Although the 2017 Legislature is history, politicos still have much to discuss. We review topics keeping our feeble minds occupied.
Was the recently concluded legislative session as harmonious and generous as has been portrayed? Will the governor veto any bills?
Pignanelli: “Periods of cooperation between political parties shouldn't be taken for granted; they are a stunning human achievement.” — Renowned psychologist Paul Bloom
Post-session, the only real contentious legislation is lowering the DUI limit from .08 to .05 percent blood alcohol (aka the end of my social life), with key Republicans on either side of the issue.
"Kumbaya" was hummed through the Capitol. The Senate and the House agreed on tax and budgetary policies. Democrats were effusive in praise of Speaker Greg Hughes’ leadership in resolving the homeless issue. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser received bipartisan accolades on his open style of governance. In addition to increased resources for education, a number of important projects for crime victims and the indigent were funded.
The governor signs the DUI bill. So I recommend readers invest in Uber and Lyft IPOs.
Webb: Every session has its share of intrigue and backstabbing, but this session was unusually agreeable. It accomplished a lot and left a lot undone — and that’s typical. The usual stresses between mainstream and far-right lawmakers were apparent. Minibattles flared up over gun rights and various other issues.
Leaders made a quick stab at meaningful tax reform (which is badly needed) but swiftly concluded the job was too big for the brief session. Broad tax reform needs interim study and formation of a large coalition of support. The session also modernized and improved liquor laws.
The biggest achievement was state help with the homeless problem. It is exemplary that state legislators stepped up with significant funding and direction to help people in desperate circumstances. It would have been easy to brush it off as a local problem.
No one is going to “solve” the homeless problem. But the concerted effort by state and local governments will help a lot of people. We’ll always have homeless people, along with widespread panhandling downtown. A potential challenge is that generous programs may make Utah a magnet for homeless people across the country.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is being touted as the next Federal Trade Commission chair. Is this a possibility, and who are likely candidates to replace him as AG?
Pignanelli: Most politicos were stunned because Reyes was eyeing the Governor’s Mansion in 2020. But Reyes’ national connections, a strong reputation in national AG circles and supporters cultivating the media make him a strong possibility to serve in the Trump administration.
About 2.3 nanoseconds after this news hit Utah, tongues started wagging about Reyes' potential replacement. Those with the proper connections and name identification include Sen. Todd Weiler, Reps. Dan McCay and Tim Hawkes, Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry, World Trade Center Utah Director Derek Miller and GOP Activist Michelle Mumford.
Webb: Competition will be robust for AG if Reyes go to the FTC. It could set up a battle between far-right and mainstream Republicans. Gov. Gary Herbert gets to make the appointment, but he must select from names sent to him by the GOP Central Committee. The Central Committee could propose attorneys who, for example, aren’t enthusiastic about defending SB 54, the compromise Count My Vote legislation — which the Central Committee hates.
The Trump administration appointment of Jon Huntsman Jr. as ambassador to Russia raises multiple questions. Did Sen. Orrin Hatch encourage this appointment to clear the field for another run? Could Huntsman still run for the Senate in 2018?
Pignanelli: The nomination is a clear signal Huntsman remains a major-league player in international politics. This clearly keeps his options open for a Senate race or other positions inside the Trump administration. Also, he has enough goodwill and resources to file for office, obtain the necessary 30,000 signatures to get on the ballot and construct a primary campaign — all from Moscow.
Rumors are circulating that Hatch was a primary force behind the nomination so he could clear a possible opponent in 2018. Regardless of its veracity, widespread acceptance of the theory underscores the large role the senator plays in the nation's capital and with the president.
Hatch is actively establishing his library, leading some to believe he will retire in 2019. But the senator is a skilled multitasker who can build an archive for his papers while running a campaign.
Webb: The ambassadorship is a great job and a formidable challenge for Huntsman, given current U.S.-Russia tensions. Utahns ought to be proud of him. We can assume Hatch influenced the appointment. Huntsman could still run for the Senate, but it would be very difficult given the electoral calendar. All signs point to Hatch running, but he isn’t guaranteed a win. He has great power and influence in Washington, but most Utahns don’t seem to care. Expect both mainstream and far-right challengers, including a number of legitimate contenders, like Derek Miller, former chief of staff to Herbert.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: email@example.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 the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.