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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: The hits, home runs and errors of the legislative session

Published: Sunday, March 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, Monday, Oct. 25, 2010. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

From Major League spring training to Little League tryouts, baseball is in the air — signaling long anticipated warm weather. From their respective bleachers, Utahns also cheered and cried through a season of another spectator sport — the legislative session. Here are the hits, home runs and errors of our "insider baseball" analysis (shameless analogy):

MVP: Speaker Becky Lockhart secured respect with the caucus and garnered appeal from the general public by openly demanding transparency and accountability in big-ticket items.

Unforced errors: Despite expectations, the federal sequestration did not impact budget final numbers, and the "Zion Curtain" did not come down as predicted.

If you build it they will come — and if you don't, they will come anyway: After a hard-fought battle between business associations/Salt Lake County and taxpayer associations/competitors, legislators declined to give government subsidies for a convention center hotel.

Foul ball: Although introduced to much fanfare, the anti-discrimination amendments were not voted on in the Senate (this could be considered a pop fly since it did pass committee).

Free agent: Beloved former representative and recently retired state budget officer Ron Bigelow was spotted numerous times roaming the hallways offering experienced insight. His opinions rankled some appointed officials but were appreciated by legislators — especially because he was not-self serving.

Rookie of the year (National League): Sen. Bryan Shiozawa's dispensation of medical expertise changed the direction of many political debates.

Rookies of the year (American League): Rep. Rich Cunningham is a mini-tornado of energy and enthusiasm who was just fun to watch, while Mike McKell utilized his legal training without being obnoxious.

The "Natural" older but wiser rookie: Although an appointed freshman, Lowry Snow impressed all with his natural sagacity. Plus he just looks the part.

Best utility player: Sen. Curt Bramble provided his team reliable and energetic leadership on a host of issues.

Stolen base: Fear of federal action against gun owners opened an emotional opportunity for lawmakers to steal home and repeal permit requirements for concealed weapons.

Best umpire: As Senate Rules chairman, John Valentine provided the usual competent control of legislation (when he wasn't influencing the liquor debate).

Best imitation of Babe Ruth: Rep. Francis Gibson enjoys the physical presence and gregariousness of the "Bambino," providing him a role — when he wants — in debates on key issues.

A "League of Their Own": Veterans Minority Leader Jen Seelig, Sen. Margaret Dayton, Sen. Luz Robles, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, along with "fresh-women" Sen. Deidre Henderson, Rep. Dana Layton and Rep. Angelo Romero served reminder that either gender can deliver excellence in politics.

Republican batting average: Wayne Harper went to bat multiple innings by sponsoring numerous bills. He lost a few, but also got many hits.

Democrat batting average: The odds are against the minority party, but these three women excelled in "getting the taters": Sen. Pat Jones, Sen. Karen Mayne, Rep. Patrice Arent.

Best imitation of Texan player Nolan Ryan: Similar to Ryan, St. George Sen. Steve Urquhart is famous for a charming Texan drawl and fast insightful hard balls in debates.

Best slide: The Prison Relocation and Development Authority (PRADA-interesting acronym for a correctional facility) will initiate the process to move the Draper prison. At the bottom of the ninth inning on the last day, PRADA was stuck on third base. But after a contentious conference committee, it slid into home and was called safe.

The Moneyball Managers: Budget co-chairs Sen. Lyle Hillyard and Rep. Mel Brown ran the numbers, calculated the odds and balanced the state budget despite federal funding uncertainty.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser played the role of League Commissioner with his cool calm demeanor.

"The Sandlot": The House, with unprecedented numbers of freshman representatives, fostered comments from observers "Wow he's young!" and "What's his name again?"

Strike-out: Utah is the second most arid state in the country, so the mechanics of water are important to agriculture, industry and government. Daily high-pitched and emotional debates among farmers, lawyers, governments and others dominated discussions in committees, in the hallways and on occasion — in bathrooms. The ultimate result was always in question until the last day when the legislation failed in conference committee.

Last inning relief pitcher: The state's largest water rights holder, The LDS Church, weighed in at the very last minute on the issue, causing temporary consternation. (Apparently they were distracted by another liquid issue-alcohol)

Double-play: Rep. Greg Hughes grabbed the attention of the media and political underworld with two bills that blew open anonymous campaign activities.

Phantom ballplayers: The ghosts of the attorney general and federal investigators were invisible but felt.

Trapped runner: The Medicaid Office of Inspector General succeeded in recapturing overpayments through his audit activities. But this year the OIG was unwittingly caught in a political struggle between legislators and the governor's office, with added prodding from providers upset at audit results. He made it to second base … barely.

Coach of the year: Utah Medical Association CEO Michele McOmber deftly maneuvered the election of four physicians who possess a great bedside manner: Reps. Michael Kennedy, Edward Redd, Stuart Barlow and Shiozawa. This crew caught many fly balls defending their profession.

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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