Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Harbingers of spring — cherry blossoms and political wrangling

Published: Sunday, April 6 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utahns are witnessing the traditional harbingers of spring — beautiful cherry blossoms and nasty wrangling leading up to county and state conventions. The lineup of candidates shows plenty of people want to hold political office in Utah.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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Pignanelli & Webb: “Inner-Party criticism is a weapon for strengthening the Party organization and increasing its fighting capacity." — Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

Utahns are witnessing the traditional harbingers of spring — beautiful cherry blossoms and nasty wrangling leading up to county and state conventions. The lineup of candidates is an indication that plenty of people want to hold political office in Utah. Here are a number of interesting contests that politicos are watching:

Democrat demolition derby. With the retirement of popular State Sen. Pat Jones, Senate District 4 (east Salt Lake County) is up for grabs for both Democrats and Republicans. Former Sen. Ross Romero and former Salt Lake County Council member Jani Iwamoto are slugging it out among delegates for the Democratic nomination. This war is pitting the various Democratic factions against each other, and the county convention may not decide the race, pushing it to a primary. However, the winner in this swing district will need to face a formidable Republican opponent in November — Holladay City councilwoman Sabrina Petersen. Republican Philip Carlson is also running in that district.

Fire in Iron. Cedar City and Iron County are battlegrounds for two matches within Republican ranks. State Sen. Evan Vickers is challenged by the former occupant of his seat, Casey Anderson, while freshman Rep. John Westwood faces stiff opposition from Iron County GOP Chair Blake Cozzens. Both races have serious ramifications for the state. Vickers and Westwood supported the compromise on Count My Vote, and how that support plays with delegates could set a trend. Further, a Vickers victory may put him in line for Senate Republican leadership.

Nothing but clear skies. All incumbent congressmen (Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart, Jason Chaffetz) and 4th District front-runner Mia Love face opponents in the April 26 Republican state convention. But the challengers will likely be swept aside. A primary in any of these races will indicate weakness that could be a problem, especially in 2016, when the alternative route to the ballot may encourage more intraparty challenges.

Really, what are you thinking? Democrats face enormous struggles to prevail in congressional elections. Common sense, including basic political strategy, dictates the party should be unified behind one candidate. But Democrats, being Democrats, cannot help themselves. Former Army officer and author Donna McAleer faces physician Peter Clemens for the 1st District nomination. Attorney Doug Owens (son of former Congressman Wayne Owens) must deal with engineer Bill Peterson before confronting the Mia Love machine in District 4.

If you can't beat ‘em ... Former Democratic Rep. Christine Watkins of Price lost to Republican Jerry Anderson in 2012, leaving Utah without a single Democratic legislator outside of Salt Lake County. So this year she switched party affiliation and is running as a Republican against Anderson. This should make for an interesting GOP convention.

Utah County conservatives vs. Utah County conservatives. Disharmony exists in the state’s command central for ideological purity. Pleasant Grove Rep. Brian Greene is challenged by Holly Richardson (who was previously appointed to that seat but resigned to manage Dan Liljenquist’s ill-fated campaign against Sen. Orrin Hatch) and Michael Plowman (a fundraiser for Boy Scouts of America).

Five candidates seek to fill the shoes of Speaker Rebecca Lockhart. And freshman legislator and self-made businesswoman Rep. Dana Layton is confronting a strong challenge from former lawmaker Brad Daw, who wants his seat back. Daw received considerable attention and sympathy during the House investigation of John Swallow because some PACs established by Swallow operatives unfairly targeted Daw in the 2012 election. Layton was not involved in those activities, but the issue has created interesting political dynamics.

Can’t we all get along? Two-term incumbent Davis County Commissioner Bret Millburn has two GOP challengers — Brian Muir and Dave Hill. Meanwhile, Michelle Scharf, Jim Smith and Barry Fitton are wrangling for the other commission spot.

Fight for minor offices. Former Democratic Salt Lake County auditor Jeff Hatch is seeking to oust Republican Greg Hawkins but must first overcome longtime Democrat activist Christopher Stout. Hawkins also faces an intraparty opponent, Scott Tingley.

Democratic pain continues. The departures of House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, House Minority Whip Tim Cosgrove and well-liked Lynn Hemingway are a blow to Democrats. However, there is a scramble to replace them. Three Democrats are angling for Seelig’s safe “blue” seat, so whoever prevails will likely be elected in November. Cosgrove and Hemingway represent swing districts. Thus, three Republicans are seeking the nomination to face Democrat Christine Passey in Cosgrove’s district. Three Democrats are seeking to replace Hemingway, with the winner facing Republican Peter Kraus.

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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