundits are predicting Republicans gains in Congress and in state elections. What does this mean for Rep. Jim Matheson and other Democratic candidates?

Webb: If Mitt Romney leads the Republican ticket, Utah Democrats, including Jim Matheson, are in big trouble. Even without Romney, the political climate is such that Matheson is going to have the fight of his life, no matter what office he seeks. He was nearly defeated in the last election by an under-funded Morgan Philpot, and this time the Republican nominee will run a well-financed and sophisticated campaign, attracting big national money.

The combination of a sour national political climate (for Democrats), a very unpopular president at the top of the ticket, a new congressional district with two-thirds new voters and a well-financed opponent may drive Matheson to run for governor. Utahns are less concerned about partisanship and ideology when electing a governor. They're more interested in competency, good management and problem-solving. Even that contest, however, will be very difficult for Matheson.

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