Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Record turnout gives color to Utah political landscape

Published: Sunday, April 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Most of the county conventions in recent weeks experienced record turnouts. Is this a trend, and what does it mean short term and long term for politics in Utah?

Webb: Utahns have a keen interest in politics this year, bolstered by Romney in the national spotlight, big races up and down the ballot and strong encouragement from the LDS Church to get involved. Larger participation means a tilt to more mainstream politics and less domination by the passionate extremes — a very positive development. Long term, however, it doesn't mean much unless we can find a way to keep the masses engaged. The caucus/convention system is working well this year, but some modest structural reforms are still necessary to ensure broad participation.

Pignanelli: Polls and convention results indicate a moderate and interesting flavor for 2012 delegates. Democrats eliminated Rep. Brian Doughty, Utah's only openly gay legislator. Conversely, Republicans sent Melvin Nimer and Joe Demma to the primary for the at-large district seat. Nimer is chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans, a caucus for gay GOP members. This really speaks to the change in delegates.

But the 2016 election cycle is an unusual year without statewide races on the ballot. Therefore, unless a compelling issue arises (i.e., immigration), the push for Utahns to attend the precinct caucuses will be diminished. The sensible tone at recent conventions may be a short-term miracle.

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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