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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Presidential politics, theater debate heat up dog days

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 4 2015 12:17 a.m. MDT

With the ascendancy of the star Sirius, we are officially in the dog days of what has been an unusually cool summer. Thank goodness politics has kept things hot. (Yep, it's a lame intro, but remember we are — political hacks who get excited over cross tabs in a poll.) Your nerdish columnists will now review current political topics.

In the presidential contest, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann won the Ames, Iowa, poll, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry entered in a big way. How does this impact Utah's favorite sons, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney?

Pignanelli: "Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen." — Winston Churchill

Jon Huntsman just may be the luckiest guy in politics today. Although he is struggling to rise above 6 percent in the polls, recent events work in his favor. Because he is viewed as a "non-crazy" credible candidate, he will capture a portion of Pawlenty's support.

Moreover, Perry's over-the-top pandering to the religious right will push a number of Republicans to search for an alternative. Romney will be constrained by his own baggage (i.e. reputation for flip-flopping, mixed reviews on Massachusetts economy during his term, controversial healthcare program, etc.) from taking the fight to Perry. Huntsman's record and personal persona allows him to jump all over Perry, and the Texas governor cannot do anything about it.

Of course, Perry can counter that Huntsman is too moderate, which plays into the Utah governor's strategy. In the meantime, Romney will be forced play down his gubernatorial experience and emphasize his business acumen in order to stall Perry's encroachment into his support.

Webb: Perry is clearly a big threat to both Bachmanm and Romney, but Bachman stands to lose the most initially. Bachman can't win the general election, so some of her support may shift to Perry as the more electable candidate. However, it remains to be seen whether Perry can appeal to enough independents and mainstream voters to put together a winning coalition.

The wild card is that Perry is fully capable of self-destructing and the scrutiny is just beginning. Romney has been thoroughly vetted and is the better general election candidate, but he doesn't generate a lot of passion. Perry must demonstrate presidential demeanor and show he's not a loose cannon cowboy. Huntsman, holding on to his centrist positioning, still has a hard time gaining traction.

A planned Broadway-style theatre has deep support among influential Utahns, and a funding plan was expected soon. But Salt Lake County Council Republicans and Mayor Peter Corroon may pull county funding and doom the project. What's the outlook?

Webb: This is a very tough economic environment in which to propose a big cultural project, but the discussion is well worth having. Leaders should be visionary, think big and consider the cultural infrastructure needs of future generations. Historically, Utahns have sacrificed to build excellent cultural, educational and governmental facilities, including the State Capitol.

The big theatre should be viewed in the context of a broader cultural district on the blocks just south of the new City Creek shopping center. Development of an arts/cultural district on those blocks, already anchored by the Capitol Theater, Abravanel Hall, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center and the old Utah Theater (which could become a film center) makes great sense.

Personally, I'm not a big symphony, opera or theater patron, but I appreciate how these cultural assets add greatly to our quality of life and make Salt Lake City a world-class city. If the current economy precludes moving forward now, proponents of the large theater shouldn't give up.

Pignanelli: The proposed Broadway-style theater is more than just a really big building — it is an event center that will impact Utah's arts and culture (positively and negatively). This bipartisan questioning of the project reflects the new era of austerity in our society and begs the question, "Is this something we need, or just want?"

If the county continues to refuse support, the momentum behind the theater is likely to drive the issue to the Legislature and possibly to a ballot action that would allow county voters to express their opinion. Indeed, this issue may be a precursor of political controversies in the future.

Recent newspaper polls indicate that Utahns are downright grumpy about the ability of government to correct the economy. How will this impact local politics?

Webb: Utahns are thoroughly disgusted with politics in general, but individual politicians are adept at deflecting the anger toward the other party or some amorphous political force out there. We're really mad at Congress, but we're much more forgiving toward our own members of Congress. Politicians are skilled at telling voters what they want to hear, even if they're doing little to contribute to real solutions. Things won't improve much in Congress until we hold each member personally accountable for the country's woes.

Pignanelli: The actions and statements by political activists in recent party functions reflect this sentiment. Thus, savvy incumbents will not highlight their experience but paint themselves as "outsiders" to the system.

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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