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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Fun and games still abound from Capitol Hill

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

Columnists Pignanelli and Webb examine how events, people and trends of the past 12 months have influenced Utah politics.

Mike Terry, Deseret News Archives

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The Olympics are over and March Madness is still two weeks away. But Capitol Hill will offer great entertainment during the interim. Although legislators are responsibly — and boringly — refraining from weird message legislation, political intrigue still abounds. So put some popcorn in the microwave, plop down in an easy chair, and watch the fun and games. We highlight some of the interesting contests. (Note: Frank represents some combatants in these matches, and LaVarr volunteers for Count My Vote.)

Governor and some legislators v. other legislators, Round I:

Pignanelli: “Politics is a contact sport.” — James Kilpatrick

If Speaker Rebecca Lockhart and her House drew the line in the sand with a technology initiative, they dug a canal with a Medicaid expansion alternative that eschews federal dollars and only uses state funds. The Senate and governor are not amused and this promises to be a real cage fight. One of the country's most knowledgeable experts on health insurance — Rep. James Dunnigan — is shepherding the House effort. This is a brilliant pick by Lockhart because no one can challenge his expertise and he lends huge credibility to the controversial plan. The Senate has its proposal, championed by the well-respected physician Sen. Brian Shiozawa. Beware of blood spatters.

Webb: With the Senate’s help, the final result will be closer to the governor’s plan than the House position. It’s hard to justify turning down hundreds of millions of federal dollars for poor people when Utah uses plenty of federal money for all sorts of other programs.

Count My Vote v. Bramble:

Pignanelli: This contest is reminiscent of the famous Tiananmen Square image of a lone Chinese protester standing in front of a tank brigade. The well-funded and well-heeled Count My Vote force was succeeding … until Sen. Curt Bramble stepped in their way. His Senate colleagues have joined him. Do the tanks retreat or continue to roll?

Webb: A much better metaphor: It’s the Legislature’s playground, and bullies hang around, so let them play their games. Citizens, at the ballot box, ultimately get to set the rules and this can’t end happily for legislators if they try to nullify the right of citizens to enact a law.

Restaurants, diners and libertarian teetotalers v. hyper-concerned teetotalers:

Pignanelli: Many Utahns remained unconvinced that a 7-foot wall (“Zion Curtain”) in a restaurant helps to dissuade youngsters from drinking. The speeches on either side will be passionate, but the outcome predictable.

Webb: Anyone who wishes to avoid seeing bottles of alcohol or drinks prepared can patronize a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol.

Millcreek City fanatics v. Unincorporation zealots v. Salt Lake County's Ben McAdams:

Pignanelli: The massive civil war over incorporation being fought on the east branch of the county has a new front at the Capitol. McAdams is trying to achieve peace with legislation that freezes boundaries to allow for greater deliberations, but emotions are running high.

Webb: The crazy-quilt political jurisdiction makeup of Salt Lake County creates all sorts of service delivery problems and has defied resolution for decades. McAdams doesn’t have a consensus solution, but he deserves kudos for trying hard.

Campaign reform v. politics-as-we-know-it:

Pignanelli: Although most Utah officials run clean operations, the John Swallow debacle has spawned numerous bills addressing campaign finance — many by House Investigations Chairman Dunnigan. So lawmakers — through no fault of theirs — now have to impose many restrictions and limits that will change Utah elections.

Webb: Dirty things happen in politics, but bad behavior is not rampant in Utah and pretty good laws already exist. We ought not to make running for office or serving in office so onerous that good people are discouraged from participating.

Privacy extremists v. political operatives, research organizations:

Pignanelli: Although an actual case of harm is elusive, the emotional threat is compelling legislation that eliminates public access to voter registration rolls. Lawmakers will balance the cries for privacy against increases to campaign expenses by at least 500 percent. Much hand wringing to come.

Webb: I’m so old that I remember when “big data” (everyone’s name and home address) existed in a big, thick, printed document — known as a phone book. Every household had at least one copy. You could find about any address or phone number in 10 seconds. Today, whole industries are built around analyzing and slicing and dicing the state voter file. So cut out the birth dates and allow anyone to delete their data. But don’t give special privileges to politicians, candidates, campaign consultants, journalists or lobbyists. Make what’s available to them available to everyone. That’s only fair.

Governor and some legislators v. other legislator’s Round II:

Pignanelli: Lockhart's aggressive technology initiative is expensive. Funding will require changes to current funding or absorbing new dollars. Either method breeds hostility.

Webb: Everyone supports more technology in schools. But the value of the initiative has to be weighed against all other state priorities, and it’s really tough to find the money.

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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