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.

Pignanelli: Most Americans doubt the collective intelligence of the U.S. Congress. The real test of brains for the current crop of federal legislators will occur this month. If a meaningful proposal is not produced, or the deadline is not extended, Congress will signal that they remain beholden to irrational right-wing tea party activists or bigger government promoters from the left. Americans will not tolerate another face-off that threatens the economy, the stock market and their 401(k)s. "Throw out the bums" will be the bipartisan mantra against incumbents in 2012.

Jason Chaffetz has proposed substantive Social Security reform. Any chance of passage?

Pignanelli: Because I am younger than LaVarr, I commend Chafftez's mention of Social Security with more than just flowery statements. But real — and needed — reform is years away.

Webb: As I descend into geezer-hood and begin to slobber, I'm satisfied that my Social Security benefits are secure. But I have little confidence my children and grandchildren will be so fortunate. And that's the beauty of the Chaffetz proposal. It is solid. It is substantive. It is honest and real, and it preserves Social Security for future generations. Chaffetz deserves praise for showing that a member of Congress can propose meaningful entitlement reform and not play political games. He demonstrates that the GOP isn't just the party of NO! Too bad Obama won't make such grown-up proposals.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a 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. Email: frankp@xmission.com.

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