We're in the dog days of the election cycle, allowing opportunity for mischief by the media and clever politicos. Thus, insignificant items become headlines, including some of the following "nonissue" issues:
Several high-profile Utah Democrats are expressing outrage over 2nd District Rep. Jim Matheson's refusal to attend the Democratic National Convention in Denver later this month. They have publicly disputed his rationale of family and constituent demands, accusing him of running from the Democrat label.
Pignanelli: According to journalist John Mashek, "It is an old truism Democrats prefer their firing squad in a circle." Matheson's critics claim he must participate in this historic convention event as a delegate. This is classic nonissue nonsense. Millions of loyal Democrats will partake through television or the Internet. Further, Matheson is a recognized leader in Washington and spending a week partying adds nothing to his credentials (Honestly, party conventions are just that: weeklong parties).
The antagonists have fabricated this controversy from anger at Matheson's centrist voting record and leadership of the moderate Blue Dog Democrat Congressional Caucus. They foolishly refuse to acknowledge Matheson's principled stands, (i.e. his courageous vote against the wasteful farm bill) and that many Utah Democrats will continue to succeed in elections because of Matheson's influence.
The unintentional silver lining is the re-emphasis on Matheson's independence from the party machinery, which sits well with Utah voters. Smart Democrats are glad Matheson is staying home to be with his children and campaigning, instead of dipping shrimp into the cocktail sauce.
Webb: Snubbing the Democrats' big party is pure political calculation but a smart move by Matheson. Matheson would prefer not to be seen among the activists promoting gay rights, abortion-on-demand and all manner of arch-liberal causes (resembling the bar scene in "Star Wars"). If he thought it would suit his election interests, he would attend.
The longer-term issue for Matheson is whether this slap at the party will hurt him after reapportionment in 2012 if the Republican Legislature creates an ultra-liberal district for him to run in, providing an opening for a more-liberal Demo challenger (like Rocky Anderson) to try to defeat him.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is accused of implementing a four-day workweek for most state agencies without consulting with public employees and demanding their approval.
Pignanelli: This was a brilliant move for Huntsman. He garnered national attention and saved the state some dollars, at the cost of angering some state employees. Apparently there is grumbling in the ranks of government workers (I have encountered several). Some told the media they expressed approval to pollsters to avoid potential retribution. This is a nonissue because the public isn't bothered by the change (until they need something on a Friday). The fear of Huntsman seeking vengeance is clearly overblown; he's not that kind of guy. (My ethnic background suggests a strong understanding of "vendettas" which for Huntsman is just another type of Italian food)
Webb: The vast majority of state employees will quickly adjust and love having a three-day weekend. The big challenge for Huntsman and state managers is to see that productivity among state workers doesn't decline. Taxpayers expect a full 40 hours of work in four days instead of five.
At a time in a tough economy when many private-sector companies are struggling and employees are working harder and boosting productivity, it would be highly improper for state workers to fritter away the extra two hours of work Monday through Thursday.
1st District Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, has been lambasted repeatedly for accepting over $20,000 in contributions from nuclear storage facility EnergySolutions.
Pignanelli: Utah politicos were shocked by this news. Not by the amount or donor, but by the fact that Bishop was actually fundraising. Bishop hates soliciting contributions as much as media attention and teachers unions.
Webb: Almost any politician in the country could be criticized for taking campaign contributions from specific industries or
interest groups. Bishop has consistently been supportive of the nuclear power and radioactive waste industries (both of which are crucial to our economic well-being). It's natural that those industries would support him. By congressional standards, Bishop is low-key, cheap and not much of a target for do-gooders and watchdogs. He lives modestly and runs modest campaigns.
During the primary, John McCain and Mitt Romney exchanged nasty insults. Thus, some believe McCain will not select him for VP.
Pignanelli: In the 2000 South Carolina GOP primary, candidate George Bush's campaign accused McCain of fathering an illegitimate child with a Bengali mother and distributed a family photo of a young girl with darker skin. The fact is McCain and his wife adopted this impoverished orphan. Notwithstanding the despicable antic, McCain worked hard for Bush's re-election. Romney never sank this low and McCain will forgive his lesser transgressions.Webb: McCain and Romney have long moved past the primary, although the opposition will certainly exploit their criticism of each other. The bigger calculation for Romney is whether it makes sense to jump aboard what could be a sinking ship. As the No. 2 guy on a possibly losing team, can he emerge from the rubble carrying the party's banner into 2012?
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: [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 House minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a Utah state tax commissioner. E-mail: [email protected].