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Frank Pignanelli & LaVarr Webb: What is Utah's 'secret sauce' for a good economy?

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 9:53 p.m. MDT

Columnists Pignanelli and Webb examine how events, people and trends of the past 12 months have influenced Utah politics. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Columnists Pignanelli and Webb examine how events, people and trends of the past 12 months have influenced Utah politics. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Random answers to random questions:

Utah's congressional delegation, led by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and his staff member Fred Ferguson, is making an unprecedented effort to forge a "grand bargain" to solve long-standing public lands disputes. It could result in additional wilderness designation in Utah, along with more energy development. Does this initiative have a chance to succeed?

Pignanelli: "Bargaining has neither friends nor relations" — Benjamin Franklin

"Grand bargains" between special interests are the bedrock of this country. The Constitution is stuffed with them, and they provide the structure for all significant legislation adopted since the inception of this republic. When Congress ultimately decides to accomplish something, grand bargains will dictate changes to entitlement programs, regulatory schemes and ending budget deficits.

Until recently, Bishop was unable to say the words "wilderness designation" without a massive smirk. So his efforts, and those of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to structure a compromise are significant. Equally eye-opening is the willingness of Scott Groene (director of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) to meet with these conservatives. The level of hostility among the negotiating parties is only outmatched by the violent emotions between Israelis and Palestinians. Mistrust and a long history of antagonism could inhibit success. But if a grand bargain is reached, these three must be shipped to the Middle East to spread their charm.

Webb: So far, so good — but the trickiest part is still ahead. Bishop and other members of the delegation have worked incredibly hard to bring every interest group together to try to find common ground, including many groups that have been enemies for decades.

What makes this effort different is that Bishop is appealing to the selfish interests of all parties: "Get more of what you want by giving up something of value to someone else." He's telling rural counties to trade additional wilderness for more energy development, roads and other things they need. He's telling environmental groups to allow energy development and other land uses on the sagebrush flats and hills of the Uintah Basin, in exchange for more wilderness in pristine, scenic areas.

The test will come when lines start being drawn on maps. It's all very fragile. Almost any interest group could kill the whole thing. Legislation will have to survive a very conservative Republican House and a Democratic Senate — and have the support of the Obama administration.

Utah's economy continues to outpace most other states. What is Utah's "secret sauce" that keeps our economy humming?

Pignanelli: LaVarr is an active Mormon, and therefore much too nice to offer a direct answer to this question. Conversely, I am a drinking, swearing heathen without discretion (to my mother's shame) and will provide the honest reply. The LDS Church principles, its members and unique history of our state are most of the ingredients to the formula that maintains the magic of this wondrous place to live and work. Almost 70 percent of Utahns adhere to a faith that emphasizes education, hard work, frugality, efficient planning, respect for authority, interest in the arts and focus on the family. Add these components into a historical psyche of hungering to prove we are just as good as anyone else, and you have a concoction that breeds sound business performance. Nonmembers who live here long enough share this persona. Utah is exceptional, because no one else has our heritage.

Webb: Utah has had solid, pragmatic, conservative leadership that has kept taxes and government reasonably small, while still using government as appropriate. The result has been an excellently balanced economy, not dominated by one industry or economic sector (like gaming in Nevada or energy in Wyoming). Utah leaders have invested heavily in infrastructure, especially roads and public transit, which form the backbone of the economy. Utah's real secret sauce is collaboration — our willingness to pragmatically work together to solve problems and get things done.

Utah's biggest threat is a public education system that is falling behind. It needs more innovation, followed by more funding, to prepare tomorrow's workers for the jobs that will exist.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is positioning himself as the moderate alternative to a lot of far-right GOP presidential candidates. Can he win the nomination?

Pignanelli: Whether it's automobiles, fashion or food, choosing Italian is always the best option. Christie is the only candidate who enjoys the support across the country from a majority of Republicans, Independents and Democrats. If the GOP prevails in the 2014 Senate elections, the smell of victory will be in the air (much like a great marinara sauce) and the hard-liners will set aside their differences with the New Jersey governor.

Webb: I hope Christie runs. At this point, he's the best candidate and the GOP's best chance to win. Christie is blunt, outspoken and isn't afraid to mix it up. He's a pragmatic conservative who likes to solve problems and get things done. He's tired of the party's chest-thumping ideologues who love to talk and debate but haven't accomplished anything. The far right will say he's too moderate, but he won't be another flip-flopping Mitt Romney. Christie will be viewed as a regular, genuine, guy who is tough and plain-spoken. He can win the nomination because Republicans need someone who can beat Hillary Clinton. America is still a center-right nation, and we need a center-right conservative candidate to get the federal budget and entitlements under control and promote economic growth policies.

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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