1 of 2
Mike Terry, Deseret News
Columnists Pignanelli and Webb examine how events, people and trends of the past 12 months have influenced Utah politics.

Whew! Congress finally ended the food fight — for a short while. Bad leadership and bad followership just about created an economic and public policy disaster. We review the Utah political ramifications.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, is proclaimed either as a new star in the Republican Party or a tea party villain who jeopardized the country. What’s the bottom line — has he helped himself or hurt himself in Utah?

Pignanelli: “Next time you accuse a teenage girl of overreacting, just remember that a whole bunch of older men shut down the government because they were not getting their way.” — Unknown blogger

Monday at 12:05 p.m. was important moment for me. I encountered a Utah conservative Republican who was not irritated with Mike Lee. Yes, Utah’s junior center generated tremendous hostility, but despite conventional discourse that does not translate into a career death spiral. His re-election is in 2016 — the political equivalent of an epoch away — and much can happen in the meantime. More importantly, Lee is unlikely to be a part of any government shutdown in the months leading to the election, and what happened in 2013 and 2014 will be a distant memory. Lee is golden with the delegates — who will be more conservative after the 2014 precinct caucuses — and protect him against any challenges. If the delegate system is junked in a 2014 initiative (a huge “if”), Lee may encounter a primary opponent. Thus, national tea party organizations will throw resources to defend the convention process. Also, voters moan about controversial politicians who inconvenience them. But they also respect officials that fight for their principles — and Lee fits into this category without question.

Webb: Lee may be a national tea party darling, but he’s in serious danger of losing the support of Utah business and community leaders, local government leaders and a majority of Utah citizens. In his e-mail fundraising messages, Lee says the Washington establishment and liberal elitists are out to get him. In reality, it is normal Utahns who are quickly tiring of his lousy strategy that is hurting the cause of conservatism. I will be very surprised if a mainstream Utah Republican (perhaps more than one) doesn’t challenge him for the GOP nomination in 2016.

Rep. Jim Matheson is enduring severe criticism in Democratic circles for his support of Republican legislation to defund Obamacare. Has he helped himself or hurt himself in Utah?

Pignanelli: Ultraconservative and ultraliberal activists have a large common denominator: irrational actions just to make a point. Liberals expressing outrage against Matheson for his recent votes are disingenuous. From the moment he filed for office in 2000, Matheson established the standard that he was not beholden to any party ideology, and his career votes reflect Utahns’ disdain for massive federal programs. Matheson’s base is secure, but vocal leftist groups are recruiting individuals to file against him — just to make a point.

Webb: Matheson is adept at walking the political tightrope and winning re-election in a very conservative district. He should end the charade, switch parties and become a moderate Republican.

Meanwhile, I was disappointed that GOP Congressmen Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz voted against the compromise agreement that reopened the government and raised the debt ceiling. They voted to continue dysfunction and gridlock, keep federal employees from working and prevent America from paying its bills. I assume they are scared of an election challenge from the right wing. Had their votes been needed, I believe they would have done the right thing and supported the deal. But it shows how the far right terrifies our politicians.

I’ve been watching politics for 40 years and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such blunders by archconservative Republicans. With their poor strategy, they’ve hurt the conservative cause, damaged chances to defeat President Barack Obama’s liberal policies, made it harder to win pro-growth tax reform, get entitlement programs under control and reduce federal spending. They’ve hurt GOP chances of taking control of the Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016. They’ve strengthened Obamacare instead of defunding it. They’ve said let’s go fight liberal demons, but first let’s shoot ourselves in both feet, tie both hands behind our backs, surrender our weapons and charge up the hill against a vastly superior force. Other than those things, right-wing strategists have been brilliant.

Gov. Gary Herbert and state lawmakers committed state resources to reopen national parks. What are the political benefits and possible setbacks?

Pignanelli: This was a political gold mine as evidenced by the outpouring of gratitude by many to Gov. Herbert and the Legislature for this action. Utahns swell with pride when our “can-do” personality trait is on public display. But in the next shutdown, there will be more calls for state intervention beyond parks.

4 comments on this story

Webb: Herbert won enormous goodwill by demonstrating strong leadership and showing that things can still get done in government if reasonable people are willing to work together. It’s possible the feds will refuse to pay back the state, but it will have been worth it.

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