Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Legislative all-stars: How our elected players performed

Published: Sunday, March 16 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Utah State Capitol shines against the Salt Lake Valley, Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Editor’s note: Webb is out of the country this week, so Pignanelli has written this column solo.

The legislative session ended last week, just in time for Utahns to focus on what is important — basketball. In keeping with this theme, we analyze how our elected players performed:

Coach of the year: Senate President Wayne Niederhauser provided tremendous leadership, extracting excellence from his team with few words. Niederhauser is on a trajectory of commanding bipartisan statewide respect.

MVP of the year: Rep. Jim Dunnigan is the all-time scoring forward who executed in the most important tasks of the season: serving as chairman of the Health Care Task Force, chairman of the House Investigation Committee and chairman of Business Labor Committee; spearheading ethics reform, streamlining government regulations, etc. The Legislature succeeded because of Dunnigan’s hard work and insightful actions.

Outstanding league/conference commissioner: Gov. Gary Herbert subtly guided action on the floor. He deftly used the threat of technical fouls (“veto”) to direct plays in the Count My Vote and technology initiatives. Politicos concur the session benefited the governor’s already robust reputation.

Flop: The session began with the expectation of a gas tax increase, but most lawmakers took the intentional fall to avoid this in an election year.

Cinderella story: Few politicos expected health insurance mandate coverage for autism to gain traction. Yet, after hard work by sponsor Sen. Brian Shiozawa and advocates, the bill flew out of the Senate, forcing insurance companies into a compromise. Even House conservatives joined the cause to ensure final passage.

Loudest fans: “Autism Speaks” is the brilliant advocacy organization that shrewdly targeted legislators with heartbreaking tales from neighbors. Its success is a colossal reminder that the process works and lawmakers will listen.

Toughest coach: Speaker Rebecca Lockhart started the game fast and rough, building a strong lead. But she could not rally in the fourth quarter to fend off a full-court press against her modernization proposal. The retiring “Iron Lady” will long be remembered for her tenacity.

Air ball: Medicaid expansion never got close to the rim. But expect another shot in special session later in the year.

Utah’s Washington Generals: Democrats often resemble this stalwart — but always losing — team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters. They try hard, but the outcome is predictable.

Halftime entertainment: The posturing, chest-thumping, bragging, threatening and great bluffing in the Count My Vote storm was great fun to watch.

Best clutch player: Sen. Curt Bramble, in the tradition of Utah Jazz legend Karl Malone, delivers every session on dozens of issues. Most notably, his alternative to CMV forced a discussion between warring parties.

Power forward: Rep. Francis Gibson excelled as a screen to advance House leadership projects.

Loose ball: The “Zion Curtain” bounced around the court, but no one was able to play with it.

Feistiest defensive players: Democrats Rep. Brian King, Sen. Karen Mayne and Sen. Jim Dabakis never failed to push back against right-wing rhetoric.

Scouting report: Sens. Deidre Henderson and Todd Weiler are future contenders for Senate leadership.

Sharpest elbows: Rep. Mike McKell’s sense of humor and intense cross-examination style was fun to watch (unless you were the recipient).

Top rebounder: Rep. Greg Hughes surpasses others at snatching progressive issues (i.e. clean air, social impact bonds, etc.) and transforming them into conservative causes.

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