What's at risk in the governor's race this year?
The man on the street may not think there is a great deal. But in reality, the look of Utah's political face could be changed for a decade by what happens Tuesday.The governorship is the top post in the state. With it comes hundreds of appointed state jobs, thousands of appointments to state boards and dozens of appointments to the state court benches.
Besides the prestige and power that comes with the governorship, the next governor also will oversee congressional and legislative redistricting that will take place in 1991 following the 1990 census. That redistricting could well determine whether Republicans keep their grip on elected political offices, like the Utah House and Senate, and whether the 2nd Congressional District - now held by Democrat Wayne Owens - becomes more Republican in nature.
If Democrat Ted Wilson loses the governor's race, after leading by 20 points and more in the polls, it would be a clear message that Democrats can't win a statewide race in this Republican-dominated state. With that stark reality, we well could see weak Democratic challengers in the future against incumbent Republican U.S. senators and governors.
If Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter loses and Wilson wins, Democrats would be bristling with enthusiasm, ready to flex their muscles in the Legislature and in other political arenas. Republicans likely would have to compromise over the redistricting, and Democrats could gain the advantage in even more legislative districts.
And if independent Merrill Cook wins, the state would be in political shock, with a governor set free of party lines or loyalties in his thousands of appointments.
Which road voters will take isn't clear.
In fact, on this final campaign weekend, the race is up for grabs. The latest Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows that Wilson has 36 percent support among registered voters, Bangerter has 36 percent support and Cook has 24 percent. Only 3 percent are undecided. (See poll story A1.)
Voter turnout now becomes critical. The Republican and Democratic parties have telephone banks calling Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. Cook said his supporters will be telephoning also.
Whatever the outcome, the 1988 gubernatorial election will go down as an aberration.
Throughout the year, polls by Dan Jones & Associates show that about 43 percent of Utahns are Republicans, 20 percent are Democrats and 34 consider themselves independents.
For a Republican governor to be trailing in the polls, and trailing as badly as Bangerter was earlier this year, isn't normal. But the past three years haven't been normal.
Bangerter - the former speaker of the Utah House and first Republican governor in 20 years - was cruising along well during his first two years in office.
But then Utah's economy dropped off badly. State revenue fell, and Bangerter recommended a $220 million tax increase, the largest in the state's history. The governor's job approval rating fell immediately. After lawmakers granted a $165 million tax hike, the governor's negative job rating climbed above 50 percent.
Perhaps more disturbing, however, was the tax-limitation movement that sprang up after the tax increase. Tax protesters gathered about 70,000 signatures on three petitions and got the measures on the ballot for Tuesday. Tax-protest leaders also firmly opposed Bangerter's re-election.
And that created the opening for Cook.
Cook was looking for a race this year. He considered several others, but after the tax hikes and Bangerter's public perception problems, Cook settled on the governor's race. At first he considered challenging Bangerter for the GOP nomination.
While Republican Party leadership attempted to remain officially neutral, other GOP officeholders, like U.S. Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn, didn't. They backed Bangerter and tried to keep Cook out of the race.
Cook had been a loyal Republican. He ran unsuccessful races for the State School Board, Salt Lake mayor and Salt Lake County Commission.
When GOP heavy hitter Jon Huntsman jumped into the governor's race briefly to challenge Bangerter, Cook decided to become an independent candidate. Huntsman's challenge dropped Bangerter's chances considerably. But Bangerter refused to get out of the race. After a month, Huntsman decided his candidacy would harm the party, and he got out just before the April 15 filing deadline.
Cook had several days to reconsider his independent candidacy. But he decided to stay an independent and to run on the tax-cutting platform.
The gubernatorial field was thus set - Wilson, Bangerter and Cook. They remained in that order in the polls - until Jones' latest poll - since.
Economic development and taxes have been the overriding themes of the campaign.
Bangerter and Wilson oppose the tax initiatives. They've even made a TV commercial together asking citizens to vote against Initiatives A, B and C. But the spot never was aired, both campaigns believing it could give Cook an extra boost in the final week.
Wilson and Bangerter won't say exactly where they'd cut state government if the initiatives pass and they're in office.
Cook supports the initiatives and gets most of his support from tax protesters. He does, however, say that Initiative A - which would cap property taxes and limit state and local government growth - should be modified. He believes big business gets too great a break under Initiative A as written and school districts' property tax revenue would be cut too much, too quickly.
Cook has a specific plan to cut $150 million from state government - the impact of Initiative B - which includes merging four state departments and making professors at the state's universities teach more classes. Wilson and Bangerter say Cook's cost-saving ideas are "hogwash" and won't even come close to working.
All three men promise not to raise taxes in the next four years should they be elected. They argue that any tax hike would be politically impossible, considering the anti-tax feeling among Utahns.
Cook pledges to reduce taxes whether the initiatives pass or not. Bangerter and Wilson say they'd work to that end, but considering the needs in education and social services, natural growth in state revenue may have to go to those areas.
In October, Bangerter promised that if he's re-elected he'd move to freeze property taxes at their current levels, adding that he wouldn't want to give school districts and local governments other taxes to offset those freezes.
That brought a quick response from local officials, who pointed out that since the state doesn't use property taxes as revenue, Bangerter's next administration wouldn't be harmed by the governor's election-year promise.
On economic development, Wilson has pounded on his 10-year record as Salt Lake mayor, saying the city grew and prospered under his leadership while the state stagnated under Bangerter.
Bangerter, with Huntsman now his official economic development ambassador, is telling Utahns that the state's economy has turned around and things are getting better. He points to the low unemployment and inflation rates in Utah.
Cook maintains that nothing is getting better, that electing Wilson or Bangerter would just mean more years of flabby government protected by party-loyal governors who won't offend the bureaucrats.
Bangerter stands by his economic record. He says 50,000 new jobs have been created in Utah in the past four years. Even though he raised taxes, the new money was only an offset to dropping revenue, critically needed to maintain schools and social service and health programs.
The governor says that state budgets, adjusted for population growth and inflation, have decreased by a combined 7 percent during his four years. He says Wilson raised taxes every year he was the sole city executive, from 1980 to 1985. He also criticizes Wilson for resigning his mayoral post to take a job at the University of Utah. He's called Wilson a quitter. "I've never quit anything in my life," the governor says.
Wilson says he didn't raise taxes each year in office, and left to seek new challenges only because the city was in the good hands of his replacement, Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
Wilson said the City Council one year raised the property tax to offset a lower franchise tax. Other years there were "small" increases in the city's capital improvement property tax for such needed projects as restoring the City-County Building.
"I remember when the unofficial city mascot was the crane - we had 15 cranes on the city's skyline one year. People were building, we had a spirit you could feel. One national author named Salt Lake as one of the 10 best cities for opportunity. I want to bring that kind of enthusiasm to the state," Wilson says.
But under Bangerter's administration Utah has struggled, he maintains. "Between 50,000 and 35,000 people have left the state, and the governor takes credit for low unemployment - that's why."
Wilson is fond of saying Bangerter gave Utahns the Mt. Everest of tax increases and Cook wants to take the citizens to the Death Valley of government spending through his tax cuts.
Both Wilson and Bangerter claim they are the candidates in the middle, and all three say they're fiscal conservatives.
Wilson and Cook have been specific about what they'll do about economic development if elected. Bangerter said he doesn't have any great, new plans; he'll stick with his "solid, responsible" record and programs he's initiated in the past.
"When I took office, there was no written economic development plan," Bangerter says. He rejuvenated the state's economic development, brought in 40 new companies and helped get Geneva Steel and Kennecott Copper started again.
Cook and Wilson say Bangerter's economic development has been a disaster. Cook says Bangerter has spent millions of dollars creating 8,000 jobs last year whose average pay is only $5 an hour. "Arizona, on the other hand, created 60,000 at an average pay of $12 an hour," Cook says. Because of the high birth rate in the state, Utah needs to create about 30,000 jobs a year or our youth must leave the state to find work.
Wilson has a 35-point plan to get Utah's economy growing. Some are small points, like giving a prize to the free-lance journalist who gets the most pro-Utah article published in a national magazine. Others are substantial, like creating a capital venture fund to loan money to new or struggling businesses who need money to get going.
Bangerter says he is either already doing what Wilson proposes or is studying such action.
Wilson also wants to increase the state's bonding. He wants to "jump start" the construction economy by restructuring the state's debt and bond for up to $150 million. He says taxes won't be raised to pay the debts off "and it will bring new enthusiasm to the economy." "Building permits are down 50 percent this past year. The construction industry is dying."
But Bangerter and Cook say such borrowing is irresponsible. Bangerter has set up a $40 million-to-$50 million bonding plan each year. Bonds are paid off in six years, and as each bond is retired, the state borrows a similar amount.
Cook thinks bonding is a bad idea altogether.
*** Each gubernatorial candidate runs in tandem with a candidate for lieutenant governor. The second men on the tickets are incumbent Val Oveson, running with Bangerter; South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis, running with Wilson; and conservative publisher Lee Allen, running with Cook.
Three other state offices are on the ballot this year: (For more information on these races, please see the H section.)
- Attorney general. Two-term incumbent David Wilkinson, a Republican, is being challenged by former Salt Lake County Attorney Paul Van Dam, a Democrat.
- State treasurer. The Republican candidate is Ed Alter, also a two-term incumbent. His Democratic challenger is Art Monson, who has been Salt Lake County treasurer since 1974.
- State auditor. Democrat Arthur J. Miller is challenging incumbent Republican Tom Allen, who was elected in 1984 to succeed Oveson in that post.