Two comments this week, both dealing with how Republicans govern in state government.
First, the more minor issue.
Call it a simple oversight. Call it arrogance of power. Call it political spin. Either way, GOP legislative bosses fouled up when they "released" this week a preliminary year-end fiscal analysis not through any official state action but through the Senate Republicans' own partisan Web site.
Usually, GOP budget bosses place such information on the agenda of the June meeting of the Executive Appropriations Committee. The Legislature's own budget staffers then give a public report in that meeting.
But this June legislative budgeters just gave a memo to Executive Appropriation Committee members. The memo was not discussed in the Tuesday afternoon meeting.
And late Tuesday night, Senate budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, posted a blog on the partisan GOP senators' site talking about the memo, saying not to worry that preliminary numbers show the state could be $70 million the black, or up to $100 million in the red, depending on the final balancing out between tax take and state spending. A better number will come in August, Hillyard wrote.
How would legislative Republicans feel if (Lord forbid!) legislative Democrats got that memo first and put it on a their legislative or political party Web site?
I can assure you that the minority Democrats would never get such a memo first again. And Republicans would like such actions not at all. Add to this the fact that the state Republican Party is formulating an expensive PR campaign telling Utahns just how Republicans have managed this state maybe having a well-respected lawmaker like Hillyard break the news of a possible $100 million budget shortfall may ease the political pain of that information.
But when Republicans do such a thing it is considered no big deal an oversight, or just one way to make the information available immediately by putting it on the Web.
Republicans have been in the majority in the Legislature since the late 1970s. You have such power for 30 years and it seems normal to announce important state budget surpluses/deficits on your own partisan Web site, I suppose.
• Now to the more serious issue of GOP power.
This past week, The Salt Lake Tribune revealed that a person acting as a "go-between" for state GOP treasurer candidates Richard Ellis and Mark Walker in an e-mail confirmed what Ellis charges: that Walker offered Ellis a job and a considerable raise if Ellis would not challenge Walker in the treasurer's race this year.
Walker is a two-term GOP state House member from Sandy and a former midlevel manager at Zions Bank whose job (before he resigned in March to run for office full time) was trying to sign up local governments to invest their public funds through the bank.
Ellis is a former state budget director under two governors who for some time has been working as chief deputy treasurer, investing the state's billions of dollars. His boss, treasurer Ed Alter, is retiring from office after 28 years.
Walker is backed by powerful GOP officeholders, like Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and most of the GOP legislative leadership. Ellis is backed by Alter and former GOP Gov. Olene Walker, among others.
It is illegal for a candidate to offer something of value to another candidate in return for that candidate's withdrawal from a race, I'm told. So, if true, Walker should not have offered Ellis a job and a raise in return for Ellis not running for treasurer.
Walker denies any wrongdoing, saying he only told Ellis that he wouldn't fire anyone in the treasurer's office should he win, thus putting good employees' worried minds at ease.
But here's the rub: Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, refused to act on Ellis' complaint against Walker. Herbert, by law, is the state's chief election officer. Herbert is supposed to review election-related complaints, and if he finds any merit to them, pass them along to Shurtleff's office for investigation and perhaps criminal charges. Herbert said he wouldn't act now because any action by him could affect the June 24 GOP treasurer's primary.
Ellis even went to the Utah Supreme Court, asking justices to order Herbert to act. The court refused to do so.
Regardless of whether Ellis or Walker are in the right here, this mess clearly shows that Herbert or any lieutenant governor should not be Utah's election officer. The law should be changed to take that power and responsibility away from a partisan-elected office.
At the very least, the state Elections Office should be run by a state merit employee not even someone appointed by the governor.
The best solution would be to set up an independent state ethics office and give that office the job of running state elections along with other duties, like investigating complaints about elected state officials.The conflict of interest of Herbert this year is clear. Citizens would be better served if a partisan official has nothing to do with running state elections or dealing with the complaints of wrongdoing that sometimes accompany them.
Deseret News political editor Bob Bernick Jr. may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]