Politicos love to recite the old Otto von Bismarck adage that laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made. Well, many butchers are hard at work on Capitol Hill. We obviously pay a lot of attention to key lawmakers who are in the thick of the sausage-making. But some true powerhouses in the butcher shop are often overlooked. We take a look at a few of the organizations and individuals that influence the legislative process.
Utah League of Cities & Towns. We may think we live in a rural state, but nine of 10 Utahns live in a municipality. Thus, this trade association enjoys a very large constituency. At least one-third of legislators were former mayors or council members.
Certainly, lawmakers sometimes run roughshod over individual city (especially Salt Lake City) priorities. But, taken as a whole, the league often gets what it wants. The force behind the league juggernaut is long-time Executive Director Ken Bullock, who has been around much longer than most lawmakers. He mixes a laid-back style with a ferocious advocacy for cities.
His deputy, Lincoln Shurtz, is one of the best legislative strategists around. The common phrase when reviewing legislation is, "Where is the league on this?" The league's friendly demeanor can switch when cities are in jeopardy and the League mobilizes its members across the state. Fighting the league is like wrestling with an octopus: You may win once in a while but you always get mauled. It is a sign of a healthy democracy that the representatives of our smallest political subdivisions have real clout.
Utah Realtors Association. Well-known in political circles for having the largest PAC in the state, the influence of Realtors is obvious. Also, member Realtors tend to be savvy activists engaged in their churches, chambers of commerce and communities. Money and energy are powerful forces on Capitol Hill. Indeed, when the Realtors and the League butt heads, which occurs on a somewhat regular basis, it can be great fun to watch. Under the leadership of Chris Kyler and Michael Ostermiller, the Realtors often prevail.
Utah Taxpayers Association. Especially in today's political environment, no elected official wants to be tagged with the "tax and spend" label. But creative ways to "enhance revenues" abound, and the UTA is not shy in condemning attempts to wring more from taxpayers. It helps, of course, to have your own guy in the Legislature. The face of the organization is the anti-tax bulldog and state senator Howard Stephenson. He is assisted by Royce VanTassel, a fixture at the Capitol. The UTA boasts a blue-chip board of directors representing traditional industries and developing companies. This gives them muscle in state and local government deliberations.
Utah Education Association (and the broader public education coalition). While many lawmakers love to jab the "teachers union," the enormous public education support base still impacts Utah's education policies. Indeed, the words "voucher referendum" still strike terror in Capitol Hill politicos. While many states are forging ahead with school choice initiatives, Utah lawmakers are fearful of another voucher fight. And with tax revenues picking up a bit, most of the additional money is going to public education. Kory Holdaway, UEA's chief lobbyist and a former Republican legislator, is well-liked among lawmakers.
Utah Eagle Form. In terms of results obtained in relation to money expended, the Eagle Forum is the most efficient of all advocacy organizations. Gayle Ruzicka and her eagles also prove that longevity and persistence count a great deal. She has been lobbying longer than some lawmakers have been alive. They succeed against the odds because members "show up" to everything: legislative meetings, precinct caucuses, conventions, etc. While many disagree with her views, Ruzicka demonstrates that grassroots persistence still works.
The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools. Once the fringe of the public education system, charter schools have become a legitimate alternative to traditional schooling. It is where much of Utah's K-12 education innovation is occurring. Executive Director Chris Bleak (former House chief of staff) has built the association into a political force representing thousands of Utah's most vocal parents. This organization will continue to prosper as decision-makers revamp education in response to 21st century dynamics.
Scott Anderson. Obviously an individual and not an entity, Anderson has clout rivaling any large organization. Although he leads Zions Bank, most of his Capitol Hill activities have nothing to do with the banking industry. He deploys his forces (including, in the interests of full disclosure, LaVarr's Exoro Group) for a wide variety of causes and projects.
Anderson and his wife, Jesselie, champion arts and cultural initiatives, public and higher education, science and technology development (USTAR) and overall jobs and economic development. Anderson doesn't just seek public help for good projects. He and Zions Bank support a wide range of charities, nonprofits, community initiatives and deserving causes. In an era when corporate involvement in community affairs has unfortunately waned, Anderson shows how to make a difference.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: [email protected]. 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: [email protected]