Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What will Utah's 2013 legislative session look like?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 5 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A number of very conservative state legislators sought other offices, retired or were defeated in convention and primary elections this year. We explore the ramifications for the upcoming session.

Will the 2013 session, minus some conservative firebrands, usher in a new era of legislative love, cooperation and moderation?

Pignanelli: "Moderation is a virtue only in those who are thought to have an alternative." — Henry Kissinger. Determining legislative issues is similar to visiting Costco. Every aisle has salespeople hawking something and most of us line up for the food sample — no matter how unlikely we would purchase it otherwise — because it is free! Normally, the cart is filled with the basic dry and food goods for a competitive price. On occasion, some of us (aka males) purchase a huge quantity of strange foodstuff or new gizmo — convinced the bulk amount is a great deal. Eventually this expensive and wasteful acquisition gathers mold in the refrigerator or is abandoned in the garage.

Most legislative issues or press events are freebies — there is minimal cost to sponsor bills and give emotional speeches. Consequently, many Republican lawmakers will demonstrate their conservative credentials on a host of matters (bashing the Feds is especially fun and usually free) at little overhead. The vast majority of deliberations will focus on the basic services of government.

In most family excursions to warehouse stores, there is adult supervision to provide commonsense guidance (aka mom). Legislative leaders play this role at the Capitol and they will allow members to have fun with the free samples but rarely the expensive stuff. There will be outbursts of right-wing passion, but Utahns hope the overall net effect will be moderate. The Legislature will need to focus on more important matters: state-based health care reform, government efficiency and economic development.

Webb: Republican legislators and their leaders will be solid, mainstream conservatives in 2013, supporting low taxes and limited government. That's good, because most Utahns, me included, reflect that conservative political perspective. But I believe the hard-edged, arch-conservative tone and in-your-face attitude will be less prevalent in the upcoming session.

In other words, our legislators will accurately reflect and represent the ideologies and priorities of the mainstream citizens of the state, including the tens of thousands who turned out at party caucuses and defeated a lot of far-right candidates. I am very impressed with the quality of legislative candidates who are going to be elected in November. I believe they will be conservative but willing and able to get some good things done for the state. It's very important to remember that the mainstream won. So let's act like it.

Will there be fewer "message" bills and will progressive legislation be viewed more favorably?

Webb: One person's message bill is another person's idea of solid legislation. Both conservatives and liberals introduce weird, fringe bills. A normal number of message bills may be introduced, but fewer will be passed. Remember, you don't judge a Legislature by what is introduced, or by any speech or single event, but by what is ultimately passed and signed by the governor.

Mainstream issues, including quality education, excellent infrastructure, a common-sense safety net, proper regulation, sensible liquor laws and market-based health care reform will be the focus of the session. Utah voters elected mainstream candidates who reflect mainstream values. Once more time: The mainstream won, so let's act like it.

Pignanelli: I served in the Legislature during the collapse of the Soviet Union. As with millions of Americans, I fully expected the demise of our nemesis to usher in a new era of thoughtful deliberations regarding the role of government and increasing prosperity for everyone. But without missing a beat, right-wing extremists began screeching about black helicopters, the New World order and the "socialist school lunch program." I have a great faith in the creative and conspiratorial juices of ultra right-wingers to concoct new demons (regardless of the election results) which will inspire fresh and exciting varieties of message legislation.

Is the tea party/far right going to fade away or is a big comeback being planned for 2014 when caucus turnout will likely be lower?

Pignanelli: Local activists in both parties know that turnout will be lower in 2014 precinct caucus meetings. They smell opportunity and are already developing loyalty oaths and litmus test questions for candidates.

Webb: My good friends on the far right will be vocal and will assume they have more clout than their election results warrant. Remember (where have you heard this before?): The mainstream won, so let's act like it. Certainly, the far right is planning and organizing for the 2014 election. That's why we need structural reform that facilitates broad, mainstream engagement in the political process. In 2014, we won't have Sen. Orrin Hatch spending $5 million on caucus turnout. We may not have the LDS Church make such a big push. If we leave Utah politics to the activists on the extremes, we will deserve what we get. Despite the big mainstream wins in 2012, we still need structural reform.

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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