Your columnists are providing a midsummer, two-part review of Utah's political parties as the election season progresses.

This week: the Republicans.

Pignanelli: Former speechwriter to President George Bush the elder, Peggy Noonan has impeccable Republican credentials (she coined the phrase "a thousand points of light"). In a recent column for the Wall Street Journal, she declared the national GOP is detached, played out and "busy dying."

The Utah Republican Party is not dying but is suffering the disease of internal dysfunction. The symptoms are readily apparent:

• On a scale unprecedented, Republican lawmakers openly recruited and assisted intraparty challengers against fellow Republican legislators.

• The fight for control of Senate leadership, against the incumbents, is at boiling point.

• A number of Republicans believe current State Treasurer Ed Alter, the Methuselah of the state GOP, has a divine right to pick his successor. Others believe that anyone, including Rep. Mark Walker, has the right to seek the open office. A very public accusation of bribery between Republicans was the result.

• The ethics complaint against Walker was generated by Republican legislators.

• Most analysts believe Walker is being used as a weapon by some Republicans and others to attack Republican legislative leadership.

• Republican leadership exposes the allegation of sexual harassment by an intern against a GOP legislator who signed the ethics complaint.

• The lawsuit challenging the omnibus education bill enjoys the support of Republican activists and lawmakers.

• A 12-year veteran of Congress is dumped at the polls by an unfunded nonresident challenger.

• Legislation to curtail the governor's powers is a common feature of legislative sessions.

• Speaker Greg Curtis is again in the race for his life just to get re-elected to the House.

• It goes on and on (no wonder voter participation is dropping).

The easy diagnosis: blame the Democrats. Twenty years ago, my Republican friends had no qualms emphasizing we were the enemy. Our mere existence provided purpose and kept them together. Today, Democrat challengers in general elections are viewed more as a constitutionally mandated nuisance than actual opposition.

But there are greater problems. Ronald Reagan is long gone, and President Bush is scorned for betraying traditional Republican principles. Mitt Romney's faith was an issue in the presidential campaign. All this contributes to the illness: There is no identity for Utah Republicans to claim and dynamics become fluid and personality-based. Few Utahns realize that Curtis, in his second term, along with his current nemesis, Sheryl Allen, (Republican lawmaker participating in the lawsuit and ethics complaint) were allies in the moderate caucus to challenge the conservative Speaker Mel Brown (now an ally of Allen's).

In the 1980s, Gov. Norm Bangerter worked party ranks to support his programs, and developed a proud party legacy of efficient management. In contrast, Govs. Olene Walker and Mike Leavitt offered innovative and visionary approaches to government that could have characterized Utah Republicans. But they were unable to persuade party and elected leaders.

Presently, there is no individual or force to define a Utah Republican. Without a common enemy or recognized leader, factions are filling the vacuum. This year, disenchanted party faithful will entertain thoughts of voting for a well scrubbed moderate Democrat who articulates common values.

Webb: All the hand-wringing about the decline of the Republican Party makes me laugh. Nearly all the bullet points nicely outlined by Frank above demonstrate the party is strong, not weak. The party is big, dominant and has enjoyed control for decades, so it's naturally going to have factions, dissidents, disagreements, and battles for its heart and soul. It's normal, and it's nothing new.

Clearly, some monumental battles are going on within the party. Lots of people want to lead the Legislature and the party. Interesting how all the action, all the intrigue, is occurring within the GOP. All of the focus is on the GOP. The other party is so weak it's irrelevant.

The Republican Party is like a big, fractious family, with a lot of unique and strong personalities, squabbling and fighting for attention. But the bickering siblings are going to stay within the family.

It's true that the GOP loses a lot of PR battles. Party leaders are big targets for the news media, especially liberal editorial writers and columnists, who love to dig for every tidbit of intrigue, every whiff of scandal.

But the reality is that the GOP's so-called scandals and ethical issues are very small potatoes by national standards. Much of the controversy consists of closed caucuses, smalltime gifts, legislators attending Jazz games with lobbyists, and lawmakers throwing their weight around.

If the worst Republican scandal in decades is two potential campaign competitors talking about a job and a pay raise to avoid a primary battle, then I'd say we have pretty tame, pretty squeaky-clean politics. Certainly, if a law was violated in that instance, then punishment is in order. But in the big picture, Utah is a veritable model of probity.

Meanwhile, despite the media Chihuahuas snapping at their heels, Republicans have done a magnificent job running the state for many years — and will remain in power for many more.

Next week: The Democrats


Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: lwebb@exoro.com. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. E-mail: frankp@xmission.com.