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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What will Herbert do with this hot potato of a bill?

Published: Sunday, March 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah legislative sessions are rather like convenience store hotdogs — a few bites of enjoyment, but the aftertaste lingers on and on. The 2012 session ended several days ago, but the aroma clings to the governor's office. Here are our thoughts on two hot topics in political circles, along with an update on the presidential primaries.

The Legislature dumped a hot potato in the lap of Gov. Gary Herbert in the form of HB363, the sex education legislation. Although few people have actually read the bill, almost everyone has an opinion. What are the election year political ramifications of Herbert signing or vetoing the bill?

Pignanelli: "Things you refuse to meet today always come back at you later on, usually under circumstances which make the decision twice as difficult as it originally was." — Eleanor Roosevelt Utahns should pity Gov. Herbert. Last year, he waded through the political swamp of HB477 and immigration. This year was looking brighter, then the Legislature dumped this mess on him. Serious political consequences surround the governor. A veto guarantees heartburn with far-right GOP activists and the emotional potential to propel one of Herbert's intraparty opponents into a primary. Herbert will eventually prevail, but no incumbent wants the hassle and expense of a primary. Should the governor not veto, he will enjoy a nice convention and a primary-free summer. However, this will stymie his fundraising efforts with moderates frustrated at right-wing antics. Furthermore, political and media observers will comment throughout the year that he surrendered to the right-wing. His Democratic opponent, Peter Cook, will continuously harass him for failing to lead.

Yet, political opportunities exist for the governor. Every day, my children — as with thousands of Utah children — are bombarded with sexual innuendo through hundreds of television channels, Internet sites, social networking, downloadable videos, etc. We parents cannot be with our kids every moment to offer practical counseling. Most Utahns (as reflected in a BYU poll) desire common sense assistance from the schools our children attend. A Herbert veto will tap into this quiet majority — which is much broader than the narrow base pushing him otherwise.

Webb: This is a tough one for Herbert, as it would be for any governor. But it's not politically fatal. Herbert has a reservoir of goodwill and support, and he'll be fine whether he signs or vetoes. Since the issue definitely cuts both ways (vetoing might hurt him among some conservative delegates, but allowing it to become law might hurt him among independents in the general election), Herbert should just do what he personally thinks is right. He's going to expend some political capital in this one, but he has plenty to invest.

I'm really not sure what terrible problem the Legislature was trying to solve by passing HB363. I didn't detect any great groundswell of outrage over the way sex education was being handled in Utah schools, especially with 90 percent of parents opting to have their children participate in current programs. But lawmakers did what they did, and the buck stops with the governor. Herbert should listen to both sides, make his decision, explain his reasoning — and deal with the consequences. Success in politics means having 50 percent support, plus one. Herbert will do just fine.

A number of key legislators have announced their retirements — either to return to private life or to seek higher office. Is this a trend or just election-year fatigue?

Pignanelli: Technology and population growth are increasing the demands on part-time lawmakers, preventing them from fulfilling career and family obligations. Thus, the state will lose some of the best people who ever served it: Todd Kiser, Karen Morgan, David Litvack, John Dougall, Mike Morley, Ross Romero.

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