Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: The powerhouses who influence the legislative process

Published: Sunday, Feb. 12 2012 2:00 p.m. MST

Politicos love to recite the old Otto von Bismarck adage that laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made. Well, many butchers are hard at work on Capitol Hill. We obviously pay a lot of attention to key lawmakers who are in the thick of the sausage-making. But some true powerhouses in the butcher shop are often overlooked. We take a look at a few of the organizations and individuals that influence the legislative process.

Utah League of Cities & Towns. We may think we live in a rural state, but nine of 10 Utahns live in a municipality. Thus, this trade association enjoys a very large constituency. At least one-third of legislators were former mayors or council members.

Certainly, lawmakers sometimes run roughshod over individual city (especially Salt Lake City) priorities. But, taken as a whole, the league often gets what it wants. The force behind the league juggernaut is long-time Executive Director Ken Bullock, who has been around much longer than most lawmakers. He mixes a laid-back style with a ferocious advocacy for cities.

His deputy, Lincoln Shurtz, is one of the best legislative strategists around. The common phrase when reviewing legislation is, "Where is the league on this?" The league's friendly demeanor can switch when cities are in jeopardy and the League mobilizes its members across the state. Fighting the league is like wrestling with an octopus: You may win once in a while but you always get mauled. It is a sign of a healthy democracy that the representatives of our smallest political subdivisions have real clout.

Utah Realtors Association. Well-known in political circles for having the largest PAC in the state, the influence of Realtors is obvious. Also, member Realtors tend to be savvy activists engaged in their churches, chambers of commerce and communities. Money and energy are powerful forces on Capitol Hill. Indeed, when the Realtors and the League butt heads, which occurs on a somewhat regular basis, it can be great fun to watch. Under the leadership of Chris Kyler and Michael Ostermiller, the Realtors often prevail.

Utah Taxpayers Association. Especially in today's political environment, no elected official wants to be tagged with the "tax and spend" label. But creative ways to "enhance revenues" abound, and the UTA is not shy in condemning attempts to wring more from taxpayers. It helps, of course, to have your own guy in the Legislature. The face of the organization is the anti-tax bulldog and state senator Howard Stephenson. He is assisted by Royce VanTassel, a fixture at the Capitol. The UTA boasts a blue-chip board of directors representing traditional industries and developing companies. This gives them muscle in state and local government deliberations.

Utah Education Association (and the broader public education coalition). While many lawmakers love to jab the "teachers union," the enormous public education support base still impacts Utah's education policies. Indeed, the words "voucher referendum" still strike terror in Capitol Hill politicos. While many states are forging ahead with school choice initiatives, Utah lawmakers are fearful of another voucher fight. And with tax revenues picking up a bit, most of the additional money is going to public education. Kory Holdaway, UEA's chief lobbyist and a former Republican legislator, is well-liked among lawmakers.

Utah Eagle Form. In terms of results obtained in relation to money expended, the Eagle Forum is the most efficient of all advocacy organizations. Gayle Ruzicka and her eagles also prove that longevity and persistence count a great deal. She has been lobbying longer than some lawmakers have been alive. They succeed against the odds because members "show up" to everything: legislative meetings, precinct caucuses, conventions, etc. While many disagree with her views, Ruzicka demonstrates that grassroots persistence still works.

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