Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Obama, Lockhart and Herbert: A tale of three speeches

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Jordan Allred, Deseret News

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Three speeches last week have kept political tongues wagging. Speaker Rebecca Lockhart kicked off the 2014 legislative session by pointedly criticizing Gov. Gary Herbert for “inaction.” Then Barack Obama, in his State of the Union speech, threatened to bypass Congress. Finally, Gov. Herbert delivered an energetic State of the State speech. Here is our two cents worth:

Was Speaker Lockhart’s speech the opening salvo of the 2016 Republican gubernatorial nomination race?

Pignanelli: “It is intended, that the three branches of government experience tension and competition. Friction is a sign of the system at work.” — Peter Shane

To characterize Lockhart’s speech as a campaign stunt is an insult to the speaker ... and the governor. Lockhart is a gutsy, intelligent (former nurse), articulate conservative who shocked the Utah political world by knocking off popular incumbent Speaker Dave Clark in 2010. Although known for a tough demeanor, the “Iron Lady” united the House GOP Caucus through her open style. This is Lockhart’s last legislative session, and many expected the final speech to be a genteel listing of accomplishments as she fades into the sunset. That is not her style.

Gov. Herbert is exceedingly popular with Utahns, especially as our state is recognized nationally for its exceptionalism in many areas. While some Republicans privately question his leadership style, no one disputes the Herbert cabinet is stuffed with competent professionals with solid management skills. Lockhart’s speech was an acknowledgment that Herbert is at the top of the political mountain, impervious to traditional legislative actions of persuasion. Lockhart and her caucus have aired concerns in public as a tool to pull the governor toward their perspective in state policies.

Webb: She made it abundantly clear she’s gunning for Herbert, attempting to differentiate herself from the good-natured governor.

Was it wise for a Republican speaker to criticize her Republican governor at the beginning of a legislative session?

Pignanelli: Lockhart’s critique of Herbert reflects the realities of Utah’s political dynamics. The GOP dominates most political venues. Therefore, a practical analysis of government performance is usually not proffered by Democrats, but through other Republicans. The Herbert administration has fostered numerous important initiatives in education, economic development, etc. The speaker openly challenged the governor — and the Legislature — to do better. This approach places short-term risk on both branches, as the media and political pundits will provide analysis as to who prevailed in the session. But Utahns will benefit from a greater incentive to accomplish goals.

Webb: One of Lockhart’s House Republican colleagues told me, “I wonder if she forgot that he (Herbert) has to sign our bills.” Her tone was unexpected and a little jarring, especially because Herbert is a very popular governor. One should not imply a political opponent is a weak leader without demonstrating strong leadership oneself. In her speech, Lockhart did not propose anything gutsy or sweeping for any of the big issues: clean air, education, health care or the coming transportation crisis. She worried about Utah “coasting,” but didn’t suggest bold initiatives. She called for an “education renaissance” and more investment in teachers, but listed all the “small ball” education solutions everyone talks about.

Lockhart pointedly opposed a gas tax increase when every honest politician on the Hill knows such an increase is crucial to avoid transferring enormous amounts of general fund money into transportation. Gas tax purchasing power has dropped dramatically since it was raised some 17 years ago by Gov. Mike Leavitt and a courageous Legislature. She didn’t propose a transportation solution.

On clean air, she again listed the litany of small solutions. On Medicaid expansion, she criticized Herbert, but didn’t offer an alternative plan.

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