Why did Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. endorse John McCain for president instead of Mitt Romney?
Pignanelli: Despite all the grumbling from local Romney supporters, Huntsman's early endorsement of McCain was a logical and shrewd move. Utah Republican leaders have a track record of early support for presidential aspirants (Sen. Orrin Hatch for Gov. Ronald Reagan; Gov. Norm Bangerter for Vice President George Bush; Mike Leavitt for Gov. George W. Bush). Although despised by senatorial colleagues (not one endorsed him in 2000), McCain is a Westerner, a war hero and a Republican who oftentimes takes moderate stances. Huntsman's affection for him is understandable, including the fact that a McCain administration offers the best opportunities for the youngish governor.
Some detractors are accusing Huntsman of political gamesmanship because his father Jon Huntsman is supporting Romney, and Huntsman family members are major bipartisan donors on the federal level. Their contention is that Huntsman has "all the bases covered" no matter who wins in 2008. So what? Utahns certainly benefit if the chief executive has a link to the White House. Those who question Huntsman's agenda need reminding that an endorsement of McCain is child's play compared to Romney's political maneuverings. During his campaign for Massachusetts governor, Romney reached out to liberal Democrats with commercials featuring an endorsement from Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. In an obvious quid pro quo, Rocky bombarded local airwaves with advertisements featuring Romney's promotion of the mayor. This is a textbook example of political expediency.Then there is the annoying contention that Utahns owe fealty to Romney because he "saved" the 2002 Olympics from the antics of us hillbillies. While Romney provided strong guidance, locals quietly instituted the programs to reassure sponsors. Utah residents and community leaders deserve credit for the best Winter Games yet.
Webb: McCain has more foreign affairs experience at a time of war and international turmoil. As frontrunner, McCain also has a better chance of winning. But Romney would make a terrific president, and his campaign is going better than anyone expected. Huntsman's move this early was a big surprise, and most likely a personal blow to Romney, although not a big factor overall. Certainly, no deal was made for any job. If Huntsman is freshly re-elected in 2008, he couldn't very well leave the governorship to hop aboard a new McCain administration. But over a couple of terms, a lot of turnover occurs in a president's Cabinet, and it won't hurt Huntsman to have a solid relationship with McCain. My concern is that I've heard too often from Utah's congressional delegation that McCain is not a team player, is a prima donna, and doesn't have the temperament to be a good president.
What, if anything, is happening in Utah's 2nd Congressional District?
Pignanelli: Jim Matheson is campaigning hard as if he was 10 percentage points behind (which explains his huge margin of popularity). Deprived of traditional wedge issues to leverage against Matheson, LaVar Christensen is playing it smart: keep expenses low, pray for a GOP landslide and enjoy the ride.
Webb: It's been quiet. Too quiet. Christensen needs to get rolling to have any chance. It's mid-August and no one knows who he is, what he stands for and what contrast he offers against Matheson. He's a complete unknown, going up against a guy with high name ID, astronomical approval ratings and an enormous war chest. To even have a shot in the last 2 1/2 months will require Christensen to spend a million bucks or more of his own money. I like LaVar a lot (despite the fact that he's missing an r), but he needs to get rocking and rolling or this race is over before it gets started.
What is the street buzz regarding a special session on tax reform/transit taxes?
Webb: The buzz is that seldom has a coalition come together bringing so much broad support to a particular set of issues. The business community, local government leaders, a wide variety of civic and community groups, along with most House and Senate members support progressive tax reform (with a modest tax cut), along with a regional approach to rail transit expansion. They want to give voters the opportunity to modestly raise the sales tax to fund new TRAX lines, plus complete FrontRunner into Utah County. It's a terrific deal for everyone, and legislative and business leaders, plus the governor's office, deserve praise for pulling it together.
Pignanelli: The momentum is building for a special session this fall. However, Utah's tax gurus are grumbling even louder about the dual option tax proposal. Also, Democrats are threatening public recriminations against unbalanced tax reforms. GOP leaders cannot afford failure so close to the election. Thus, nothing will be scheduled until a majority of lawmakers have committed to a specific proposal which hasn't happened yet.
Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant, lobbyist and does consulting work in the transportation industry. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. A former candidate for Salt Lake mayor, he served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. Pignanelli's spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: email@example.com.