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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: Political morsels to help keep the Holidays spirited

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 4:15 a.m. MDT

In the Feb. 19, 2010 file photo, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist jokes around as he is introduced prior to addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. As lawmakers across the country grapple with how to address massive budget deficits, Norquist is leaving his fingerprint on legislatures across the country with an anti-tax pledged embraced by conservatives and reviled by liberals and some moderates. (Cliff Owen, file, Associated Press) In the Feb. 19, 2010 file photo, Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist jokes around as he is introduced prior to addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington. As lawmakers across the country grapple with how to address massive budget deficits, Norquist is leaving his fingerprint on legislatures across the country with an anti-tax pledged embraced by conservatives and reviled by liberals and some moderates. (Cliff Owen, file, Associated Press)

Politics is like a holiday cake. Nuts, raisins and chewy candies create a concoction that is sometimes agreeable and sometimes revolting. So here are some political morsels keeping the holiday season spirited.

Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis will replace Ben McAdams in the Utah Senate. Dabakis has a propensity for media flamboyancy and hard-hitting tactics. Does this signal the end of the civilized world (the Mayans are right?) or will Dabakis just be a colorful addition to the next legislative session?

Pignanelli: "Politics is largely a matter of heart." — R. A. Butler

I laugh at all this trepidation towards a "Senator Dabakis". His audacious style is tame compared to the ridiculous, outrageous behavior I exhibited in the Legislature. Discussions of my antics are not fit for many audiences. Dabakis possesses important life experiences as a successful entrepreneur and community activist.

Democrats must have a strong voice to equal the strong personalities of Republican senators such as Curt Bramble, Steve Urquhart and Howard Stephenson. The Legislature needs Dabakis (providing a perspective to legislative deliberations) and Dabakis needs the state Legislature (to gain a better perspective).

Webb: Dabakis happens to be my senator (and neighbor) in downtown SLC. I'm a lonely mainstream conservative in the most liberal Senate district in the state. I expect Dabakis will become a left-wing version of Chris Buttars, championing an ultra-liberal "message bills" designed not to pass, but to create contention.

Dabakis might not be the favorite senator of the legislative staff. They are consummate professionals, but I heard great concern about the ridiculous "fishing expedition" Dabakis forced on them through his GRAMA request regarding redistricting. Virtually every staffer from the most senior to the most junior spent hundreds of hours searching through every legislator's e-mail to compile anything related to redistricting. No dirt was found, and it was a terrible waste of taxpayer money, but it enabled Dabakis to take cheap shots and get media attention. The best Dabakis strategy is to ignore him.

Is Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a dreaded monster pushing the country over the "fiscal cliff," or is he a tax watchdog needed to keep politicians honest?

Pignanelli: Grover Norquist ("Grover" to D.C. insiders) is a shrewd lobbyist who persuaded lawmakers to commit their votes through a pledge. (I would land in jail for the same tactic.) Grover is truly the "Emperor with no clothes". If a handful of politicians publicly accuse him of nudity (defying the pledge), his rule collapses. True tax reform will result in winners and losers. A shrewd move by Grover will be a detailed articulation of what massive changes to the tax code do not violate the pledge. He can control the debate in Washington — and strut around with a new set of apparel that will foster compliments.

Webb: Republicans in Congress should vote for the best interests of the country, not out of fear of Norquist or political consequence. That said, Norquist plays a useful role in applying a brake on federal taxing and spending. I'll take Grover Norquist over Barack Obama any day. Obama is obsessed with raising taxes while refusing to responsibly cut spending or deal realistically with entitlements. Obama, not Norquist, is on track to destroy the country for our children and grandchildren. Obama believes the solution to every problem is more government and more spending. I believe compromise is necessary to avoid the fiscal cliff. But in the long run, we need more Grover Norquists, not fewer. Go, Grover, Go!

UTOPIA is a consortium of cities that have developed their own broadband networks. Even the most optimistic of estimates has the organization hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Should Utah foster this activity or end its misery?

Pignanelli: I represent Comcast — a private sector company that competes with UTOPIA. Thus, I have been plagued with arguments from the utopians that the American transcontinental railroad, the Apollo moon shots and the Internet all needed massive government assistance to succeed. They forget that the private sector was nonexistent or not able to engage in such a large endeavor when those activities occurred. Conversely, at the birth of UTOPIA a broadband market was developing. The city venture could not keep pace with the private innovation. Thus, the mountain of utopian debt grows every day (currently $500 million). This situation jeopardizes the financial health of the 11 member cities and we know who ultimately gets this tab. UTOPIA describes a fantasy world, but in reality has delivered an untenable situation that must be ended immediately.

Webb: I did some work for UTOPIA many years ago when it first started. Some municipal fiber optic networks have been successful around the country, operating under the same principle as airports: Government builds the basic infrastructure, but the private sector uses the infrastructure to compete and offer services. It's a reasonable theory, but tough to execute, and certainly mistakes have been made. The cities went into the arrangement with eyes wide open, so they're responsible. They'll have to make it work or eventually sell off the assets with their taxpayers taking the hit.

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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