Quantcast

Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Inside the minutiae of three races to be decided June 26

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 11:52 a.m. MDT

First District Congressional candidate Donna McAleer talks about his political ideas during his nomination speech at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City Saturday, April 21, 2012. She will face Ryan Combe in a primary in June (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) First District Congressional candidate Donna McAleer talks about his political ideas during his nomination speech at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City Saturday, April 21, 2012. She will face Ryan Combe in a primary in June (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Pignanelli and Webb: "Inside baseball" describes discussions about details and minutiae not understood or appreciated by those not possessing specific knowledge about the subject. Politicians sometimes engage in this "sport" — competing and debating on issues that most voters don't understand or care much about. We review three races to be decided in the June 26 primary where inside baseball prevails.

Usually, the State Auditor race is a sleepy affair. Many people question whether this should even be an elective position. This year, longtime incumbent Austin Johnson is facing a tough GOP nomination challenge from Rep. John Dougall. Johnson is running on his record as a CPA who has taken a professional, not political, approach to running the office. Dougall believes the office should perform more performance and managerial analyses, not just financial audits, to improve state government. Should primary voters care at all about this?

First District Congressional candidate Ryan Combe and his wife Alicia talks with an attendee at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City Saturday, April 21, 2012. He faces Donna McAleer in a primary in June. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) First District Congressional candidate Ryan Combe and his wife Alicia talks with an attendee at the state Democratic convention in Salt Lake City Saturday, April 21, 2012. He faces Donna McAleer in a primary in June. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

"Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising." — Mark Twain. We are always amazed at candidates who argue over details that bore even the most intelligent and engaged voters. Only management nerds understand or care about the differences between financial and management audits.

Dougall should be campaigning on issues people can relate to, like the legislation he sponsored reducing unnecessary auto safety and emission inspections. Every Utahn who owns a car will save thousands of dollars over a lifetime because of that legislation. Dougall also enjoys a reputation as a lawmaker who consistently dived deep into state operations looking for greater efficiencies through technology and better administration.

Johnson can make a credible argument that his CPA degree and experience are important to the job, in contrast to Dougall's engineering and MBA background. But Johnson should especially focus on the numerous accolades for excellent management the state has received, with him as an integral part of the state management team. Johnson has been in office since 1993 and, while few people know who he is, his office has been competently managed and no scandals or accusations of incompetence have occurred

Many current and former statewide elected officials have endorsed Johnson. Dougall enjoys the support of his legislative colleagues and some business organizations. Therefore, what is almost always a quiet contest has turned into a battle. The race provides an opportunity for GOP primary voters to re-examine what they want in their state auditor: the competent status quo, or a more aggressive, expansive approach led by more of a political insider.

GOP Attorney General candidates John Swallow, a former legislator and current Deputy Attorney General, and Sean Reyes, a prominent Utah attorney, are poking each other over who possesses the most legal expertise. Is this of any interest to any voter in the state who is not a lawyer?

Most lawyers love to debate the minutiae of any topic — especially the existence or nonexistence of qualifications the top attorney in the state may possess. Reyes is generally viewed as having the strongest legal background, although the Attorney General is mostly an administrator. But Swallow is questioning Reyes' experience in litigation, even as a member of a large firm. Most voters don't understand this issue and do not care. Reyes is challenging the degree of involvement by Swallow in the state's lawsuit challenging health-care reform. This makes even less sense, since Reyes is reminding Republican voters that Swallow has participated to some degree in the now-famous appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by several states to strike down Obamacare.

Endorsements have limited value, but the support of current popular Attorney General Mark Shurtleff for his deputy Swallow will be a factor in this race, along with Swallow's higher name identification. Reyes' promotion of a "Fraudsters Registry" will provide some traction for him. Notwithstanding all the silly nitpicking over matters no one really cares about, watch for Swallow and Reyes to raise important matters that concern Utah citizens as primary day gets closer.

Utah's 1st Congressional District has not sent a Democrat to Washington since 1978. Yet, Donna McAleer and Ryan Combe are vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge the popular incumbent Rep. Rob Bishop. Does this primary election matter?

These northern Utah Democrats may be the best candidates no one will ever hear about. Each has an attractive background and experience. McAleer is a West Point graduate who competed in the Olympics bobsled trials and can boast of business and nonprofit experience. She is a successful author and expert skier.

Combe's family hails from Weber County since pioneer days, and he is a successful entrepreneur who developed and eventually sold Spoon Me ice cream outlets. A sought-after business consultant, he is a director of the Weber State Alumni Association.

McAleer and Combe are battling for a dubious honor, given the reality that the winner faces the popular Bishop in a heavily Republican district, one of the safest seats in the country. While their fight may be "inside baseball" within a political minority, fair-minded observers hope these two candidates will find ways to stay engaged and provide Utahns the benefit of their skills in the future.

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.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company