Deseret News
Occupy Salt Lake City in Pioneer Park, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011.
I do not understand why so many grouchy Republicans are wasting their energy to publicly badmouth the protests.

Utah is a unique state with a peculiar but robust culture. However, we are subject to national movements and issues. We explore how a few national trends are impacting Utah.

As with other metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City has its own version of the Occupy Wall Street movement that is protesting the Federal Reserve, banks and large corporations. Will Occupiers have any influence on politics at the national or state level?

Pignanelli: "We've been having a team of alchemists and faith healers and doctors of physics working together to develop a mathematical formula to levitate the building." — Tim Franzen, "leader" of Occupy Atlanta. With rare incidents of aggressive behavior, Occupy Wall Street remains a harmless gathering of activists. They are nonviolent, non-focused and lack any agenda. Thus, I do not understand why so many grouchy Republicans are wasting their energy to publicly badmouth the protests.

This movement (and that's a generous description) includes members with legitimate grievances resulting from the Great Recession. "Occupiers" despise the GOP, and have little regard for President Obama and Democrats. Politically liberal, they do share similarities with the tea party: affinity for ridiculous conspiracy theories, moronic hand made signs, weird clothing, etc. However, tea partiers eventually figured out that change in democracy happens through traditional institutions and swamped the Republican Party (the rest is history). Occupy Wall Street will remain an interesting, but ineffective, sideshow until they develop an agenda and legitimate plan of action. (The group hates lobbyists, so I'm not cheering them on.)

Webb: Many of the positions and much of the rhetoric of the Occupy Wall Street movement is wrongheaded and downright dumb. But the protesters strike a note that resonates with many citizens regarding Wall Street's bad behavior that contributed to the economic nosedive. Many Wall Street executives made money on the upside and downside, enjoyed golden parachutes and few were punished for their greed and abuses that contributed to the worst economy since the Great Depression. That's enough to make all of us mad.

So the protests are another manifestation of the angry times in which we live. But it doesn't make sense to rant against capitalism, regular banks and business in general. National Democrats are trying to capitalize on the Occupy Wall Street protests, but the ramshackle movement isn't winning the hearts and minds of very many voters.

While Obama still stands a reasonable chance of being re-elected, most pundits are predicting Republicans gains in Congress and in state elections. What does this mean for Rep. Jim Matheson and other Democratic candidates?

Webb: If Mitt Romney leads the Republican ticket, Utah Democrats, including Jim Matheson, are in big trouble. Even without Romney, the political climate is such that Matheson is going to have the fight of his life, no matter what office he seeks. He was nearly defeated in the last election by an under-funded Morgan Philpot, and this time the Republican nominee will run a well-financed and sophisticated campaign, attracting big national money.

The combination of a sour national political climate (for Democrats), a very unpopular president at the top of the ticket, a new congressional district with two-thirds new voters and a well-financed opponent may drive Matheson to run for governor. Utahns are less concerned about partisanship and ideology when electing a governor. They're more interested in competency, good management and problem-solving. Even that contest, however, will be very difficult for Matheson.

Pignanelli: If the recent GOP debates are an indicator of what Obama will face next November, the Democrats will defy current dire predictions. While Utah Democrats will lose several legislative seats because of redistricting, the numbers have probably stabilized, and there is potential for an increase. Unfortunately, the president will likely have diminished popularity with the Utah electorate and not provide coattails as he did in 2008. Thus, Democrats seeking the governor's mansion or federal office must establish an independent persona and distance from national Democrats and Obama on some issues. Now more than ever, the Jim Matheson guidebook will be invaluable. (NOTE: Romney on the ballot voids all predictions.)

A number of federal officeholders and special interest groups associated with both political parties have established large PACs to steer money to various elections throughout the country. Will money flow into Utah from these groups in 2012?

Pignanelli: National PACs love Utah's election season — the delegate/convention system occurs early in the year and the media market is cheap. A number of the well-funded special interest groups will bombard the airwaves and mailboxes in order to influence precinct caucus participants and the delegates. At least Super PACs and 527 organizations' spending could be the economic boost Utah needs for 2012.

Webb: Big money from outside groups, on both sides, will flood into Utah if Matheson runs for a congressional or Senate seat. If a strong tea party contender goes after Sen. Orrin Hatch, we could see national tea party money once again in Utah, as we did in the 2010 Bob Bennett race. And a favored tea party candidate could receive national money in the convention and primary election in the open 4th Congressional District (or open 2nd District if Matheson runs elsewhere). Might as well get used to big outside money influencing Utah politics.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: 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: