Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What did last week's election tell about the future?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Jason Chaffetz has proposed substantive Social Security reform.

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There was plenty of political news last week beyond flare ups by women accusing Herman Cain of sexual harassment. We explore some of it:

Are the results of the Utah municipal elections a predictor for the 2012 elections?

Pignanelli: "Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks." — Doug Larson. Note to Utah politicians, candidates and campaign operatives: Results of the 2011 elections clearly demonstrate that Utah voters are grumpy. Service on a city council or school district board is dismal duty in America's democracy, but local politics are clearly the "canary in the coal mine" indicator of trends. A number of incumbent council members lost re-election or barely eked out a victory. "Experience" was not the usual campaign advantage to many officeholders seeking reappointment.

Another important element is that various bonding initiatives for non-educational purposes were defeated. South Salt Lake City residents, a haven for Democrats, rejected a tax increase to transform the former Granite High School into a community center. Republican-dominated locales defeated other bonding proposals. Partisanship is no longer an indicator of affection for borrowing.

Utah politicos will seriously analyze these results for the upcoming delegate/convention activities. Angst among municipal election voters foretells similar emotions with the highly active delegates and precinct caucus attendees. All are warned.

Webb: Most Utah municipal race outcomes were determined by local circumstances, hard work, and quality of candidates. Few meaningful trends or themes emerged to analyze for 2012. Sure, voters are depressed and they don't like taxes, but we didn't need an election to tell us that.

A number of other states had interesting election results. What do they mean for 2012?

Pignanelli: Republicans predicting the demise of President Obama and congressional Democrats got a cold slap in the face. A number of high-profile Democrats were elected and numerous GOP initiatives were defeated. Americans may be frustrated with the president, but they are finding no joy or solace with all the shenanigans occurring amongst the Republican presidential contenders. In 2012, the GOP will need to do more than just dump on Obama to garner any victories.

Webb: Victories and defeats were about even for both political parties. An important lesson for Republicans, however, is to avoid overreach. We are a center-right nation, but when arch-conservatives go too far, get too ideological and right-wing, they lose. Witness the defeat of anti-immigration extremist Russell Pearce in Arizona, the overwhelming failure of the "personhood" constitutional amendment in conservative Mississippi and repeal of a harsh Ohio law curbing public-sector union rights. Voters will punish those who take conservatism to extremes. Mainstream America is far more conservative than liberal, thank goodness, but it's not right-wing. We saw evidence of that even in the enormous 2010 GOP landslide when Republicans went too far in a handful of states, nominated far-right candidates like Sharron Angle in Nevada and lost races they should have easily won. The old adage is true: Pigs get fat. Hogs get slaughtered.

The congressional Super Committee is required to finalize its budget-cutting report by the end of this week. Is a realistic, meaningful proposal forthcoming?

Webb: Let's hope so. This is a real test whether Congress can actually govern this country. It would be a happy beginning to the holiday season if Congress could make meaningful progress on controlling entitlement outlays and get the budget under control. A sensible, substantive agreement that avoids a Greece-like outcome would give businesses and citizens confidence that we are on a path toward fiscal stability. The stock market would respond favorably, businesses would be more inclined to hire and the overall economy would get a lift. If they fail miserably, it will be a depressing holiday season.

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