Politics can indeed be bizarre. Big controversies and hot topics sometimes capture the attention of the public but, to everyone’s surprise, fizzle as election year issues. As Utah politics exits the convention phase and enters the primary election season, we explore these unusual dynamics.
Serious allegations and scandal swirled around the Attorney General’s Office under its former leadership. Indictments and criminal charges are still possible. So why is the Swallow debacle a non-issue so far in this election year?
Pignanelli: “Revenge is a much more punctual paymaster than gratitude.” — Charles Caleb Colton
Republicans being Republicans, it won't happen. But every GOP candidate should send thank-you notes and flowers to House Speaker Rebecca Lockhart, former Lt. Gov. Greg Bell , Gov. Gary Herbert and legislative leadership for initiating and completing an aggressive investigation into the allegations against Swallow. The final report from the Lieutenant Governor's Office was well-crafted and pushed Swallow to resignation. The House Investigation Committee, impeccably led by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, was thorough and nonpartisan (i.e. no minority report challenging conclusions). Also, legislative Democrats deserve credit for responsibly asking important questions but allowing the process to move forward.
Political observers across the country are dumbfounded that local Republicans are not suffering smear tactics by Democrats on this topic. Activists are suggesting campaigns against GOP incumbents scream about “Culture of Corruption," "Atmosphere of Arrogance" and other such spin perfected by Newt Gingrich. But Utah officials behaved like typical Utahns and did what needed to be done — outing the misconduct and passing ethics reform legislation. Therefore, blaming Republicans who were unaware of the antics surrounding the former attorneys general is pointless and the election discourse is more civil. Doing the right thing can pay dividends.
Webb: Democratic opportunists can’t get traction on this matter because Republicans dealt with it quickly and forthrightly. Republicans were as outraged as Democrats. They aggressively investigated, tightened some laws, and made no attempt to sweep it under a rug. Newly appointed Attorney General Sean Reyes has no taint of scandal (in fact, in some ways he was a victim), and is working to clean up the office. By doing what’s right, Republicans have turned the Swallow mess into a non-issue.
During the Great Winter Inversion of 2013-14, Wasatch Front residents of every political stripe expressed rage over dirty air. The Legislature passed a number of air quality bills, but many observers believe the effort was nominal. While some voters remain concerned, why is air quality a non-issue so far in election races?
Pignanelli: There are no elections during the inversion season. Any hacking and coughing plaguing Utahns between March and December is from mold and pollen. The rule “out of sight, out of mind” governs and few voters are bugging candidates about the issue.
Webb: Spring has sprung and the air is sweet and clean. It’s hard to stay upset about an aggravation that occurs just a few weeks of the year. Personally, I’d like to see air quality remain a high-profile issue. I’d like to see Republican and Democratic candidates explain how they will make a difference. Much can still be done, especially allowing local governments and local voters to decide if they want to expand public transit. (I worked with the Salt Lake Chamber’s Transportation Coalition on that issue.) Democrats should have a natural advantage on this issue, but clean air shouldn’t be a partisan matter. Both Republicans and Democrats have worked on air quality, so it’s hard for one party to gain advantage over another. Republican Rep. Johnny Anderson, for example, was the chief champion of expanding public transit.
The legislative compromise on Count My Vote is disparaged by right- and left-wing delegates. Some lawmakers who voted for the measure were threatened in a general sense immediately after the session concluded, but most have survived. Those incumbents who do not survive a convention, or place in the primary, were hampered for other reasons. Is Count My Vote a non-issue?
Pignanelli: The legislation preserves an option for delegate selection of nominees, which did not exist with the original initiative. Activists are angry, but it is hard to motivate most party regulars when they retain some power. (Republican hardliners seem unaware about a feature in the legislation that could hamper ultra-conservative ideological purity — allowing non-affiliated voters to participate in a party primary).
Webb: The compromise legislation passed by healthy margins, and these election reforms are supported by a big majority of citizens. Except in the most conservative districts, running against Count My Vote wouldn’t be smart strategy. So most candidates are happy to avoid this argument.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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: email@example.com