Grumbling about Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. from within GOP ranks is percolating again. Some GOP activists are frustrated by what they believe was his lack of enthusiasm for the voucher referendum, cozying up to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's global warming initiative, and other slights to their agenda.
Pignanelli: Remember 2000! That is the mantra (currently whispered behind closed doors) of some conservatives officials frustrated with the governor. They are referring to the 2000 Republican State Convention, where an unknown, last-minute candidate Glen Davis attracted enough conservative delegates to bump Gov. Mike Leavitt into a primary. These GOP hardliners believe that they can repeat history in 2008.But the internal complaints against Huntsman started a year before his election and never caused significant problems. The crucial difference now is that former Huntsman enthusiast Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne is openly attacking the governor and his leadership style. Political observers are watching in earnest to see if this opens the floodgates of public criticism or if the governor again dampens his detractors.
Webb: The Republican Party is a great big tent with many factions. But the notion that any serious threat to Huntsman's nomination will occur is just plain silly. Such ideas are mostly promoted by wishful-thinking Democrats trying to create divisions in the GOP. Facing what could be a tough election in Salt Lake County, Republicans will be grateful Huntsman shares the ticket. By far, the best recipe for Republican success in 2008, especially in Salt Lake County, is to snuggle close to Huntsman and follow his moderate lead. To do otherwise would be suicide.
Rumor has it that Salt Lake City Mayor-elect Ralph Becker is going to pack his Cabinet and advisers with legislative buddies. The names making the rounds are State Sen. Scott McCoy, former state Sens. Karen Hale and Patrice Arent, and Reps. Roz McGee and David Litvack.
Pignanelli: This is a good omen. Democrats with legislative experience are an efficient group of individuals with a "Utah Realpolitik" experience. Always surrounded by Republicans, they learned which battles to fight (and not undertake) while remaining loyal to their principles. This is the needed recipe for the capital city. He is unlikely to hire the whole group. But don't be surprised if McCoy and Hale have positions of prominence.
Webb: It does make sense for Becker to bring on as staff and advisers folks who have real-life experience in the political trenches and who are practical enough not to go chasing after moonbeams. Becker will keep his liberal/progressive base happy. He owes nothing to conservatives. He can stomp in their faces, and it will only help him in his next election. But it will be interesting to see if he tosses a few crumbs to a token Republican or two.Conservative legislators applied their full force and weight behind Referendum 1. But, because the initiative lost so heavily (and Democrats and moderate Republicans are gloating), these lawmakers are spooked that this is a foretelling of things next year.
Pignanelli: All this paranoia by these lawmakers is fun to watch (I share their pain I led House Democrats the year Bill Clinton claimed third place in Utah). A number of the anti-voucher education activists are considering challenges against pro-voucher legislators, including within the Republican Party. Yet, the referendum activity is already a distant memory for most Utah voters. November 2008 is almost two political lifetimes away, and referendum opponents will need more to carry them the distance. But there's a silver lining. Many of these legislators have started campaigning and reaching out to their constituents always a recommended measure for elected officials.
Webb: The overwhelming voucher defeat was a clear setback for Republicans. It can't be spun any other way. Certainly, concern exists among many Republican lawmakers, especially those who had close races in 2004 and 2006. But there's no need to panic. Republicans are still in control and have the opportunity to deliver some great public policy in the 2008 legislative session, including consumer-oriented health-care reform.The reality is that Republican leadership has delivered for Utah. Republicans just need to communicate it better. Quality of life in Utah is better than ever in history, despite the whining of the cynics and the naysayers. Personal and family income is way up; jobs are plentiful; we're pumping unprecedented amounts into public schools; our air is cleaner and our water is purer; we'll soon have the best regional public transit system in the country; our budgets balance and we are the nation's best-managed state all because Republican leadership made it happen. Not a bad way to enter 2008.
Republican LaVarr Webb was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. He now is a political consultant and lobbyist. E-mail: [email protected]. 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 protected].